Terminology

In a lot of writing (blogs, books), specific terminology is used to refer to certain eras. These terms most often originate in politics or art, but are also used to define certain ‘periods’ of dress history. I’ve also noticed that sometimes, different terms are used for similar periods. And then, of course, there’s the language thing, where terms in different languages are different. They might even denote slightly different periods, because the terms refer to political periods of that particular country. A good example is the ‘Regency’, which is used to refer the period of the regent’s reign in the United Kingdom. In Dutch, we’d call this period ‘Empire’, which refers to the reign of Napoleon. But the political Regency and the reign of Napoleon only overlap for 4 years. And the term ‘regency’ is also used to refer to the period with a certain style of dress, which doesn’t have the same boundaries as the political regency.

So I’ve decided to try to make a glossary of terms. I’ll try to start with the English terms, and then add a list of the Dutch ones (which I’m slightly less familiar with, as most of my resources are in English). I’d love to extend this list further, so if there’s anyone who has additional terms, or terms specific to another language please let me know! (also, let me know if I’m mistaken! I’m basing this mostly on personal experience, art history classes I took almost 10 years ago and Wikipedia, so correct me if I’m wrong)

I’ll make an attempt at a chronological timeline. This means that the history, art, political and fashion terminology is all slightly mixed-up in the same list. I hope it doesn’t get confusing! I’ll also only describe terms used to describe certain era’s. Many people also just refer to the decade (’50’s) or century (18th century), which is a lot more self-explanatory, so I’ll leave those out here.

