Juliette Trey, former curator at the Palace of Versailles, takes stock of fashion at the French court at the end of the 18th century, a more complex question than it seems at first glance and on which a serious synthesis was lacking.
Fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette here is a beautiful title with a commercial vocation, Marie-Antoinette seeming to be a sure value for sales. Only, given the very limited role of the Queen of France in the 18th century, that doesn't really make sense. It also turns out to be misleading since it could imply that the book deals only with female costume. Fortunately, this unfortunate first impression is not confirmed by the contents of the book. It turns out to be the long-awaited synthesis of costume at the court of France at the end of the 18th century. Its large, unusual format is reminiscent of the fashion gazettes of the time. It allows a very educational use of the image since one can more easily appreciate the details of the costumes mentioned in the text.
The waltz of finery
Under Louis XVI, fashion became an important economic stake, which justifies a gradual diversification of the costume of the aristocracy, more particularly for women.
Since Louis XIV, it was the grand habit which was the quintessential court dress. However, on this subject alone, there was no summary accessible to the general public. If this great dress remains relevant for the great ceremonies of the court under Louis XVI, it is more and more put in competition with the French dress and, for the moments of intimacy, with dresses with more shapes. more varied: Polish, Turkish, English, Levites ... Likewise, the materials used are just as diverse, gold and silver brocade giving way to taffeta and cotton fabrics . It is especially the fashion merchants, whose task is to adorn dresses and provide accessories, who are becoming the big winners in this renewal of the market.
The male dress, meanwhile, is exposed to modifications of lesser magnitude but it should be noted that the French dress, more or less dressed, is maintained whereas, in most European courts it is uniform which tends to impose itself. The frac, coming from England, is however also becoming more and more common for informal events.
Thanks to this book, we better understand what type of clothing corresponded to such or such circumstance, what logic governed the various changes of costume during a day. It therefore turns out to be enlightening on many points.
Fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette is both a pleasant work for the curious public of the 18th century and for the historian of the court seeking to clarify his knowledge of the history of costume. A touch of regret, however, we would have liked it to be completed with a slightly more economic and sociological approach since it is a field of research on the costume currently in full force.
Fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette, Juliette Trey, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 2014.