My love for eighteenth century fashion started when I was a little girl, who fell in love with a painting of Marie Antoinette, seen in one of my mum’s books. I was mesmerized by the way the dauphine of France looked; her pale skin, amazing hair and of course the dress, that could only be described as having escaped from a fairy tale. From that day on, I called Marie Antoinette the queen of Haute Couture! She was the diamond of the first water.
Over the years my fascination with Marie Antoinette and eighteenth century fashion has grown so much that my little private library is now overflowing with books on all things Versailles, it’s fashions and interiors. Books that I highly recommend to anyone with similar interests are as follow:
When it comes to eighteenth century fashion, particularly haute couture and her fabulousness Marie Antoinette, the queen not only of France but also of haute couture there is one name, which pops to mind almost immediately connected with both (all mentioned above), namely Rose Bertin, called by many the “Minister of Fashion”. She was a dressmaker and milliner to the queen, she was known for making very ostentatious gowns, which were not only colorful but also rich in decorations and made the ladies stand out and “impose with their presence.” Her creations became so popular all over Europe that they definitely helped with establishing France as the center of fashion and couture.
The most popular dress styles of that era were: the robe a la Francaise and the robe a l’Anglaise. The first one consisted of back pleats hanging loosely from the neckline all the way to the floor and “a very fitted bodice held the front of the gown closely to the figure”. It was very common to have the skirt open in front to show decorative petticoats, which were worn underneath. Panniers sometimes replaced hoop skirts, which varied in size and quite often prevented the person wearing it from sitting down. The sleeves very tight and reaching only the elbows were decorated with ruffles and separate under-ruffles made of lace or fine linen.
The robe a l’Anglaise on the other hand had a very fitted back and until the 1770s these dresses were cut in a style that was known under the name en Fourreau, which meant cutting the back of the bodice in one with the skirt. In the late eighteenth century the bodice’s were cut separately from the skirt. A variation on the robe a l’Englaise was the robe a la Polonaise which was a draped skirt worn over a petticoat.
In 2009, Court Pomp and Royal Ceremony exhibition took place at Versailles. Sadly for reason that were Beyond My Control, I wasn’t able to attend that incredible showcase of the few surviving eighteenth century gowns, but thankfully due to the technology available in twenty first century we are all able to at least enjoy the beautiful photographs taken during the event. One of the most spectacular dresses that I wish I’d seen in real life rather than the screen of my computer is the wedding gown worn by princess Edwige Elisabeth Charlotte Holstein-Gottorp (1759-1818) of Sweden.
Another beautiful example of a court dress was worn by Sophie Madeleine (1746-1813) for her coronation. It was made in Paris of silver cloth with a whalebone corset with lacing in the back. The skirt was nearly two meters in width!
One of my fellow fashion bloggers, Alix whose blog The Cherry Blossom Girl I simply adore, attended Le Carnaval de Versailles last year and documented beautifully the entire event. Check it out, to see how people in the twenty first century dress in the style and fashion of eighteenth century.
This post would be incomplete if I had not mentioned the modern interpretation of Marie Antoinette and her couture gowns in film “Marie Antoinette” staring Kirsten Dunst as the queen of France. It’s beyond my control…
And last but not least my favourite editorial on Marie Antoinette. Kirsten Dunst: Teen Queen photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the September issue of Vogue 2006