Couture System

Lecture prepared from:

Haute Couture and Pret-a-porter
mode 1750-2000
Municipal Museum of the Hague, 1998


Mantua GownThe dress worn by women of the upper class usually consisted in the third quarter of the 18th century of a long open gown worn over a petticoat.  Special occasion and bridal clothing was still the mantua gown.


In 1666, the English King, Charles II and his tailors introduced a simple three-piece man’s suit to the English Court.  It was made of knee-length coat, a knee-length waist coat and tight-fitting breeches.  The replacement for the prevailing, impractical, French menswear, consisting of a short doublet-coat with wide petticoat breeches, was a deliberate reaction to the French embargo on the import of English textiles. In 1678 French fashion magazines are allowed to publish the english dress, and adopt the suit, naming it habit a la francaise (dress coat)


Robe a l’Anglaise 

A stiff bodice or corset formed the basis for 18th century women’s clothing.  This ensured an upright posture, a tiny waist and a splended decolletage.  Side hoops made of rush or whalebone stays covered in cloth, the huge paniers for ceremonial occasions or the half-paniers or hip cushions for lesser festivities, with the corest, markedly delineated female curvature.  Women wore an English or French style, consisting of an open gown and petticoat.  Style difference could be seen in the back of the gown: English dress much like Mantua was nipped in at the waist by radial pleats sewn down in the area of the bodice and allowed to fall open only at the waist or lower down.


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.


Robe a la Polonaise 

For practical reasons, the fullness of the over-garment of 18th century gowns was sometimes tucked up: the points of the shirk were caught up into slits specially placed in the side seams of the over-garment; this was called a robe retroussee.  1770 dictated that the over-garment become longer, a new fashion similar to the robe retroussee came into being, the robe a la polonaise.  The special openings in the fabric allowed these cords to be drawn to the outside and led over the hem to be fastened on the inside with a hook and eye.




Jacket and Petticoat

Democratic influences felt from England and the aspiration to a more natural expression which began under the influences of the philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, were responsible for fashion becoming both simpler and more versatile in the last quarter of the 18th century.  Clothing of the working class was also implicated in this fashion development.  French ladies wore jackets and petticoats as elegant walking cloths.



14th of July 1789 French Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille.  the prevailing motto was FREEDOM, EQUALITY AND BROTHERHOOD!

The French National Assembly makes decision to do away with distinctive class clothing.  To wear luxurious clothing was to run risk; ti was seen as not showing solidarity with the ideals of the revolution.  On October 29, 1793, it was forbidden to impose any specification for citizens clothing. This edit officially brought about the freedom of clothing in France.

Color was used to communicate counter revolutions and in support of the revolution.


Court Dress introduced by Napoleon set the tone for Western Dress.  Full dress for women consisted of a high-waisted gown with a train; for ceremonial court occasions a woman would wear an additional embroidered manteau de cour (court train).




Full Dress for men

when General Napoleon Bonaparte headed the French government as First Consul, he immediately introduced a gold-embroidered scarlet coat and white pantaloons with a blue silk belt as ceremonial costume for himself and his two co-consuls.  He was often seen with  a silver-embroidered waistcoat added to his costume.


The Bridal gown

The bridal gown worn by English Princess Elizabeth set a precedent for later Royal bridal costume.





Charles Frederick Worth 1825-1895



Establishing the couture house.  The Theater and the Couture house begin to mimic each other.

Having apparently learned a lesson or two about theatrical modes of fashion presentation from Lucile, Poiret quickly outstripped his English source of inspiration. For example, both he and Lucile used the gardens of their couture houses as well as theaters in their salons as backdrops for their fashion shows.

Lady Luciele Duff  1863-1935



Paul Poiret  1879-1944


Madeleine Vionnet  1876-1975




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