Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Tricky Trend: Eighteenth Century Style

Ah, the Harem Trouser. These sprung up last year and still seem to be the cause of much discussion in certain style circles. The other day, in amongst my emails I received a fashion newsletter from a UK womens' retailer in which they set out their rules for "nailing" the "tricky trend" that is the Harem Trouser. (Pictured right, by Chloe).

On a personal note, I have to say that it's not an item that will be making it into my wardrobe (!), but I have seen some women out and about sporting the look to successful effect. 

Eighteenth century ladies also knew how to dabble with their own version of the Harem, and in my opinion, to much more spectacular and theatrical effect.

Princess Marie-Adelaide of France, 1753, by Jean-Etienne Liotard

Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu's travel writings in the earlier part of the century gave readers an exotic insight into what was deemed to be Turkish or Oriental dress. There are many surviving portraits of her dressed from head to toe in the clothes she collected on her travels. 

As the British Empire began to expand at a rapid pace, a burgeoning interest in the mysterious east developed into a luctrative selling strategy for masquerade costumiers. 

One of the most popular and enduring costume choices for women was that of a "Sultan" or "Sultana"; an interpretation of what was considered to be Turkish or eastern dress, including (naturally) the Harem style trouser, as modelled above by Princess Marie-Adelaide. There could be many reasons why this particular costume was so prevalent, but key among them could be the fact that these outfits were daring, dazzling, markedly different from everyday clothing and more than just a little mysterious.

 Jane Baldwin, 1782, by Joshua Reynolds.

This leads us to Jane Baldwin (above). Born in Smyrna, Turkey (now the city of Izmir) to British parents, she married at nineteen and travelled to England. There she presented herself to the Prince of Wales in her exotic native "Turkish" dress. This was a little bit of a lie on Jane's part; the costume was not a true reflection of a Turkish woman's dress, but rather an amalgamation of various items, designed for maximum mysterious impact and notoriety.

So, whether you choose to embrace the Harem as a fashion item of choice for this season or not, you might want to take note: their occasion of choice for their billowing trousers? Why, a party of course!

Chloe image courtesy of elle.com
Liotard image courtesy of Wikimedia
Reynolds image courtesy of Olga's Gallery 

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