Ruffles, flounces and frills - all this apparent stuff on our dresses, blouses, skirts and shirts historically have been an important element of costume decoration. There have been several periods when these little frills were so popular in particular... Those who loved to adorn their outfits with ruffles, frills and flounces were not only women... There were soldiers and courtiers who, at some stages, stood out with spectacular ruffles or tiny frills that flickered in their luxurious costumes.
Looking back into history, we will conclude that today's widely used ruffle have an ancient and interesting history. But let's first think about the difference in their names!
All these words can refer to quite a similar or close meaning. So to speak, in the broader sense of a word, in sewing and dressmaking terminology, - ruffles and frills are a strips of fabric, lace or ribbon that is tightly gathered or pleated on the edge and applied to a garment or any other textile piece as a form of trimming.
Frill - according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, frill a gathered, pleated, or bias-cut fabric edging used on clothing. Figuratively it also refers to something decorative or useful and desirable but not essential. [14.]
Ruffle - ruffle is a pleated piece of decorative fabric often used as trim on clothes. The word ruffle is mysterious, but it might be from the Low German word ruffelen which means "to wrinkle." A ruffle on the bottom of a dress is like a fancy wrinkle. [15. ]
Flounce - according to Collins dictionary, a flounce is a piece of cloth that has been sewn into folds and put around the edge of something, for example a gown with a flounce around the hem, or a skirt, tablecloth, curtain. [16.]
Such meaning of 'flounce' first was recorded in 1665–75 as an alteration of obsolete frounce / wrinkle. [17.]
Origins of Ruffle
Interestingly, the ruffles that we associate with women's costumes actually first appeared in men's clothing. Historically, ruffles were unisex. They first appeared in 15th-century, when Landsknechts - mercenary soldiers wore several layers of clothing and often slashed their sleeve ends to reveal the fabric beneath. The natural wrinkles that appeared were then appropriated by garment makers, who sewed flexible strings into their clothes. These could be pulled tighter to give a fashionable ruffled appearance. [11.]
The next stage of development were the ruff that evolved during 1540's from the small frill produced by a tasselled drawstring at the neck of the shirt or chemise. Initially the ruff was a practical way of protecting the neckline of a doublet or bodice from dirt and grease. It eventually became a separate garment that expanded in shape and size until the 1590's, when it developed into a rigid upstanding collar that encircled the head and was sometimes as wide as the wearer's shoulders. [1.]
Wearing of such ruff culminated with the Elizabethan era when it became a heavily starched accessory. Sources say, that the posture-correcting ruff was worn by both men and women of high standing, from William Shakespeare to Queen Elizabeth I. [ racked] At the height of their popularity, they could span up to a foot in width, sometimes requiring internal wire to keep them in place. A hot iron, not dissimilar to a fireplace poker, was even invented to expertly pleat the fabric. [11.]
Royal Opulence of Ruffles and Frills in the 18th Century
And then came not only ruffles, but also frivolous frills, demonstrating the attitude of the aristocracy and the previously unseen luxury. The ruffles and frills also did not disappear in men's clothing. In fact, both men’s and women’s fashions featured the lace sleeve or necktie as a more gentle interpretation of what had come before. In the 18th century, stiff cambric shirts, made from a material similar to linen, became popular for men. Cambric was also used to make jabots: heavily ruffled neckties worn by men to cover the openings of their dress shirts. [11.]
Fashionable and flirty ladies of the 18th-century, such as Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette, forever strengthened role of frills and ruffles into the fashion scene. Ruffles and frills symbolized the frivolity of the court society, and also played their role in the composition of the Rococo style dress. The frills, that were made into fine folds and ruffles of airy lace corresponded to the mood of the era, creating pearly flickering lightness and almost theatrical environment.
Victorian Flounces, Frills and Ruffles
And then the flounces appeared. Besides, it was not just the flounces alone.
The 19th century shows a very rich scene of ornamental décor, as women's outfits at the same time were adorned not only in frills, but also in ruffles, and especially in flounces, which since the beginning of the century have been added to the bottom of the dress. Gradually the intensity of the decoration increased throughout the century. At first, there was one flounce at the bottom of the dress, and then the ruffles were on a number of levels, especially in the middle of the century. In Victorian England, women’s dresses were decorated with bustles, tiers of flounces, and ruffles in endless cascades, culminating at the end of the century during 1870's.
And yet ruffles still do not disappear in men's outfits. The elaborately tied or ruffled necktie was a sign of a perfect dandy. From Lord Byron to Beau Brummell, the early 19th century saw the rise of the fashion-obsessed decadent man. [11.] Ridiculed as essentially effeminate and shallow, it was a short-lived trend. [11.] By the end of the 19th century, simplicity was in vogue and ruffles disappeared from menswear.
Rise and Down
During the 20th century, both the rise and fall of the popularity of the ruffles were experienced. It was really only in the 20th century when the ruffle was not there anymore in men's attire, or - to put it more precisely, they no longer seemed acceptable. Ruffles, frills and flounces were so very popular in women's dresses during the 1930's, 40's and especially in the 50's.
During the 1940's ruffles were in fashion almost everywhere. As seen in the photos of that times, ruffles were the medium to get the look during the harsh times of the war. In the 1950's, Christian Dior’s voluminous New Look allowed women to return into the realm of romanticism with more elaborate style after the rigid years of the war. Mid-century fashion also saw the rise of the peplum waist, another variation on the ruffle. In a decade when women’s roles were increasingly narrowed and idealized, the ruffle became more clearly gendered than ever — and synonymous with all that was feminine and sweet. [11.]
In the second half of the 20th century, ruffles once again experienced falls and ups. But the romantic 70's brought them again, while the aggressively romantic and even neo-romantic 80's gave them a completely new meaning. And so, once again, they came back cyclically and disappeared, moving along the spiral of fashion to the present day.
References & Further Reading:
1. Fashion - the whole story. (general editor: Marnie Fogg). - Thames & Hudson, 2013.