Tag Archives: 18th century fashion

The Many Fashions Of Marie Antoinette: Queen Of France

6 Jan


Marie Antoinette’s fate, as historian Caroline Weber argues, was fully entwined with that of her fashion choices and what they came to represent in the eyes of the French people. In the Ancien Regime, fashion signified position just as much as a title and so it came to be that when Marie Antoinette began the process of gradually removing herself from the prying eyes of courtiers and public alike at Versailles, she changed the very fundamentals of fashion and what it meant to be a ruler of France. The heavily brocaded and jewel encrusted silk and satin gowns that for centuries had come to represent the highest level of power and preference of the ruling elite began to vanish under the reign of Marie Antoinette who revolutionized the fashion world with less restrictive and (less caste distinctive) gowns. For those among the queen’s inner circle of ‘favorites’, Marie Antoinette fashions were fun and delightful and put them at the forefront of the fashionable world but for those excluded from her clique, (most notably, those of the court of Versailles whose titles and positions had, for generations, given them full accessibility to their monarchs) these new fashions represented her true ‘Austrian’ nature, separating her even further from the French people.


{Maire Antoinette picture above wearing the traditional robe a la francaise}

When she was given the gift of Le Petite Trianon by her husband Louis, in the eyes of the public, it was a sign that Marie Antoinette was gaining power over the king. At Le Petite Trianon, all orders and ‘rules’ were made ‘by decree of the Queen’, furthering the image that it was the queen, and not Louis, who really ruled over France. Because the queen only allowed a select number of people onto her property at Le Petite Trianon, courtiers and the public alike began to speculate about the goings-on at the queen’s private retreat and it wasn’t long before rumors of Marie Antoinette “German Vice” (an 18th century term for lesbianism) ran rampant across the French papers.


{the Grand Habit}

The public was enraged that they were being denied their right of ‘constant access’ to their Queen and the young dauphine, Marie Therese, who remained hidden away at Le Petite Trianon from the eyes of the public. The right to look in upon and observe the royal family had been in place for hundreds of years and Marie Antoinette’s defiance only furthered the public’s suspicious and poor opinion of her. When Marie Antoinette had first arrived at Versailles, she raged an all out war against the restrictive corps or stays, required to be worn by her at the palace. Now her retreat to Trianon brought back these bad memories and put a sour taste in the mouths of both France’s elite and lower classes.

Throughout her reign, Marie Antoinette sought to gain and identify her power and place in court by her choice of fashion ensembles. In the beginning, it was her war against stays and then once embraced, it was her extravagant spending on new gowns, ribbons, lace and the constant changing of gowns. It was reported by some that the women wishing to imitate the fashions of the queen, nearly went broke doing so. Her robe a la francaise ensembles became the most extravagant by far and her Grand Habitit was like a work of art. To keep up with her fashion appetite, the queen employed the services of master dress maker, Rose Bertin. She soon became the most sought after milliner in all of France and gained unprecedented access to the queen herself, inciting even more jealousy amongst Marie Antoinette’s courtiers who felt it was their right and theirs alone to assist in the dressing of their queen.

During her days at Le Petit Trianon, the queen and Bertin collaborated to design the gualle, a loose-fitting muslin dress inspired by the colonists of the Caribbean who could no longer wear the traditional silks in the humid Caribbean heat. The dress was flowy and soft and held its shape with a ribbon worn around the waste. It was accompanied by ribbons worn about the elbows where the sleeves ended in soft, feminine ruffles. The hairstyles commonly worn at Le Petit Trianon were loose and ‘natural’ in a reflection of Rousseau’s ideals of going back to ‘the simple life’. Sometimes they were accompanied by light, white bonnets or straw hats.

{Below: Examples of the gaulle shown in portraits of Marie Antoinette, her friends, and the Caribbean colonists. Also included, is an image from the Sophie Coppola film Marie Antoinette}



 This fashion was seen as scandalous because not only did it represent the queen’s further dismissal of the proper fashions worn by the ruling elite of her title, but it also seemed to insinuate the ‘loose morals’ that ran rampant at the Trianon.


