Posts Tagged ‘Bourbon monarchs’

A significant shift in culture occurred in France and elsewhere at the beginning of the 18th century, known as the Enlightenment, which valued reason over authority.  In France, the sphere of influence for art, culture and fashion shifted from Versailles to Paris, where the educated bourgeoisie class gained influence and power in salons and cafés.  The new fashions introduced therefore had a greater impact on society, affecting not only royalty and aristocrats, but also middle and even lower classes.  Ironically, the single most important figure to establish Rococo fashions was Louis XV’s mistress Madame Pompadour.  She adored pastel colors and the light, happy style which came to be known as Rococo, and subsequently light stripe and floral patterns became popular.  Towards the end of the period, Marie Antoinette became the leader of French fashion, as did her dressmaker Rose Bertin.  Extreme extravagance was her trademark, which ended up majorly fanning the flames of the French Revolution.


Fashion designers gained even more influence during this era, as people scrambled to be clothed in the latest styles.  Fashion magazines emerged during this era, originally aimed at intelligent readers, but quickly capturing the attention of lower classes with their colorful illustrations and up-to-date fashion news.  Even though the fashion industry was ruined temporarily in France during the Revolution, it flourished in other European countries, especially England.


During this period, a new silhouette for women was developing.  Panniers, or wide hoops worn under the skirt that extended sideways, became a staple.  Extremely wide panniers were worn to formal occasions, while smaller ones were worn in everyday settings.  Waists were tightly constricted by corsets, provided contrasts to the wide skirts.  Plunging necklines also became common.  Skirts usually opened at the front, displaying an underskirt or petticoat.  Pagoda sleeves arose about halfway through the 18th century, which were tight from shoulder to elbow and ended with flared lace and ribbons.  There were a few main types of dresses worn during this period.  The Watteau gown had a loose back which became part of the full skirt and a tight bodice.  The robe à la française also had a tight bodice with a low-cut square neckline, usually with large ribbon bows down the front, wide panniers, and was lavishly trimmed with all manner of lace, ribbon, and flowers.  The robe à l’anglais featured a snug bodice with a full skirt worn without panniers, usually cut a bit longer in the back to form a small train, and often some type of lace kerchief was worn around the neckline.  These gowns were often worn with short, wide-lapeled jackets modeled after men’s redingotes.  Marie Antoinette introduced the chemise à la reine (pictured right), a loose white gown with a colorful silk sash around the waist.  This was considered shocking for women at first, as no corset was worn and the natural figure was apparent.  However, women seized upon this style, using it as a symbol of their increased liberation.

Women’s heels became much daintier with slimmer heels and pretty decorations.  At the beginning of the period, women wore their hair tight to the head, sometimes powdered or topped with lace kerchiefs, a stark contrast to their wide panniers.  However, hair progressively was worn higher and higher until wigs were required.  These towering tresses were elaborately curled and adorned with feathers, flowers, miniature sculptures and figures.  Hair was powdered with wheat meal and flour, which caused outrage among lower classes as the price of bread became dangerously high.


Men generally wore different variations of the habit à la française: a coat, waistcoat, and breeches.  The waistcoat was the most decorative piece, usually lavishly embroidered or displaying patterned fabrics.  Lace jabots were still worn tied around the neck.  Breeches usually stopped at the knee, with white stockings worn underneath and heeled shoes, which usually had large square buckles.  Coats were worn closer to the body and were not as skirt-like as during the Baroque era.  They were also worn more open to showcase the elaborate waistcoats.  Tricorne hats became popular during this period, often edged with braid and decorated with ostrich feathers.  Wigs were usually worn by men, preferably white.  The cadogan style of men’s hair developed and became popular during the period, with horizontal rolls of hair over the ears.  French elites and aristocrats wore particularly lavish clothing and were often referred to as “Macaronis,” as pictured in the caricature on the right.  The lower class loathed their open show of wealth when they themselves dressed in little more than rags. 

Fashion played a large role in the French Revolution.  Revolutionaries characterized themselves by patriotically wearing the tricolor—red, white, and blue—on rosettes, skirts, breeches, etc.  Since most of the rebellion was accomplished by the lower class, they called themselves sans-culottes, or “without breeches,” as they wore ankle-length trousers of the working class.  This caused knee breeches to become extremely unpopular and even dangerous to wear in France.  Clothing became a matter of life or death; riots and murders could be caused simply because someone was not wearing a tricolor rosette and people wearing extravagant gowns or suits were accused of being aristocrats.


The Rococo era was defined by seemingly contrasting aspects: extravagance and a quest for simplicity, light colors and heavy materials, aristocrats and the bourgeoisie.  This culmination produced a very diverse era in fashion like none ever before.  Although this movement was largely ended with the French Revolution, its ideas and main aspects strongly affected future fashions for decades.


