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Dress And Costume During The French Revolution

( Originally Published 1926 )



With the rise of the people against the house of Bourbon, we find many changes in France, and their influence was felt through many countries. On 14th of July , 1789, the Parisians made open display of their demands in the streets oftheir city and gave the signal for the fall of a whole social system by their attack on the Bastile. Extravagance in architecture, furniture,costume and mode of living at its height, all this was to be done away with, and a period ofthe strictest simplicity was to follow. Titles were dropped by all of the upper class who survived the guillotine, and men and woman were addressedas citizen and citizeness.One of the first acts of the General Assembly was the abolition by solemn decree of all distinction in dresses of the classes.

Materials.—The manner of living was also simplified, but this unfortunately lasted but a short time. Simplicity was the key-note in costume, and dark colors and cheaper materials, especially cotton, were taking the place of the silks, velvets, ribbons, and laces of the former reigns. Fashion still mirrored the events of the times, both in the names of materials and the articles of apparel; the whole theory of it was based on the assumption of equality in dress; "all classes were mingling, willingly or unwillingly, through love or fear; and many wealthy persons rigidly adopted the simple attire." ' The tricolor, or the national cockade, appeared on every costume, as it was exceedingly dangerous to be seen without it in the days when one government succeeded another in such rapid succession.

Women's Dress.—Women were too busy or too poor to take the trouble to change fashions as often as had been the case in former years, so we find little or no change taking place between 1789 and 1793. Straight lines had taken the place of panniers a few years before, and a masculine type of dress, borrowed from the English, had been the result. Now women were looking for comfort as well as simplicity, and had given up the stiff stays that were necessary when wearing the pointed waist and the pannier. Gowns were made with bodices cut short in the waist and with sleeves to the elbow ; the neck was low and still finished with the fichu; the skirt hung plain and straight from the high waistline, the hoop or vertugadine having gone the way of the pannier. Little or no trimming was used, except an occasional ruffle at the edge of the skirt. The cotton materials were printed with the national trophies and revolutionary symbols, or with red, white, and blue stripes, and a bunch of tricolored flowers placed at the left side above the heart showed the wearer's patriotism. In 1791 shops were established in Paris where ready-to-wear clothing might be purchased. The best known of these were run by Quenin, who supplied the men, and Mme. Teillard, who catered to the wants of the women. Printed lists of prices were sent out by both of these shops.

Head-dresses.—The style of hair-dressing also under went a change, and instead of the huge piles that had been in vogue a short time before, the hair was worn low in front and hung in clusters of curls behind. Powder had gone with Costume of the period of the French Revolution, 1790. The other symbols of aristocracy, and for the first time in years the hair showed its natural color. Straw bonnets with high crowns and large flaring brims were used for a while; they were remnants of the huge, overtrimmed hats of the time of Louis XVI, and soon disappeared, to be followed by lace and muslin caps, the most popular of these being the mob-cap, with a deep lace ruffle around the face and neck, now known as the "Charlotte Corday " ; this was ornamented with the tricolored cockade or rosette.

Men's Dress.—The Revolution brought about the greatest change in the costume of the men. Dark colors, generally black, were in evidence, and cloth and leather took the place of silk and velvet. All furbelows, ruffles, laces, and ribbons had disappeared, they being considered aristocratic and not suitable to the dress of a democratic citizen. The breeches lengthened until they reached the ankle, a style borrowed from the English sailors, or, as Calthrop declares, invented by Beau Brummel for common wear. This, of course, is not the first time that long trousers, or pantaloons, as they were called, were worn. They were considered a mark of the barbarian by the Romans, and were worn by the early Asiatics and the Persians, but they now became the forerunner of the modern plain dress for men ; for while the knee-breeches returned for formal dress and are still worn in England for court dress, the long trouser was used for informal dress and went through many changes until it finally reached its present style.

The name pantaloon was first used as a term of derision or ridicule; it came from the character of Pantaloon, a clown, familiar to the readers of Italian comedies of the seventeenth century. For many years after the introduction of pantaloons they fitted very snugly to the figure, and were generally buttoned above the ankle.

The style of coats had not changed except in the material and color. They were cut away in front at a rather high waistline, and had a narrow tail at the back with the plaits pressed flat from the waist; they closed in front with four or five large buttons. The collar was high, and turned over squarely where it met the large revers. A waistcoat of fancy material, also buttoned and a trifle longer than the coat in front, was open at the neck, where it showed the white stock collar and small cravat of lace. The cuff had gone and several small buttons closed the sleeve at the wrist.

