July 2007 Archives

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Point de Convention (Absolutely no agreement)
Louis-Léopold Boilly 1797
A Merveilleuse is mistaken for a prostitute
and refuses the coin offered to her.

The Muscadins (or Incroyable, the Incredible) first appeared around 1792, known for their royalist sympathies and so named for the musk perfume they wore in defiance of revolutionary austerity. They re-emerged after the fall of Robespierre, ending the Terror, and were key thugs in what has become known as The White Terror, a backlash against jacobin oppression, violence, and Robespierrean virtue. The jeunesse dorée roamed the streets of Paris drinking, toasting the monarchy and lashing out at patriots with sticks. And they looked fabulous doing it. Typified by their adherence to ancien regime knee-breeches and exaggerated English style frock coats with impossibly large collars, and powdered hair dressed outlandishly in either multiple braids or "dog-eared" style, cut short in the back à la victime and long beside the face. They were literally roving bands of angry dandies. By the late 1790's however, sporting a Muscadin hairdo would no longer get you arrested (as it could in 1795) as the various styles were adopted and absorbed into the fashionable and ephemeral society of the Directoire.

Aileen Ribeiro says of this image (les Incroyables) :

Caricaturists found a perfect subject in the form of the masculine fashions of the late 1790s. Both young men wear tight-fitting square-cut coats with huge lapels, and knee-breeches decorated with loops of fabric. Their political sympathies are not necessarily clear. Although their culottes date from the ancien régime, their printed cravats are working-class in origin; and, while the man on the left wears his hair plaited at the back à la victime, the man on the right has a revolutionary cockade prominently pinned to his hat. Both have shaggy hair, the side locks falling like spaniel's ears. The implications seems to be that fashion is more important than ideology.

Fashion in the French Revolution, Aileen Ribeiro


Les Merveilleuses, or Marvelous Women, ruled the live fast, die young social whirlwind that took over the salons of Paris after the Terror. At their front Thérésa Cabarrus Fontenay Tallien and Joséphine de Beauharnais (later Empress) both of whom just barely survived the Jacobin regime. It was partly on Thérésa's behalf, with whom Tallien had been conducting a torrid affair, that he spearheaded the Thermadorian take down of Robespierre and the Montagnards. The à la Grecque style typified by Thérésa, Joséphine, and Madame Récamier consisted of clinging, flowing classical Greek and Roman styles in white silks and muslins, draped with brightly colored shawls and ribbons edged with classical motifs. The once allegorical fashion left the painters studio and took to the streets and ballrooms, their dainty feet shod in golden sandals, and dresses dampened to enhance their cling (though wearing knitted flesh colored stays and stockings to preserve a vestige of modesty). Madame Tallien though was the real deal, and famously appeared at the Paris Opera wearing a white silk dress without sleeves and sans petticoats (gasp!). Charles Maurice de Talleyrand commented: "Il n'est pas possible de s'exposer plus somptueusement!" ("It is not possible to exhibit oneself more sumptuously!") [source: wikipedia]. Hair was worn curled and dressed with ribbons à la grecque or clipped short à la victime or à la titus, in emulation of the last haircut the condemned received before being sent to the guillotine so as not to impede the blade. This short and sassy style lasted amazingly til the early 1800s, but never caught on in England or other countries, unlike the empire waisted dress, which proved the silhouette du jour for nearly thirty years.

Sans-culottes: Artisans of Paris

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Sans-culottes carrying a model of the Bastille, 1793
Sans-culottes: Literally "without knee breeches" i.e. not a Mr. Fancy Pants, an aristo, as the working man wore trousers. This became the defacto uniform for the Sans-culotte, along with the Phrygian Cap, removed from the lofty spear of Liberté, and the tricolour cockade.
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1793-94 Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Milhaud,
Deputy of the Convention

Jacques Louis David
Just as the 1770s saw Marie Antoinette celebrated France's naval prowesswith the famous ship pouf hair coiffeur, the revolution inspired, and even regulated, the fashions of the day. People enthusiastic for the Revolution and reform festooned themselves in tricolour ribbons, sashes and cockades. Women began dressing like greek goddesses, and men shorn their hair and forewent the poudré. The period of the Terror, things like fashion plates disappeared and Paris went artistically quiet (except for David, who was busy sending people to the guillotine in the Convention). When Robespierre fell there was a backlash against "virtue" and people put rings on their toes, danced in the streets, and beat eachother up with sticks.