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The rise of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and his court at Versailles, signaled the dawn of the Classical Baroque era in art, architecture, music, and fashion.  It was defined by natural, curving silhouettes, flowing lines, gold filigree, rich colors, and overall voluptuousness.  Clothing contained an abundance of lace, pearls, ribbons, and gold embroidery, and was refreshingly free from the excessive decoration of the Renaissance.  Fashion changed rapidly:  the growing middle class would copy the styles of the nobles, who would in turn create new fashions to stay more “refined” than the middle class.  Unlike earlier periods, where bodices, sleeves, skirts, jackets, and breeches were made to mix and match, clothing during this period was made as separate and entire matching outfits, often made of the same fabric.  This was referred to as en suite, and was the predecessor for our modern-day “suit.”  Seasonality also began to be widely used, a grateful relief from yearlong, heavy gowns and doublets as worn during the Renaissance.  The most important development of this period was the rise of fashion designers after Louis XIV certified the establishment of a dress-makers guild.  This profession contained both men and women.  The most popular designers were well-pursued by the nobility and even the middle class. 


Women.  Women’s clothing became much less restricting.  Flexible stays replaced hard, tight-fitting corsets.  Flowing lace collars replaced stiff ruffs.  Large farthingales were abandoned and skirts were merely layered or padded at the hips to produce a full, flowing look.  Usually two skirts were worn, the overskirt (manteau) open at the front and usually forming a train or bustle at the back, and an underskirt.  Decorative aprons became popular with the middle classes.  The plunging neckline called the décolletage became common, often accompanied with wide lace collars.  Waistlines were also high during the first part of the period, though long, pointed bodices and stiff stomachers came back during the latter half of the period.  Sleeves were large, gathered at the wrist or elbow and often with turned-back lace cuffs.  They progressively became more and more ruffled and segmented as the period progressed.  Solid-colored silks and brocades were used more often than patterned fabrics, and usually decorations consisted only of lace, tied  or rosetted ribbons, limited embroidery, and simple pearl jewelry.

Women wore their hair in tight curls at the forehead and on both sides of the head, called “heartbreakers,” during the first half of the period.  However, hairstyles progressively became higher (fontage hairstyles).  Lips and cheeks were often rouged, something previously only done by courtesans.  Face patches made of silk and velvet and cut into small shapes became very popular.  Since people believed water was bad for the skin, bathing was not a regular activity.  To cover up body odor, people wore profuse amounts of perfume and carried around scented purses.  Shoes acquired pointed toes and high heels, but women’s shoes were ironically much simpler than men’s.  Jewelry was very simple during this period, consisting of single strings of pearls or diamonds or sometimes a ribbon tied around the neck.

Common fashions during the second half of the period


Men.  During the early half of the Baroque period was when the cavalier style for men emerged (see right image).  It was much less restrained than Renaissance fashions and copied women’s styles of the earlier period with its high waists, wide lace collars, and lace cuffs.  This style also featured knee-high boots, often turned down with lace, wide-brimmed hats with feathers, long, loose hair, pointed beards and moustaches, and capes thrown over one shoulder.  Pantaloon breeches fell to or below the knee and were loose.  These were the kind of fashions you would associate with the “Three Musketeers.” 

Further into the reign of Louis XIV, however, men’s fashions became more extravagant.  Rhinegrave breeches, or long, loose, overly decorated pants ending just below the knee (which really looked like skirts) became popular and were worn with lace ruffles called cannons just below them.  Large collars were replaced with long lace ruffles or jabots at the opening of the neckline.  Square-toed, high-heeled shoes with rosettes replaced boots.  Men curled their hair and grew it past the shoulders or simply wore wigs of the same style.

Before the death of the Sun King, men’s fashions underwent yet another change (see left image).  Breeches became close-fitting and either tied, buttoned, or buckled at the knee, with hose worn underneath.  Long coats with braid-trimmed buttonholes (brandenburgs) and large, folded-over sleeves were worn (think Captain Hook here).  Scarf-like steinkirks replaced the jabot.  This suite was refered to collectively as the Persian style and still serves as the base of a man’s suit–the coat, waistcoat, and breeches.   Wigs became larger and were usually powdered white, still elaborately curled and even longer than before. 


Although the Baroque period was perhaps not as extravagant in the amount of decoration used as during the Renaissance, it was just as lavish in its display of wealth.  Fine ribbon and lace replaced copious amounts of jewels.  Elegant embroidery replaced methods such as slashing and puffing.  Rich silks replaced highly decorated fabrics.  These patterns would continue into the following Rococo period.

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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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