How women dressed in the 18th century

The 18th century marked a period of great improvement for women in Europe as well as in America. They were afforded expanded opportunities to play a role in government, the arts, and even business.

The Metropolitan Museum here is offering a chance to look at this evolution through a fine collection of costumes from this period. The focus is on France, but there are also samples of 18th-century clothing from England, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, and America.

The exhibition, running through August, covers the roughly one hundred years (1690-1790) before the French Revolution, in 1789. Most of the objects, selected to illustrate various aspects of an 18th-century woman's daily life, come from the museum's collections of costumes, accessories, and objets d'art.

In addition, there are important loans from public and private collections from Europe and America.

Some 125 women's and men's costumes are on display. The earliest costume in the exhibit is an English gown from about 1690. There is also a group of men's costumes worn by three Danish kings, Christian V, Frederick IV, and Christian VII, as well as clothes worn by both men and women at the court of Sweden's fashionable King Gustavus III.

One display includes the wedding dress worn by the Baroness Aelbrecht Von Slingelandt in 1759, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and never before seen by the public, either in the Netherlands or abroad.

Among the jewelry on display are several necklaces of historical importance, including the emerald ''Liberty'' necklace given to Benjamin Franklin while he was ambassador to the French court to obtain help for financing the American Revolution.

Accompanying the items on view is music by the great 18th-century composers.

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