Head-dresses.—In England the powdered wig was still worn, but France seems to have discarded it with the rest of her aristocratic paraphernalia, and hair in the natural color prevailed, sometimes short, and sometimes long and tied behind in a queue. Black felt hats, turned up in the front, and ornamented with the tricolor cockade, were worn by all men, young and old, of high and low estate.

Foot-gear.—High leather boots with close turn-over tops, generally made of a different colored leather, came up over the long, tight pantaloons, the heels were rather low, and the toes square.

The Directory.—As a protest against the simple life that had been forced upon them during the first horrible years of the Revolution, the Parisians started a whirl of gaiety and pleasure as soon as the government became a trifle more stable. They danced and danced, and open-air pavilions were much in evidence. At the Elysee National, once the Elysee Bourbon, the music was led by a negro, Julien.

One of the most aristocratic of these dance-halls was called the "Bal des Victimes"; it was held at the Hotel Richelieu, and could be attended only by those who had lost a relation by the guillotine. A new style of hair-dressing originated here, when the men cut their hair short, to simulate the fashion that had been designed by Sampson, to distinguish the victims of the Revolution. Even the women took this up, and shaved the back of their hair, and this style was soon known as "coiffure a la Titus." It was a time of great license; women set aside all edicts for the regulation of "virtue and morality," and as a result very little politeness or consideration was shown them by the men.

Women's Dress.—Women began to dress to charm; there had been a return to nature, and this showed in the adoption of classic dress. This style might well be called undress, as they vied with each other in discarding garments and reducing the weight of those retained. "In the beginning these garments left the body free, followed its outlines, and were well-nigh transparent in texture, they drew their inspiration from nature and pagan mythology; they aimed at concealing nothing, and followed the harmonious lines of Grecian beauty." The skirt was scant and hung from a high waistline trailing at the back; the neck was low and round and the sleeves were small, short puffs, or long and tight, reaching to the wrist; with the short sleeves were worn long gloves of kid.

The materials used were sheer embroidered India muslin, painted gauze, lace, and light-weight cottons. The under-clothing consisted in most cases of flesh-colored silk tights. Often the skirt was slit to the waist on one side and showed the lower limb. Jewels were much sought after, and women spent ruinous sums on diamonds, jewelry, and flowers. They even went so far as to wear rings on their bare toes and bracelets on their ankles. Some of the gowns had no sleeves and were caught together at the shoulders with cameo brooches, like the Corinthian chiton of the Greeks, and when not split were draped on the left side to show the limb to the knee.

The weight of a woman's costume, including shoes and ornaments, was often as low as eight ounces, and several women appeared in public with nothing but a chemise in order to win a wager. Trains became so exaggerated "six yards for ordinary wear" and "fourteen yards for dress occasions" that they had to be wound around the figure several times and then held by the end; or they were thrown over the shoulder of the man when dancing. Heelless slippers, or Grecian sandals, were worn with white stockings, or soles were strapped to the foot by crossed ribbons.

The cost of these costumes was enormous; "gowns of Indian calico cost 2,000 francs, or 6,000 to 8,000 if embroidered and with a train." The trousseau of Marie Louise included a gown embroidered in silver and gold tinsel which cost 7,400 francs, one of pink tulle at 4,500 francs, and one of blonde lace at 6,000 francs. Laces were highly prized, and those belonging to Marie Antoinette were owned by Mlle. Lange, the mistress of the Deputy Mandrin. The most valuable of these laces finally came into the possession of the Empress Josephine, and were valued at from 40,000 to 60,000 francs.' Part of this expense was due to the low state of the currency, as paper money had taken the place of gold and was much lower in value.

Head-dresses.—Hair was being powdered, and a craze for wigs of all sorts and colors had developed. Mme. Tallien had "thirty, of every shade of light hair." The hair was curled and banded with ribbons or jewels, a la Grec, a diamond crescent being a favorite ornament. This style was finally supplanted by the "Titus" described before.

Felt hats, like those of the men, were trimmed with flame-colored ribbons, and toques made of light-colored silks and satins were ornamented with white aigrettes. Close straw bonnets with high square crowns were decorated with flowers and ribbons and tied under the chin. A little later caps of all descriptions replaced the hats and bonnets. The most popular of these fitted close to the head like an infant's first cap, and was made of lawn and trimmed with lace, or of Small bonnets similar to an infant's cap. from a velvet in green, violet, black, or cerise, with the seams covered with a flat galloon.