  • Viking/Norse
    • 793–1066
    • Political term
    • In 793 the abbey in Lindisfarne (England) was destroyed by Normen, signalling a period of over 200 years of exploration (and attacks and raids) from Vikings. The end is set to 1066, when the Norse king Harald III was in England. It should be noted that several other areas stayed under Norse rule longer (such as Scotland and the isles). I’m not very familiar with Viking costuming, so I’m not sure if this term will refer to any dress falling within the period, or if it’s used specifically for the dress worn by the Vikings themselves, or of their conquered peoples.
  • Medieval
    • 500-1500
    • History term
    • The medieval period covers a long period of a 100 years. Of course, within this era, there were many changes for clothing. Most often though, these are simply referred to by their century and location, making things easier.
  • Gothic
    • ca. 1100-1500
    • Art term
    • The term ‘Gothic’ refers to a certain style in art, specifically the latter half of the Middle-Ages. Of course, it is now also used to the modern clothing style involving loads of black, but that’s another story.
  • Renaissance
    • ca. 1450-1650
    • History / Art term
    • This term is used to describe the period between the Middle-Ages and ‘Modern time’. Generally, it is defined by an age of progress in art and science. Many countries have their ‘own’ renaissance, of which the start and end dates vary. They generally lie between 1450 and 1650 though. There’s also a lot of variation in European dress styles, so location matters!
  • Tudor
    • 1485 – 1603
    • Political term
    • This term refers to the rule of the Tudor family as kings & queens of England. Within fashion history, this term is often used to refer to the period between 1485 and 1558, because in 1558 queen Elizabeth ascended the throne. Most people would use the term ‘Elizabethan’ period for her reign within the Tudor era.
  • Elizabethan
    • 1558 – 1603
    • Political term
    • Referring to the rule of queen Elizabeth. She was the last of the Tudor monarchs, so with her reign the Tudor reign was also at an end.
  • Jacobean
    • 1567–1625
    • Political term
    • Referring to the period of reign of king James IV (for Schotland) and James I (same person, as king of England from 1603). This latter date coincides with the start of the Stuart era, as we’re talking about king James Stuart here.
  •  Stuart
    • 1603 – 1714
    • Political term
    • Referring to the rule of the house Stuart in England. Generally speaking, this term refers to the 17th century, as it almost wholly coincides with it.
  • Baroque
    • 1590 – 1725
    • Art term
    • Another art term, the Baroque spans the 17th century and a little more.
  • Rococo
    • ca. 1700 – 1785
    • Art term
    • Overlapping slightly with the Baroque, from which it sprung, the rococo is named after the ‘rocaille’, the shell shape used so often in its decorations. It ended quite abruptly near the end of the 18th century as politics changed and a new-found interest in the classics gave way to Neo-classical art.
  • Georgian
    • 1714 – 1830
    • Political term
    • Referring to the reign of four successive ‘Georges’ as kings of England. In fashion history, this term is mostly used for the earlier part up to 1811, as that’s when the (overlapping) Regency started, and that term is used. I’ve never seen it used for the period 1820-1830 (after the regency ended) in a fashion context.
  • French Revolution
    • 1789-1799
    • Political term
    • The period of the French revolution, in which the people turned against the establishment and which meant the end of the monarchy in France. Dress was quite an important thing in France in those days, and during this period there’s a sharp shift away from the opulence of before into clean and simple lines, which was no-doubt helped along by the hatred of the aristocracy at the time. There’s also a lot of red, white and blue in French fashion at the time, which were the colors of the revolution.
  • Neo-Classical
    • 1765–1830
    • Art term
    • An ‘opposition’ to the drama of the Baroque and Rococo, Neoclassicism was inspired by the re-discovery of the ancient Greeks and Romans. This started to show in dress around 1785, and strongly influenced the rise of the waistlines and slim, white dresses worn in the early years of the 19th century.
  • Regency
    • 1811-1820
    • Political term
    • The term ‘Regency’ refers to the period in which George IV held the regency for his ill father, George III. In historical fashion, this term is used a lot, and generally refers to a slightly broader time span to comply with the styles in clothing. Generally, I’ve seen it used for the period 1795-1825, when the high waistline and slim silhouette was popular.
  • Biedermeier
    • ca 1815 – 1848
    • Art term
    • Although the start & end date refer to political events (congress of Vienna – Revolutions of 1848), the term Biedermeier refers to a German/Austrian art style. It is used to refer to fashion mostly from ca. 1820 to 1840, or the period between the Regency & the Victorian era. I suspect the term came into use mostly because there’s no English political term covering this period except ‘the end of the Georgian era’, which is confusing.
  • Romantic era
    • ca 1800 – 1850
    • Art term
    • Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement in which the glorification of nature and history was important. There was a renewed historical interest, and an emphasis on emotion and the individual. In dress history, I see this term used mostly to refer to the 1820’s, 1830’s and 1840’s. This is probably because the period 1800-1820 is generally defined as Georgian/Regency and from 1850 on as Victorian, so ‘Romantic’ in turn means the bit in the middle for which we didn’t have a proper name yet.
  • Civil-War
    • 1861 – 1865
    • Political term
    • There’s been many civil wars through-out history, but in historical costuming this term is mostly used by Americans and refers to the American Civil War. There’s a lot of re-enactment groups in the US for this era, so also a lot of people interested in this period, and therefore a lot of resources available!
  • Victorian
    • 1837 – 1901
    • Political term
    • Referring to the reign of queen Victoria in England, this era covers most of the 19th century. This also makes it confusing, as dress changed greatly between 1840 and 1900, so the term ‘Victorian clothing’ can be used to refer to a large range of different clothing styles.
  • Crinoline/Hoop era
    • ca. 1855-1865
    • Fashion term
    • Finally a term actually referring to fashion! The expanding skirts of the 1840’s and early 1850’s were supported by loads of petticoats. In 1856, the wire/metal hoop skirt was invented to support the ever-growing bell shape. In the 1860’s, it changed into an elliptic shape and eventually transformed into what we now call the bustle.
  • Bustle period
    • ca. 1865-1890
    • Fashion term
    • This term is used for the period within the Victorian era when so-called ‘bustles’ were worn. Taking many shapes and sizes over the years, the general goal of the bustle was to increase the fullness of the skirt in the back. (or: to make your but look bigger). Generally, 3 different periods can be distinguished. Ca. 1865-1876 is the Early bustle era. Skirts are still slightly round at the hemline, and bustle expands out from the natural waist backwards. From ca. 1876-1882 bustles shrank to almost nothing (say, a small pillow), giving from to the ‘Natural Form’ era. But from ca. 1882-1890 the bustle returned and grew bigger than ever. This is the Late bustle era, the main difference with the Early one being even more emphasis on the back, and the bustle expanding out from a little lower, say the start of the hip bones. Around 1890, the bustles had shrunk again to nearly nothing, this time for good. (Well, for now at least!)
  • Edwardian
    • 1901 – 1910/1914
    • Political term
    • Referring to the reign of king Edward of England, who reigned from 1901 to 1910. Broadly speaking, it is often used for the first 14 years of the century, from 1900 to 1914. This is when the first World War started, and brought many changes to society.
  • WWI
    • 1914-1918
    • Historical term
    • World War I. Also referred to as ‘the Great War'(in English, at least for the Netherlands, if we refer to ‘the war’ its WWII)
  • (Art-)Deco
    • ca. 1920-1945
    • Art style
    • A style of art following on art-nouveau, which marries traditional crafts motives with the new technological possibilities. I’ve mostly seen this as referring to the 1920’s and 1930’s, which might have something to do with the lack of a proper other style term for the inter-war period.
  • WWII
    • 1939-1945
    • Historical term
    • World War II. This war started when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. For me, WWII has always has 1940 as start year, because the Netherlands were invaded in that year. The US got involved in 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Vintage
    • ca. 1920-1990’s
    • The term vintage is generally meant to be ‘anything old’, but usually any clothing from pre 1920’s will be labeled ‘antique’, and not vintage. Most often, ‘vintage’ is used to refer to clothing between 1940’s and 1970’s, but as time goes along this might change. (In 20 years, what we wear now can be considered vintage). This term is the odd one out, because it is generally used to specifically refer to actual items which were made in the past. Reproductions are generally named vintage-style, or retro. I find that in costuming circles, most people make a distinction between historical, being anything up to ca. 1920’s, and vintage being anything between then and 20 years ago.

 

Dutch:

  • Gouden Eeuw 
    • In English: Dutch Golden Age
    • ca. 1600 – 1700
    • A period of growth in trade, science and the arts in Dutch history. It is generally thought of to have started around the same time as the founding of the East-Indian Trading company (1602-\). 1672 was the ‘disaster year’ (war, with political and economical consequences), after which the decline started.
  • Empire
    • In English: Empire (we’d pronounce it the French way though)
    • ca. 1800 – 1815
    • Art term
    • Technically this is a term used to refer to the French neo-classical interior style made popular by Napoleon. In practise, it is also used to refer generally to the reign of Napoleon, of which the exact days are shown in the next term.
  • Napoleonistische tijd
    • In English: Napoleon’s time
    • 1804-1814/5
    • Political term
    • The period of Napoleon’s reign as emperor of France (and multiple other regions, including the Netherlands). Napoleon abdicated in 1814, to briefly return in 1815.
  • Belle époque
    • In English: Beautiful Era (another term borrowed from the French)
    • ca. 1870-1914
    • Historical term
    • Generally, this term is used to refer to the era of progress in France (and surrounding countries) around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. It ended with the start of WWI.
  • Interbellum
    • In English: Inter-war period
    • 1918-1939
    • Political term
    • The inter-war period, between WWI and WWII. I haven’t really seen this used often in costume history, although it might be used in a context for which it’s relevant that it’s a period between wars.
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