Your Guide To 18th Century Personal Shoppers

29 Feb

In today’s times, if you have the money, then you can have a personal closet delivered to your house where you can browse through and try on the latest fashions deciding which ones to buy and which to send back with your personal shopper. This process is actually very similar to the way that most upper class Parisian men and women (mainly women) shopped for their clothing during the 18th century. Purchasing and shopping for clothing for the aristocratic class  (namely in France) used this method with some minor adjustments.

The dressmakers and milliners would arrive  along with a collection of minture dolls known as poupees de mode made of either wood or plaster. These dolls were dressed in small versions of the latest Parisian fashions, like tiny manequines, so that clients could get a full picture of the style of dress. Well-dressed Parisians could then choose the type of fabric, the embroiderry, ribbons and other accessories to complete their ensamble. (A popular look of the day was the robe a la francaise which was a ‘cleaner’ look from the traditional court dress, slightly smaller in the hips and with an adjusted neckline.)

These little fashion dolls were protected with high levels of security, often having their own carriage for transport during long journeys to their clients. The poupees were also known as Pandoras and they would model everything from morning dress to evening and court wear. They were, in a sense, the ambassadors of fashion. Take a look at some of some of these surviving mini trend-setters below!

Isn’t the detail amazing? The same level of care in construction was used on these dolls as it would have been used on the life-sized ensembles of the Parisian elite.


(The heavy cheek rouge shown on the dolls above also reflects the makeup styles of Paris during the 18th century. They preferred white powdered faces with heavy cheek and lip rouge in red or pink, often leaving their eyelids bare but their eyebrows heavy and dark. More on makeup to come!)

The Milliner, François Boucher, 1746. Oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Photo © Erik Cornelius – Hans Thorwid (courtesy of The Getty Museum)


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