For outer garments over these very thin gowns a scarf of cashmere, silk, or other light-weight material was used, similar to the Greek himation. Huge muffs, like great barrels, nearly a yard long, were carried. Needless to say that the women of that time had very delicate constitutions, and many died of pneumonia and other lung troubles. The physicians were loud in their demands for more clothing. Delsarte declared that he had seen more young girls die of nakedness and gauze during the reign of this style of dress than during the forty years before.'

It was the fashion for women to eat very little while in public, although Uzanne asserts that they had very healthy appetites in private, and ate heartily, which was necessary in order to prevent the chest attacks which were so prevalent. He describes the women as being "buxom, healthy, loud-voiced beings, masculine in their ways, broad in their talk, and opulent of charm."

Men's Dress.—Very little change took place in the costume of the men during the years of the Directory, except in the size and style of the neck-cloth and the color and materials used in their clothing; this is especially true of the vest or waistcoat. The dandies, or "Incroyables," of France, often had three layers at the lower edge of the vest, each of a different color, and one below the other; "in 1791, green, yellow, and mother-of-pearl was considered very chic." These vests had high turn-over collars, which showed inside the neck of the coat.

The stocks were built out about the neck ; a padded silk cushion was first adjusted; this was concealed by a huge muslin cravat, and that in turn was covered by a figured silk handkerchief which came up over the chin, giving a goitre-like appearance to the neck. A jabot of lace filled in the opening of the vest. The Incroyables exaggerated the size of the revers and the collars of their coats, and sometimes their coat-tails were so long that they had to pick them up as the lady did her train. The coats fitted very snug at the waistline, and corsets were often worn to make their waists smaller. England was still the criterion for men's fashions, and the styles for top-boots and even top-hats were borrowed from there.

The Empire.—If all that was Greek dominated dress during the Directory, Rome had the same influence during the Empire. The little Corsican general was making order out of chaos, and, as Uzanne says, "he brought the licentious freedom in which the population had run riot under control, and endowed the nation with its civil rights, more precious an hundredfold than any rights political." Fashion became less frivolous as the everyday life became more stable.

Napoleon was as fond of pomp and show as Louis XIV had been, and dress assumed much of the gorgeousness that had been discarded a few years before. Velvets, silks, laces, and embroideries came into their own, and the silk industry in France, which had been practically ruined during the Reign of Terror, was resumed, and many other industries were started. Artificial flowers, then much in demand, were made by a clever chemist and botanist, Sequin, and silver flowers made by him took a prize at the Industrial Exposition of 1802. Cashmere shawls were the rage; many of these were brought into France from Egypt in 1792-1802. This industry was introduced into France by Louis Ternaux, who imported goats from Thibet. The government, realizing that there was much revenue from the manufacture of cot-ton, set up factories at Rouen, St. Quentin, and Tarare, which flourished under the First Empire, and clothed nearly all the women of France.

Women's Dress.—The day of the diaphanous gown was over, and while the style of dress had not changed to any great extent, the materials had. Women began to tire of the plain skirt, and the first noticeable change came when they added a short tunic to the Greek dress; gradually this was lengthened until it formed an overskirt which was open in the front. Color and heavier texture were introduced through this means, white being the favorite for the under-dress. The waist was still very short, and the skirt had grown shorter, showing the feet. The neck was cut very low or very high, the latter finished with a ruff made of lace and called a "Betsy," after Queen Elizabeth. Sleeves were short puffs for ceremonial costumes, and long and tight for the street or at home. Often more than one gown was worn at a time, one over the other. Mme. Recamier attended a ball in a very splendid velvet dress, which she removed when the dancing began, and appeared in a ball-gown of embroidered white silk.

The cost of these gowns was still very great ; the coronation robes of Napoleon and Josephine, made by Leroy and Mme. Raimbaud, cost 650,000 francs. The red velvet court train of Josephine and the cape-like robe of Napoleon were lined with ermine and embroidered all over with gold bees. Each of the ladies in attendance received 1,000 francs to be spent on her costume. Napoleon was a dictator in fashion, as in everything else, and no lady dared to appear in his presence wearing a gown more than once.

For outer covering shawls were in great demand, and much art was shown in the way these were draped ; ladies even went so far as to take lessons in the art of draping and posing; large sums of money were paid for these shawls. For outer wear, besides shawls, the spencer, a short jacket, with sleeves reaching to the wrist and made of colored silk or cashmere, was much liked. The longer pelisse was also made in color and of heavier material, and either lined and trimmed with fur, or simply lined with lighter-colored material. The sleeves were wide and turned back at the hand, and the coats had round, cape-like collars.

As Napoleon returned from his different campaigns, styles felt the influence of the countries where he had been, and Oriental fashions, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, and English followed in rather quick succession. The Empire style is so familiar to all that it is unnecessary to go into many particulars.

