Bows and Breast-Knots in the 18th Century

Last updated: Jan 5, 2024

These links show various styles of breast knots and ornamental bows worn at the center front of the neckline of a lady’s dress. They begin to appear at about the midpoint of the 18th century and become more prevalent from the 1770s to the mid-1780s. They could be purchased ready-made to dress up a gown; the trade card of Mary and Jane Rickard offers “Stomacher & Sleeve knots,” among an assortment of fashionable wares they were selling in 1774.

(When looking for a style around a particular time period, pay attention to the width of the ribbon, the number of lobes on the bow, about how far across the bodice the lobes extend, the size of the tails, and whether the tails are pinked. Note whether the color matches the gown or other accessories, such as cap ribbons.)

Many of these bows tend to go over the neck handkerchief, especially when it is not tucked in. I've also included a few examples that are probably tying a garment closed, as well as examples that are part of a series of bows stitched down the front of a stomacher (as in An evenings invitation, for example).