Saturday, September 19, 2009

Marie-Antoinette and Court Dress

Catherine Delors offers a thorough discussion of the etiquette governing formal attire to be worn by the Queens of France, and how Marie-Antoinette dealt with it all. To quote Madame Delors:
The shape of the 18th century court costume, for men and women, originated at Versailles during the last decades of the reign of Louis XIV, and remained unchanged until the Revolution. It does not mean that court attire was immune to the dictates of fashion: fabrics, colors, ribbons and other decorative elements varied over time. But the cut of the garments was immutable.

Court costume was highly codified. Wearing a court gown was a privilege reserved for the Queen, the princesses of the royal blood and "presented" ladies. I have written prior posts on the preparations of dressing for Court (here) and the ritual of the presentation to the Queen (here.) Wearing a court gown was mandatory for all ladies entitled to it, even for the Queen herself, on every formal occasion. The only acceptable excuse was an advanced pregnancy, obviously incompatible with the close-fitting shape of the bodice and the underlying grand corps (a special corset) that covered the entire abdomen.

Marie-Antoinette once apologized to the Venetian ambassador, who had come to Versailles to present his letters of accreditation, for not wearing a court gown on account of her pregnancy. If she had not done so, her wearing "regular" clothes on such an occasion would have been construed as a grave slight, and created a diplomatic incident. Court dress was no simple fashion matter.

The male court costume may have been more comfortable, but it was no less elaborate than its female counterpart. The King, princes of the royal blood and courtiers wore a three-part costume (breeches, waistcoat, coat) of embroidered fabrics, enriched with diamond buttons, decorations and trim.


Julygirl said...

I suppose the knowledge of the correct attire was no different than primitive people knowing the proper colors and symbols to paint on their bodies....and to think that others would be offended if the attire did not fit the correct protocol!! However, our current mode of dress leaves 'much to be desired.' I would call it 'sloppy slovenliness.'

Anonymous said...


What an amazing post!

~ Gabriela ~