HISTORY OF MODERN FRANCE
From the Pre-Revolutionary period to the 3rd Republic 1770-1870 - Part I
26 October 2022
Marie-Antoinette: Fashion Icon
with Sylvie Koneski
The sociological role of fashion during the second half of the eighteenth century, particularly at the court of France, has long been established and Marie-Antoinette was its central figure. She has been characterized as either an arbiter of fashion or, conversely, its victim. This was the time of the birth of fashion magazines which disseminated French fashions throughout Europe and beyond. The 1770s and early 1780s were characterized by elaborate and heavily decorated gowns, which culminated in the court dress à la française.
For the first time in French history a Queen rather than a royal mistress became the arbiter of fashion. The Queen’s passion for fashion was born of her meeting with the famous marchande de mode (milliner) of Paris, Rose Bertin. A contemporary, the Countess of Boigne, wrote: "To be the most fashionable pretty woman seemed to her the most desirable title". Thanks to the creations of Léonard Autier, her hairdresser for great ceremonies, the Queen also made and unmade hair fashions throughout Europe.
In the 1780s’, the Queen attempted to simplify her wardrobe. Her new look was more age-appropriate and suitable for her relaxed lifestyle, and harmonized with wider trends for pastoral simplicity and rustic elegance. Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun painted the famous and scandalous portrait of her in a chemise gown in 1783.
The Queen’s predilection for expensive fashions and luxuries was one on the great reproaches that was brought to her after the breakout of the French Revolution, and inevitably contributed to her tragic end at the scaffold of the guillotine.
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