How 18th-19th century court dress is reemerging in the fashion scene, in time for this year’s Met Gala, “About Time: Fashion and Duration”.

As the first Monday in May approaches, so does “fashion’s biggest night.” This year’s Met Gala theme, About Time: Fashion and Duration spotlights over a century and a half of stylish looks, proving the cyclical nature of fashion history. The layout of the exhibit purposefully juxtaposes different garments from different eras. In an interview, Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge, summarizes the theme by comparing the princess-line dress from the late 1870s to an Alexander McQueen “bumster” skirt from 1995.

Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Met Gala will be postponed indefinitely. The star-studded red carpet will be rescheduled for another date, and the museum itself will remain closed on May 4th. While we must wait to see what celebrities will show up in, we can take this time to further explore this year’s theme. Keep reading to see how 18th-19th century court dressing has been making a modernized comeback in recent decades!


John Galliano often references past eras in his work. For instance, his graduation collection in 1984, entitled Les Incroyables , featured styling that was popular during the French Revolution. His theatrical collections for Christian Dior are no exception; Galliano frequented the Costume Institute archives for inspiration. The result of these trips can be seen in his acclaimed Spring 2005 Couture show.

Models also strutted down the runway with hair piled high in Marie Antoinette’s signature pouf style. His collection modernized French court dress, upgrading the Napoleonic coat in luxe baby pink velvet. This Spring 2005 Couture collection featured many dresses with an Empire silhouette, a style trend that emerged in 18th century Europe. Galliano refreshed this look by pairing his embroidered Empire waist dresses with white crocodile leather boots.


With just ten outfits, the Alexander McQueen Fall 2013 RTW collection was a beautiful callback to Elizabethan court dress. During Elizabethan England, the ruff was one of the most universal pieces of clothing; all ages, sexes, and classes wore this frilly collar. Sarah Burton utilized this accessory, creating her own dramatic ruffs in delicate white or black lace.

Another trademark of womens’ style during this time period are gowns that featured a tightly fitted bodice with a full skirt. Signature jewelry trends included pearls; Queen Elizabeth often wore large strings of pearl around her neck or sewn onto the cuffs of her sleeves. Burton married these two trends together when creating this collection, cinching in the waist and using pearls in all her accessories. Models walked through the OTT Opéra Comique in pearl encrusted corsets and gold-embroidered skirts.


When Thom Browne debuted his first women’s ready-to-wear collection in Spring 2011, he had already established a signature look. Known for his reinterpretation of classic tailoring, Browne typically features suit sets, pleated garments, and structured coats. For his Spring 2020 RTW collection, he expertly incorporates panniers without compromising his trademark styling.

Panniers are making an unexpected comeback in 2020, appearing in Matty Bovan Fall 2020 RTW, Loewe Spring 2020 RTW, and more. This undergarment originates in 17th century Spanish courts and quickly became a must-have item in European society. Made of a metal, cane, or whale bone, panniers could expand skirts up to five feet in width, and help court ladies achieve the desired hourglass shape. Browne recreated these structures in pastel hues, peeking out from underneath layers of suiting, or propping up dramatic tweed skirts and dresses.

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