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Posts Tagged ‘rococo’

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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These lovely paper dolls by Tom Tierney show the fashions of the middle/merchant class of the Baroque and Rococo periods.  Styles worn by the nobles and royalty were similar in structure, but much more extravagant and exaggerated.

 

PLATE 1

c. 1650    The woman wears a high-waisted dress with a falling, wide lace collar and turned-back lace cuffs common during the early Baroque era.  The man wears a cavalier-style outfit with a high-waisted jacket, wide lace collar, lace cuffs, and high boots.  Decorative canes became very popular during this period and many men would carry them around as an accessory.

 

PLATE 2

c. 1660    The woman on the left wears the German fashions of the period, with puffed sleeves, a small hooped skirt, and a fur hat.  The woman on the right is dressed in the Scandinavian style, with a brocade palatine or capelet over her shoulders and a white cap.  Both women wear decorative aprons and a “housewife” hanging from their waists.

 

PLATE 3

c. 1670    The woman wears a wide collar trimmed with ermine fur, a muff, a hood, and a velvet mask to keep out the cold.  Her underskirt is trimmed with gold embroidery and her bodice and sleeves are trimmed with ribbons.  The man wears a long coat, breeches with hose underneath, and a wide-brimmed hat with feathers on it.  He also carries a cane.

 

PLATE 4

c. 1690    The man wears Rhinegrave breeches under a long, buttoned coat, a lace jabot, and large boots.  His hair is worn long and free in the style of Louis XIV.  The woman wears a high fontage headdress and the stiff stomacher that returned to fashion in the latter part of the Baroque period.  Her decorative apron, headdress, and sleeves are all lavishly trimmed with lace.

 

PLATE 5

c. 1720    This period was a transition from Baroque to Rococo fashions, and so incorporated styles from both eras.  The man wears a long coat buttons at the middle, knee breeches, hose, and buckled shoes.  His sleeves are loose and cuffed, showing the undershirt underneath.  The woman wears a flowered robe à l’anglais with large cuffs and a lace collar.

 

PLATE 6

c. 1730    Both women wear a robe à la française in the “Watteau” or “flying” style, in which the back hung loose from the bodice.  Small panniers are worn, but only aristocratic women and royalty wore the ridiculously wide panniers.  The woman on the right’s bodice is adorned with ribbon bows down the front and has large cuffed sleeves.  The woman on the left wears a lace cap common during the period.

 

PLATE 7

c. 1750    The woman on the left wears a hooded capuchin cape trimmed with fur and ribbons.  The woman on the right wears a gown with large cuffed sleeves and a fichu around the neck and shoulders.  She also wears a mobcap tied under the chin with a ribbon.

 

PLATE 8

c. 1770    The woman wears a solid colored gown with embroidery at the opening of the overskirt and bodice.  A quilted underskirt is worn underneath.  She also has sleeves flared at the elbow and wears her hair powdered and curled, common during the last part of the Rococo era.  The man wears a brocade silk vest under a long coat lined with silk with large buttonholes down the side, as well as a tricorn hat and buckled shoes.  His hair is also powdered and is tied back with a ribbon.

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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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