Tag Archives: robe a la polonaise

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.