Article Published in Haute Couture Magazine, Sept 2015, Pg. 34
The turbulent 18th-century France, center stage Marie Antoinette with her flashy styles that referenced pop culture and politics. Several artisans at her beck-and-call to make one dress, and Marie recreated fashion at a pace even the magazines could barely keep up with. Fashion trends were dictated by current events such as the American independence, smallpox inoculation, and even hot-air ballooning. Marie Antoinette lead these fashions, which was never done by a queen. Normally, the leaders of fashion were the royal mistresses, but Louis XVI did not have one. This void in fashion had to be filled, and since Marie loved the fashion world in Paris, she took full advantage of all the talent it had to offer.
Fashion allowed women to be imposing over their male counterpart, by wearing massive skirts and large headpieces that made them take up at least three times as much space. As French ruler, Marie Antoinette, embraced the styles of French culture. She was slimly corseted, which was uncomfortable and required help to achieve. Marie exemplified luxury by adding intricate details like bows and utilizing fine fabrics. The massive skirts were only rivaled by the big hair. Marie Antoinette raised her hair with pomade and pads that lifted it as much as three feet. What added the allure are the ornaments, such as the most popular French frigate (or naval vessel) “Belle Poule.”
When on retreat, the queen and companions often dressed in outdoor-friendly clothing, sunblocking straw hats, and jackets. Marie Antoinette also favored “the natural life” (or Rousseauesque trend). This focused on the female figures natural look with cascading hair, padded busts and bottoms. Marie Antoinette welcomed the chemise look inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was seen as freeing ones body from the constraining corset. We may see this style being sweet and lovely, but for the queen to display her figure it was seen as a form of immorality and considered indecent. The queen became a champion of the cotton muslin, but this was seen as rejecting French silks. Marie also would buy expensive aprons from Rose Bertin, which were seen as a novelty. In turn, this allowed it to be easier for the middle and lower classes to emulate the fashions. Since the cotton muslins were washable, and they could clean the garments themselves. As fashion began to speed up, the variety of secondhand clothing increased. Marie Antoinette would give her ladies-in-waiting all her cast-offs, which either were worn, sold, or transformed into dog beds.
The Duchesse de Chartres was one of Bertin’s major clients, and the one whom introduced her to Marie Antoinette. Bertin was already wealthy in her own right, but this mere introduction made her unstoppable. She also lived like a queen, with servants and her own carriage. Bertin charged absorbingly high prices for materials and her talent. The controversy revolved around Marie Antoinette in choosing an outsider to dress her. Previously, it was common practice that the queen must only be dressed by one dressmaker, and that one must not have any other clients. Bertin did survive the revolution, she had many foreign clients. She was incredibly devoted to Marie Antoinette, and never betrayed that friendship.
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