Let Them Eat Cake

VersaillesLouis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution.

18th Century European Dress

Robe a la Francaise 

The most elegant women’s fashion of the 18th century.  The typical flat, box pleats at the back were derived from the wide dress, pleated all around which characterized French women’s costume between 1715-1730.


It often occurs in the history of dress that the informal dress of one decade becomes the fashionable dress of the next. Such an evolution took place at the end of the 1670’s. The stiff bodice decreed by international fashion was probably very uncomfortable, for after i676 women were beginning to wear a looser sort of dress at home. This ‘undress’ was called a mantua gown.


The stiff bodice gown was now demode, but it was retained at court as court dress. The looser mantua was worn with a belt, which caused pleats to form at the back and front of the bodice. The belt also marked the new position of the waist. The next step from this was for the mantua to be made with the pleats already sewn in, and this is a feature that appears in the portrait

gros point lace 

When a fashion of strong character becomes adopted as an official form of dress, it is ‘frozen’. The ensemble becomes standardised under the statutes of the society or order. Notwithstanding this regimentation, an official dress is subject to the subtle changes of high fashion

uniform dress, consisting of doublets, trunk-hose, hose, lace ruffs and cuffs, and mantles that open on the right side. All these garments, except the mantles, derive from the fashionable dress of 1579, when Henri III revived the Ordre du Saint Esprit

The ruffs of I633, worn by Louis XIII and his companions are soft and lacey, with dagged edges. They thus have the same character as the wide lace collars, which were then normally worn as part of high fashion.


By 1654 wide collars had been abandoned in favour of the ‘jabot’

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1665 the lace cravat had begun its reign.



Trunk Hose






Marie Antoinette, Queen of Fashion  Movie Trailer 







The disparaging fashion allegories typical of her day. For instance, the power of Paris fashion seemed to her “more invincible than Bonaparte


Fashion appears both as the personified expression of absolutist rule and as the harmless whim of a child within a bourgeois family situation.


Fouque dresses the aristocratic female protagonists of her narrative texts in costumes denoting plain, bourgeois domesticity and virtue, she still grants them pre-revolutionary, courtly forms of public ceremonial activity.

Joséphine de Beauharnais and Napoleon Bonaparte

The Enlightenment was accompanied by a definition of gender that did not coalesce until after theRestoration and that was manifested in the increasing relegation of the feminine to the private and the masculine to the public sphere.

Bourgeois naturalness

“natural” clothing symbolizes in particular the integrity of a non-conformist female protagonist who defies social constraints vs. aristocratic artificiality.  At the beginning of the first article, Fouque contrasts three generations by pointing to the feminine apparel of her governess, her mother, and herself: “I remember very well that

French governess in terms of past fashion. Her detailed description of everyday wear from the first half of the eighteenth century includes additional information on the social standing, circumstances, and character of a respectable, older widow.


In contrast, the youthful figure of the mother embodies the present. In the artificial elegance modeled on the ceremonial toilet of the French court, she appears as a beauty from the city with a lively interest in the latest fashion trends of the second half of the eighteenth century. The constraints imposed upon her movement by the girth and stiffness of her hoop skirt, her laced-up corset, her train, her stiletto-heeled shoes, and her upswept coiffure.


Marked  contrast to Caroline’s own dress at that time. This description completes the overview of the fashions of three generations around 1780 in their striking non-simultaneity: The shoes with no heels, fitted to the form of my feet, impeded neither my gait nor the freer and faster motions that carried me in this manner several steps forward, toward the near future, while my mother walked exactly in step with the present, and the splendid governess remained loyal to an ever-receding past

The Revolution’s highest principle of freedom is, once again, associated with freedom of movement in relation to clothing, such as the classic “Grecian” styles in fashion at the time:

Laced-up corsets, dresses with long, complicated bodices,… the deceptive billowed neckscarf, it all lay about our feet; the unencumbered head rose proudly above the prejudices of yesteryear with the hair, freed of artificial waves and layers, braided lightly and naturally so as to expose the neck and leave the temples and forehead unimpaired…. The head, neck, arms and feet could be displayed in their natural forms. No rules of toilet hindered their movements. Depending only upon the greater or lesser harmony of the body, they now revealed the soul and regained their expressivity (40-41, 45).

Enlightenment propagated in women’s periodicals and novels of the time focused on the clothing and make-up of the so-called “fair sex”

The unhealthy corset, rouge, and hair powder were eschewed in favor of a “wholesome toilet” intended to maintain and promote the natural form and features of the face, instead of falsifying them. men continued to dress for public life mostly in the pantaloons of the sans culottes, that is, in long pants in place of knee-breeches, in half-boots, frock coats, waistcoats and top hats that attest to the utilitarian influence of the French Revolution on dress, women’s fashion, as Fouque was forced to admit with a note of resignation, had “restored” the cumbersome, laced-up and bustled shape of her mother’s era.


enlightenment ideal of virtue, Agnes appears as the very personification of bourgeois innocence inspite of her noble origins. This is signaled by her simple physical appearance with her hair worn loose, covered only by a straw hat or a morning cap, and a white dress with light red ribbons. The color scheme of her clothing-“white and pale red”-bears a striking resemblance to that of Werther’s Lotte (3: 48, 59, 91-93, 136).





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