Tag Archives: 18th century

The Many Fashions Of Marie Antoinette: Queen Of France

6 Jan

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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.

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{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.

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{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}

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 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.

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{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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

18th Century Papparazzi Profile: Lady Elizabeth Webster Holland

13 Jul

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Lady Elizabeth (nee. Vessall) was born in 1771 and was married young to a much older man, Sir Godfrey Webster. They were married in 1786 when Elizabeth was only 15! Can you even imagine?! Her marriage was a most unhappy one and she often lamented of her poor marital circumstances in her letters to her friends or in her private journal entries.

In order to spend as little time with her husband as possible (or so many have speculated) Lady Webster spent most of her time traveling abroad throughout Europe. Sir Godfrey very rarely accompanied his wife on these travels and when he did, according to Lady Webster, he was most unpleasant. It was while she was abroad that she took Thomas Pelham as a lover though she did not marry him once her marriage to Sir Godfrey ended.

After her (scandalous!) divorce from Sir Godfrey, Lady Elizabeth went on to wed Henry Richard Fox, 3rd Holland. This marriage was much more amiable and she spent the rest of her days traveling around Europe with Fox. Lady Holland and her husband were active members in the Whig Party (a party made fashionable during the time by Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire). It was also said that Lady Elizabeth was jealous of Georgiana’s popularity both with the people and her fellow aristocratic friends and she sought to make Holland House in London, just as popular as Devonshire House, though she never succeeded.

Not only did Lady Elizabeth defy 18th century norms by getting a divorce (a very difficult thing for a woman of this period to do) but she also dared to venture abroad, an activity that made many men uncomfortable and that many women were terrified to do themselves.

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!)

Fanny Burney on Jerry Springer…thoughts?

27 Feb

Here is a super funny video I found on youtube. It’s a ‘what-if-the-18th century-met-Jerry Springer’ version of Fanny Burney’s Play Wiltings.

What do you think?

18th Century Celebrities…Frances ‘Fanny’ Burney

27 Feb

Fanny Burney, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, was born in 1752. From the time she was a small child, Fanny loved writing her own stories and had aspirations to become a published author. But Fanny lived in a time when a woman’s career was caring for her family, not expressing herself through words or even daring to publish said thoughts. The idea of female writers was outright scandalous which is why when Fanny was 15, she set fire to all of her manuscripts and stories (including a novel), due to strong ‘suggestions’ from her step-mother who thought writing a highly unladylike activity.

However, such a set-back did not stop Fanny from continuing to write and she finally published her first novel, Evelina in 1778. Burney was in her mid-twenties when the book was published. It was done so anonymously so that her family would not fall into disgrace for having a female writer among them.

The book became widely popular, especially when it was discovered that its author was indeed a woman. After Evelina, Burney went on to publish other books (Camilla, Cecilia, The Wanderer) and all were received with equal praise. Bureny paved the way for female writers and created lasting literature that is still enjoyable today.

I recently purchased the Kindle edition of her complete works which you can find here, and I find them extremely fun reads!

Currently Reading…The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

27 Feb

So yes, I’m reading two books at once which can be confusing except the the subjects of both (Marie Antoinette and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) are so similar that it makes the whole precess feel almost like reading one super awesome book. Really. The two famous women of the late 18th knew each other well and became close friends when Georgiana went to Paris and stayed with the Queen at Versailles.

Both women had married young and were around the same age. Both had experience with distant and rather emotionally frozen husbands and both had a deep love for fashion. Just as Marie Antoinette set the fashion world on fire in France, Georgiana was the fashion queen of England. Both women were hounded endlessly by the paparazzi of the day (the local papers) and criticized for their outlandish fashion statements.

Above, the Duchess of Devonshire is being mocked for her methods of political gain, shown kissing the butcher the gain his vote for The Whig Party. The Whigs were the political party endorsed by the Duchess and her Husband as well as their inner circle known as the ton.
Above, a scene of gambling which became infamously synonymous with the Devonshire house and their aristocratic friends. Georgiana had a known gambling problem and throughout her life, incurred large debts because of it.
This image above shows Marie Anotinette and her husband King Louis in a satire of her ‘barnyard life’. The queen was outwardly criticized for her ‘make-believe peasant life’ she created and lived out in Le Petit Trianon, a gift home from her husband.
This image shows Marie Anotoinette’s famous hairstyle in which she wore a boat atop a large pouf in her hair to commemorate a French Naval victory. Georgiana also famously wore a similar look.
Though neither woman could be called a saint, they both suffered similar feelings of being imprisoned in their marriages and both felt the constant need to ‘preform’ for the public as well as the fellow members of the aristocratic class. Both women used fashion as a means to express themselves and to gain attention and political prowess in a time where women had very little. Are you madly in love love with them yet?
Though there have been countless books chronicling the life of Marie Antoinette, none before had analysed the role her fashion choices had in the making of the woman and the hostilities against her. If you want a totally different take on 18th century life, politics and propaganda (and of course, the queen herself) you MUST read Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.
 I have already seen the movie The Duchess staring Kiera Knightly and Ralph Fiennes but I was not a huge fan (I think I’m in the majority here but stay with me). I feel like it focused too heavily on just a few aspects of her life and didn’t really give good insight into just how insecure Georgiana felt from her upbringing (her constant need to please her parents is discussed thoroughly in Amanda Foreman’s book). Though it was a feast for the eyes and the actors did an amazing job at bringing the characters to life, the movie was very, very depressing. And I know Georgiana’s life was far from happy but it would have been nice to have given her more moments of happiness  along with showing her suffering.  Below are some images form the film version of The Duchess.
Above: A costume from the film on display, the wedding dress.
Above: More of Georgiana’s amazing costumes worn by Kiera throughout the film.
I have a major crush on this hat.