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Archive for March, 2012

1650-1800.  The eras of Baroque and Rococo in fashion, art, music, and culture.  Their main similarity: practically defined and definitely dominated by the French court centered at Versailles.

Both eras shared their obsession with bright colors, lavish elegance, lots of gold, and all things French.  The French court, and more notably the Bourbon monarchs (Louis XIV to Louis XVI), practically dictated fashions of Western Europe during much of the 17th century and the entirety of the 18th.  France was able to take center stage of popular culture because England was wracked by civil war and Italy’s days of Renaissance glory were over and the country’s influence was fading quickly.  France became the center for lace-making and silk and brocade manufacturing and its many goods were in high demand in other European countries.  Even European newspapers would publish the latest fashions from France.  Little did anyone know that France would remain the fashion icon for hundreds of years to come.

These fashions did not only influence Western Europe.  This age was the zenith of European colonialism, especially in the Americas.  With the English, French, and Dutch in North America, Spain and Portugal in South America, and France and Spain in the Caribbean, European styles were running rampant throughout the Western Hemisphere.  There were also many European colonies in Africa, Asia, and Australia.  France could legitimately say that they controlled popular fashion all over the world, from that comparatively small, yet huge and lavish palace known as Versailles.

It’s amazing to think the French Revolution didn’t occur sooner.  The ridiculous separation from the lavish wealth of the aristocrats and royalty and the devastating poverty of the lower and even some of the middle class was obvious to all involved.  The wealthy perhaps didn’t realize the enormity of poverty around them, or simply chose to ignore it.  Either way, the seeds of the Revolution were planted during the reign of the Sun King and simmered under the surface for over a century before boiling over in the bloody events that changed history forever.  And the court at Versailles, as well as the excess the population there displayed with their clothes, became the symbol of the tyranny the rebels fought against.

And just in case the first painting of Versailles didn’t impress you enough, here is the groundplan of the palace and the surrounding gardens.  That little rectagularish building towards the right?  Yes, that is the palace with over 700 rooms in it.  Lets you know just how expansive the grounds are surrounding it.  If you want to see more images, this site has a lot of amazing, beautiful images of the palace.

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As usual in the world of fashion, people with an abundance of influence, control, and power tend to set the current trends and styles.  This has always been true since the dawn of time.  The only difference that back in the Olden Days the monarchs set these trends, while now it is usually celebrities.

English: Tudor Rose as a Royal Badge of Englan...

Although numerous monarchs influenced Renaissance fashion, the Tudor monarchs of England had perhaps the most important impact on Western European fashions of the 16th century.  And out of these monarchs, the most influential were Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Henry the VIII was, during the younger part of his life, active and reportedly handsome, extremely vain, and a symbol for all things manly.  The Venetian ambassador described him in 1515 (when Henry would have been 24) as this: “His majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short,…his throught being rather long and thick.”  He also had a wide girth and large proportions that he enjoyed accenting with doublets stuffed at the shoulders, duckbill shoes, and codpieces.  He was also never lacking in an abundance of fur and jewels to showcase his wealth.  He reportedly spent 16,000 ducats on clothing annually, which would be about $3,140,000 today.  He was also described as being “the best-dressed sovereign in the world: his robes [were] the richest and most superb that [could] be imagined: and he [put] on new clothes every Holyday.”

Subsequently, his styles became fashionable throughout the Western European empires.  Methods, such as slashing & puffing and stuffing sleeves & shoulders, that enlarged the figure became wildly popular during his reign and remained even after his death.  Even women’s clothing exhibited more fur and larger sleeves.

His six wives also made some considerable contributions.  Katherine of Aragon from Spain introduced the Spanish farthingale to England.  Anne Boleyn made French fashions of crescent caps/French hoods and tight, square-necked bodices popular in royal courts (although not French herself, she spent a few years there serving as maid of honor to Queen Claude and lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Marguerite).  Anne of Cleves introduced Flemish styles the English court, including leg-of-mutton sleeves.

King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s only son and heir, continued in the fashions of his father.  However, he used those styles to attempt to hide is small, slight figure rather than to accentuate his manly features as his father did.  All though the rule of Lady Jane Grey lasted only nine days, she did manage to bring more high-necked, Spanish-style surcoat gowns into style.  Queen Mary was not particularly popular, so did not have much influence on fashions of the time, although she was reported as wearing very ostentatious, bejeweled clothing.

And now we come to Elizabeth I.  She was very fond of clothing, so much so that when she died she had over 3,000 gowns and headpieces in her wardrobe.  Although she was never considered a great beauty, her style was widely admired and mimicked.  She was a tiny woman–small-breasted and small-waisted.  consequently, fashions accented a silhouette of a long, flat, narrow torso.  Even men wore corsets to try to make their bodies fit this mode.  Her pale complexion and high forehead caused women to wear even more white powder/paste on their faces than before and pluck their foreheads and eyebrows (Elizabeth actually died from lead poisoning from the lead that was in the white makeup she used to cover her smallpox scars).  She also loved elaborate clothing just as much, if not more, than her father.  Her outfits were always lavished with jewels, embroidery, ribbons, and lace.  Her particular favorites were pearls, representing her image as the “Virgin Queen.”  The below painting is her “Rainbow Portrait” and depicts the color and embellishments always decorating her gowns and headdresses.

This next portrait is her “Armada Portrait,” painted shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  It portrays the styles she made fashionable, including the ruff, wasp waist, and leg-of-mutton sleeves, as well as her love of pearls.

Queen Elizabeth was one of the most loved monarchs of all time, and her influence in the realm of fashion is a good example of her influence over people, as well as their devotion to her.

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