Head-gear and Accessories.—By 1806 the style of dressing the hair had become very conservative; it was held close to the head in flat curls, and these were kept in place by a net; braids of hair were also used, but kept flat to show the contour of the head. Classic coiffures, banded with fillets or broad ribbons, are shown in many of the portraits of the day, such as Mme. Vigee Lebrun, Mme. Recamier, and the Empress Josephine. These were painted by the celebrated painters, David, Gerard, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and Mme. Vigee Lebrun. Hats had given place almost entirely to bonnets of the coal-scuttle type, the brims rather straight and very deep, almost hiding the face; these were trimmed with high-standing feathers or flowers, and covered with a veil; a few straw hats and turban-like toques were worn when Turkish fashions prevailed.

The use of powder and rouge had almost disappeared. Napoleon and Josephine had started a crusade for cleanliness. Before this time the bath seems to have been considered as superfluous. It is reported that Louis XIV never washed himself, and Queen Margaret only once a week, and then only her hands. By 1800 soap had become an article in general use in Paris, although even then the French were not as clean as the English. Another form of cleanliness for which France is indebted to Napoleon was the frequent changing of underlinen. Josephine made three changes a day, while Napoleon made one. This necessitated a much more bountiful supply than had been needed before, and the trousseau of Mlle. Tacher de la Pajerie, a niece of Josephine, contained underclothing worth 25,000 francs, a gift of the empress.

Valuable jewels, such as cameos of ancient design, were chosen to wear with the classical dress, and many from famous Italian collections found their way to France to grace the fair ladies of the Empire. Rings on the hands and feet, bracelets and anklets, chains so long that they might be wound around the neck five or six times and still almost reach the floor, girdles and jewelled combs and earrings with three pendants all these and many more were worn. The value of these collections was almost unbelievable, as the gems were mostly diamonds. At one ball in Paris the value of the jewels worn was estimated at about 20,000,000 francs. Pearls were not considered fashionable, but amethysts were held in high favor. This craze for jewels was at its height from 1806 to 1809, when a reaction set in, and very few jewels appeared at the court functions.

The ladies, having no pockets in their dresses, adopted the fashion of carrying bags, called reticules, in order to have their small personal belongings with them. These were supposed to be a revival of the bag carried by the Greek women, and they were made of cardboard or lacquered tin in the shape of Etruscan vases.'

Men's Costume.—Although Napoleon made an effort to bring back the elaborate dress for men that had been given up at the time of the Revolution, he made little headway except in the matter of ceremonial dress and military uniforms. Men had found that plain dress was much more comfortable and more suited to the affairs of everyday life than the elaborate velvets, silks, and embroideries, and they refused to go back to .them. The dandies and exquisites, of course, followed the lead of the emperor. Perhaps the greatest change took place in the way of wearing the hair; in 1806 it was cut short in the back, and had long curled locks in front, which hung over the forehead and eyes; this was called "au coup de vent"; in 1809 it was curled and called "en cherube"; finally these gave place to the short hair-cut; that, gave the wearer the least trouble and was not disarranged by the hat.'

A change was also seen in the stock; the pad and the silk handkerchief had gone, and a plain black silk stock wrapped twice about a standing linen collar, and tied in a small bow in the front, had taken their place; the lace cravat had become a frill attached to the front of the linen shirt.

Colors were used for the coats; dark-green, dark-blue, brown, and wine-colored broadcloth were favorites. Breeches were long and tight, and high boots were still worn. Over-coats of fur or cloth had long, full skirts, and were buttoned with two rows of buttons; they were short in the waist, and had two or three capes. England had adopted the top-hat; it had developed from the sailor-hat, the crown had grown much higher and broader at the top, bell-shaped, and the brim had become narrower and turned up at the side. Frenchmen were still using the cocked hat made familiar by the pictures of Napoleon.

Fashions were changing rapidly in minute details; Uzanne states that between 1805 and 1814 Paris fashions were never the same for more than a week. Perhaps this was due to the fact the Empress Josephine spent most of her time with her dressmakers trying different effects, and of course her word was law for a time at least. Fashion papers were published every five days to keep pace with the changing styles. Dress was still showing the influence of political upheavals, as during the one hundred days after Napoleon's return from Elba no Imperialist lady appeared without her bunch of violets. The skirts of the ladies of the royalist party were decorated with eighteen tucks, to show their loyalty to Louis XVIII.' They also wore small bonnets made of white silk striped with straw, and a small cashmere shawl with a vermilion border; with this costume were worn dark prunella boots.



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