A Paris Breakfast in the 18th Century

29 Feb

Ahh, to be a posh Parisian in the 18th century! Breakfast would have been a time of leisure in which food was eaten slowly and savored and fashion choices were made with the utmost care.

The morning was the time in which a day was carefully planned and prepared for and a typical breakfast could often last several hours. Dressing was something of a science in Paris and it was not to be done quickly. The morning routine or toilette , encompassed dining, clothing choices, plans for the day and yes, sometimes even politics and local gossip. And here I thought that checking my e-mail while I make scrambled eggs is multi-tasking!

Only those with considerable wealth had the means (and the time!) for such an ordeal which began first in the royal court of Versailles and then was adopted by France’s nobility and aristocratic class. Never ones to be left out of the latest fashions, the morning ritual quickly caught on and was revered by those who partook in it as somewhat of an art form (perhaps this was a way of suggesting even further status above the lower classes, i.e. ‘I can take as much time as I want for I have no work to do and those who want to see me will just have to wait’).

Lady Fastening Her Garter (also known as La Toilette), François Boucher, 1742. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of and © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

The ritual of the toilette was done both in private and in public. One would first awaken and refresh by a brief sponge bath or other form brief cleansing. Then a servant would arrive, during which time hair would be styled and make up would be applied (makeup concoctions varied as well as did the forms of hair accessories depending on what was currently en vogue: ribbons, lace, jewels, feathers). Jewelry would be chosen as well, though these choices could change depending on what outfit was decided upon.

A Parisian aristocrat then needed assitance in dressing which was also provided by a maid or other servant. However, by this point in the morning, it was customary to receive visitors which could range from visiting guests to members of the family and household. Personally, I don’t know how I would feel about my friends or my mother-in-law just casually strolling in my bathroom for a chat while  I have rollers in my hair and am attempting to prefect my liquid eyeliner for the dozenth time but, to each his own right?

Charles-Joseph Natoire, Psyche at her Toilette, 1745

So now that you have successful been dressed, visited with dear friends, shown off your luxorious home, dined like a king (or queen), played with your children and secured a valuable political alliance, you were now (finally!) able to greet the day (or very likely, the early evening, but that’s when all the fun starts anyway right?).

(A modern dressing table, so popularly created and used by those 18th century minxes!)


2 Responses to “A Paris Breakfast in the 18th Century”

  1. Madame de Pique March 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I often fantasize about having such a luxurious breakfast myself, a thing I tried while I was in Paris for some weeks but it so damn frustrating we don’t have the money and the time to do it right, like french aristocrats!

    • raileia316 April 23, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

      Madame de Pique,

      I know what you mean! My hubby is a chef and we LOVE French food but it’s defiantly not a luxury we can afford to do everyday but oh how I wish it were! If I could, I’d have a baguette with every meal! But lacking a proper entourage myself (unless you include a toddler and two mini dachshunds) I certainly don’t have the means for courtly lifestyle either but it’s fun to dream!

      Thanks for stopping by!


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