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image Source: Wikimedia Commons

As the French Revolution was looming in the near future, ladies at Versailles were keenly following the fashion choices of the queen, Marie-Antoinette, which was actually contributing to the social unrest the country was experiencing.

Versailles was the heart of French fashion and aristocrats took their fashion cues from royalty. After the death of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, in 1715, the fashion evolved a lot. Garments became lighter, more frivolous, from the previous baroque style to what is known as rococo. That meant a lot of pastels, frills, bows, lace, ruffles, and more revealing options.

Fans

Rococo fans in the 18th century were much more than fans - they were works of art, decorated elegantly by artists. According to Mary Woodsworth, a fashion blogger at 1Day1Write and Brit Student, "the fans themselves were made of silk, paper, ivory, and tortoiseshell, and were often encrusted with precious stones or gold and silver embroidery."

Outfit Changes

Marie-Antoinette was an Austrian princess who became French when she married Louis XVI in 1770. She became queen in 1774 and immediately embraced the passion for fashion felt by the country. This was a passion reflected in the culture at Versailles. During the 18th century, every lady's desire was to impress the court with her outfit, which explains the outrageous choices that took place.

 

This is made more complicated when paired with the elaborate fashion etiquette rules, including the rule that women shouldn't wear the same clothes more than once unless it was carefully and drastically modified.

Marie-Antoinette's Passion for Style

Marie-Antoinette's mother was shocked when she found out that her daughter, even at the young age of 14 when she arrived in France to marry Louis XVI, was obsessed with extravagant fashions and dresses.

 

She actually received a portrait of her daughter in a spectacular dress and responded in a letter that fashion should only be followed in moderation and that a queen should be graceful and remain above such things. She encouraged her daughter to strive for simplicity and avoid frivolity to act in a way that was more befitting and worthy of a queen.

Go Big

To accommodate the court's desire for spectacular dresses, the fashion returned to wide skirts held up by a frame. This was a feature of 17th-century Spanish fashion called the guardainfante which was designed to hide a pregnancy. In the 18th century, the dress was reimagined as a pannier, reflecting the inverted basket shape of the skirt. Panniers were known to reach as much as 16 feet in diameter, an extraordinary size.

 

Needless to say, this was not comfortable or functional clothing. It was highly inconvenient, preventing two women from walking through a doorway together or sit side by side in a carriage. The pannier workers with the corset to shift volume to the hips, raise the bustline, and create a very narrow waist. The pannier was tied in the back with straps meaning that a noblewoman could not dress herself.

Accessories

In the period, accessories were as important to the outfit as the dress. Ladies attending official ceremonies had to cover hands and arms with gloves if the dress did not have sleeves. As previously mentioned, the fan was also extremely important. Jo Thompson, a history writer at Australia2Write and Next Coursework, explains that "the Versailles culture was all about flirtation and concealment so fans created a whole new language of flirtatious signs and seductive gestures."

Fashion Business

There was a distinct economic impact from the fashion choices of the 18th-century French court. There was a constantly changing and booming textile industry as well as a silk industry in Lyon. More and more factories rose up to produce stockings, lingerie, and hats. There were also some famous French designers like Marie-Jeanne Bertin, who went by Rose and was the pioneer of French haute culture.

 

She became the go-to dressmaker when Marie-Antoinette was introduced to her and custom-built her a workshop and appointed her the Minister of Fashion. These dresses were also exported to the court in capitals everywhere, including London, Venice, Vienna, and Lisbon.

 

The 18th century was a revolutionary period in the world, but not just in politics. Thanks to Marie-Antoinette, there was also a fashion revolution in full swing in France.

About the Author

Michael Dehoyos

Michael Dehoyos, a content marketer and editor with PhD Kingdom and Academic Brits, shares his thoughts on lifestyle and history with his readers. He is passionate about this time period and loves researching particularities of this era. His writing is also featured on Origin Writings.