For the 18th century fashion, the structure of the under garments was extremely important to achieve to desired silhouette of the day. The Court of Versailles in France had a huge influence over the fashions of the day and this was reflected in the courts all over Europe.
From the mid 18th Century the fashions aimed for width rather than height and this is seen in the images and costumes from this period. This was achieved by huge panniers that extended outwards from each hip. Sometimes dresses would be as wide as 4.5 meters, and there’s even a record of a law passed to ban dresses being any wider than
the width of a carriage. Skirts would be so wide, women had to go sideways through doors. However this large full dress (also knows as La grand habit) would only have been worn to formal occasions, like to court where the most flamboyant and exceedingly beautiful clothing would be worn.
For day to day life separate side hoops were worn, known as “pocket hoops” or “pocket panniers”. Both pocket hoops and the large panniers were made from cotton and stiffened with whalebone or wood. The word pannier comes from the French word for ‘basket’ which is how these side panniers look like when worn on the hips. They are referenced as being used up until 1775.
The difference between French and English panniers is the French style would be more rounded and gradually got wider towards the floor. English style was a lot more box shaped, being more straight and square.
The extreme fashions worn in the late Rococo era were the final show for a social class whose power and flamboyant lifestyles were about to come to an end, because while the upper class were living the life of luxury, the working classes were starving and over taxed, thus creating the start of a revolution.