Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s collection includes an impressive number of women’s, men’s and children’s costumes from the second half of the 18th century. Relatively few complete outfits from before this time have remained preserved in the Netherlands. The 18th-century clothes that still exist today were worn mainly by the elite, who could afford to buy expensive French fashions. The fabrics were particularly expensive, often costing hundreds of florins, while the cost of having a garment made was relatively low. Many items of clothing were therefore altered, and sometimes even bequeathed in wills. People in the Netherlands remained abreast of the latest fashion news from Paris – already the capital of fashion by that time – thanks to fashion prints, reports, the first fashion magazines, and personal contacts. People would buy fabrics they liked and have their clothes made to measure by a dressmaker (who was a member of a guild). Men could order pre-cut embroidered suits from France which their tailor would assemble, adding a lining.
As a trading nation, the Netherlands had access to a wide supply of fashion items, and many fabrics and accessories were imported. Although people tended to follow French fashions, many goods from the Far East were also traded in the Netherlands, including chintz (hand-painted and printed cotton) and Chinese silk. Japanese-style robes were also worn. Based on gifts brought from Japan by merchants, they were made in Indian chintz or silk damask. Fashionable women wore gowns made of a single type of fabric, often comprising an overdress and a separate skirt; later in the century one-piece gowns became increasingly common. Less fashionable women wore a jacket and skirt, though fashionable ladies also wore such attire on less formal occasions. The accessories worn with these outfits generally indicated whether this was traditional dress, or informal daywear worn by a fashionable lady. The headgear (a hat, bonnet, cap, with or without the ‘oorijzer’ ornaments worn by the ears) is also an indication of who wore the outfit. The ensemble would not be complete without a pretty lace trim along the neckline and cuffs. Expensive silk stockings were also an important fashion item for both men and women.