{Pictured above: Rose Bertin, Milliner to the Queen}

Also added to the queen’s growing fashion statements, was the robe a la polonaise which was a much more simplified version of the traditional robe a la francaise. The new gown had a shorter hemline that revealed the wearer’s ankles and allowed for easier walks about the countryside without being encumbered by heavy billowing and trailing skirts. This new style was also seen as a form of revolution to the outside spectator grew increasingly weary of the queen’s straying from traditions.


Another of the queen’s more shocking fashion statements was when she began to don the masculine riding clothes called ‘Redingotes’ traditionally worn by men and British horse-backers in the hunt. She became known as ‘the cross-dressing queen’ for her apparent ‘thievery’ of traditional men’s dress, furthering the idea that she was bringing her Austrian ways to the court of France and emasculating its men. Marie Antoinette was viewed as a danger to the French ways not only in her choice of friends and her outrageous spending, but also in the way that she chose to represent herself in her clothing choices.



Cosmo: 18th Century Style

3 Jan

I was browsing around the web this morning when I came across this tres hilarious faux Cosmopolitan cover for an 18th century issue.

Just what were the topics on the mind of the modern woman of the 1700’s?

Well ladies, be sure that you’re keeping those ankles slim, least your skirts accidentally reveal those scandalous appendages! And how about hair powder for your wig? Did you choose the right color? Let’s not even start on that saucy minx Ben Franklin, he’s been all the rage in Europe since he arrived in King Louis’ court donning his famous raccoon hat!


As the cover of this ‘magazine’ shows, sexuality in the 18th century was all about the demure allure as opposed to the overtly forward. Dating was still a game, as much as it is now, only the rules were a little bit different.

What do you think of the cover? Have any headlines you’d like to add?

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)

Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette

27 Feb

Sofia Copella’s version was almost a stark opposite of the 1938 version. Featuring bright, strong colors and mouth-watering images, it had very little dialogue and instead relied on the costumes and the emotions of the actors to tell the story of the young queen. (As from my previous post you’ll note that the 1938 version was more dialogue heavy and in black and white).

Here’s Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette:

I don’t Know how many times I’ve seen this movie (likely too many to count) but each time I do, I fall more and more in love with not only the costumes but the characters themselves.

Below are images from the Vogue shoot for the film again featuring Kirsten:

Marie Antoinette 1938 Film

27 Feb

Bringing Marie to life from the pages of history:

Here’s a look at some of the ways the famous queen has been portrayed in films, television and ads throughout the years.

Marie Antoinette (1938) staring Norma Shearer:

The costumes in this film are absolutely beautiful. The fact that it is in black and white makes it even more of a fantasy for me because you can image the colors yourself, sort of like a giant, imaginary coloring book. And Norma Shearer is absolutely beautiful as Marie, don’t you think?

Below, are some images of the costumes created by Gilbert Adrian.

These costumes from the classic age of Hollywood really give you a feeling of the opulence not only of cinema at the time, but of the dramatic life in which Marie Antoinette herself lived. They are a stark contrast of the peasant clothing worn by the majority of the French population and their extravagance portrays how Marie was seen then and remembered now. She is infamous in both her fashion choices and her tragic mistakes.

Currently Reading…Queen of Fashion:What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution By Caroline Weber

27 Feb

Everyone knows at least something about the infamous Queen of France Marie Antoinette. Where you can only recall that she was beheaded during the French Revolution or that she had killer style (Sofia Copella’s film comes to mind) there’s no doubt that the woman was amazing. For her to still be a staple of popular culture today, more than 200 years later, is no small feat.

I’m currently working on a novel that takes place in the late 1700’s and though it will deal only in part with France, I couldn’t resist the plethora of visual-imagery-eye candy (can i coin that?) that is Caroline Weber’s book. It details the beautiful complexity of life, love, politics and fashion in the young queen’s life and how her fashion choices reflected her political views, her emotions and even played a part in her tragic downfall. Fashion, as always, has a story to tell that goes far beyond the lines of color and structure. Back in the 18th century, it was a for women who had very little rights and freedoms, to express themselves.

So without further ado (no idea if that’s the correct spelling), I give you all things fashion and Marie.

* Fun fact from the book: Marie loved to ride horses and often did so wearing trousers and in a ‘more masculine’ ridding attire. She also fashioned ‘masculine-feminine’ jackets and tailoring details.