Women's clothing styles changed just as dramatically as men's. From the beginning to the middle of the century, women's clothing became larger and more laden with decoration. Wealthy women wore dresses made of brightly colored stiff silk woven with bold floral and striped designs, and many chose Chinese fabrics for their dresses. By midcentury the skirts of women's dresses held many yards of decoration, including layers of ruffles, bows, and lace, and were held out away from the hips with the help of panniers, or stiff hoops.
In great contrast to the width of their skirts, women's waists were cinched tightly in corsets. The front of their gowns cut deep to display the tops of their breasts and were so revealing that some women tucked lace scarves, called modesty pieces, along their necklines to hide their breasts. Most dresses had three-quarter length sleeves to which women added engageantes, or many tiers of ruffled white lace at the elbow. By the end of the century, however, women discarded these huge and elaborate dresses for the robe en chemise, a simple white cotton dress with a high waist and tiny sleeves.
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