Some Terms:

Incroyables et Merveilleuses: the Muscadins and Demi-mondaine are covered in their own post.

Sans-culottes: Also have their own post. In short, it means literally "without knee breeches"... in other words, not an aristo, as the working man wore trousers. Just like cooks today wear checkered pants, the artisans of the day typically wore a red and white striped trouser. This became the defacto uniform for the Sans-culotte, along with the Phrygian Cap, removed from the lofty spear of Liberté, and the tricolour cockade.

Le Tricoteuse (female knitters) were famous for sitting in the front row before the guillotine, knitting. Like the laundresses and fishwives, they were known for their volatility and zeal. Madame DeFarge from Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities" was a tricoteuse.


Source for all good things on the art of dress: Aileen Ribeiro (my hero!)

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Liberty
le Bonnet Rouge, Phrygian Cap, Cap of Liberty [more info]: Borrowed from Roman tradition, the bonnet rouge became a symbol of liberty during the revolution. And is apparent to this day in french national iconography.

An elongated soft woolen cap with the tip pulled forward, it became an every day staple of revolutionary dress, particularly by the sans-culottes.

The Tricolour Cockade: A roundel of ribbon to be worn mostly on hats. in 1789 the tricolore was adopted as a means to declare your revolutionary sympathies, and later as a national symbol of the new France. By July 1792 a law was passed making it mandatory for all men to wear the tricolore cocarde. The following year the Societé des Républicaines-Révolutionnaires, a fervently Republican club of middle and lower class women, took to the streets threatening to whip any woman who failed to don their cockade, even though the wearing of them had not been mandated for women. So they petitioned the Convention requesting such a law make it on the books.

Source: The Politics of Appearances: Representations of Dress in Revolutionary France ... [BUY FROM AMAZON.COM]

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Marie Antoinette
by Vigée le Brun, 1783

By the time Vigée le Brun scandalized the masses by exhibiting the Queen in what appeared to be her underwear in 1783, the queen and women of quality had been going en chemise for several years and not just in the privacy of their boudoir. Like oil and water, the classes didn't mix and this was the first time the populace had been exposed en masse to the depravities of the aristocracy. Ironically, the shocking bit was the lack of formality shown by a monarch already famous for flouting tradition. The Queen (capitol Q) was shown without any of the outward symbols and trappings of her position, culturally naked, and appearing en negligée was taken as an insult to her position as mother of the people.

Le Brun was forced to remove her painting from the public eye, but like all scandals, they inspire more than they deter and the chemise gown became the symbolic frock of the 1780's.

The earliest versions were formed much like actual chemises, consisting of four pieces of rectangular cotton muslin yardage and gathered at the neck, just under the bosom, and again at the natural waist, which was then belted with very broad silk sash and tied in back. Sleeves were full, and also tied at two or three places, stopping at or just below the elbow. This was frequently finished off at the neck with a double or tripple collar. By 1790 classical lines and revolutionary ardor had taken the beau monde by storm and women of fashion and culture appeared in portraits and the salons as idolized Roman matrons or Greek godesses. This was primarily achieved by losing the gathered waist and broad sash and the fullness of the sleeves. Sleeves were either close fitted into the armhole, and no longer than just above the elbow, or non-existant, a la toga. It wasn't until the later Empire period that the poofy sleeve often associated with this style was introduced.

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1794 Delivering a basket of food
to the Conciergerie prison, the last stop before the guillotine
As revolutionary sentiment reached a fever pitch (and mostly among the artistocracy, I might add), the pinnacle of outward expression of revolutionary fervor was the Roman simplicity and egalitarian nature of the the white muslin gown.

Initially quite modest by our standards, by 1791 the simple frock was every bit as daring as can be imagined. Up until 1800 it could be worn with or without short-waisted corsets. There are numerous portraits of young women of the demi-monde going bare-breasted or the semi-transparent. This effect was often enhanced by dampening the dress with water so it would cling to the figure like a classical statue. In order to preserve some semblance of modesty knitted knee length knickers would be worn... the first underwear maybe? And can be clearly seen in this Incroyable et Merveilleuse painting by Boilly.

Continued: For the most extreme and exotic versions of the fashion, please see the Incroyable & Merveilleuse gallery! (coming soon!)

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"Ah! Quelle Antiquité!!!"
1793 meets 1774

I celebrated this year's Bastille Day by sorting through my hundreds of images on my hard-drive and old versions of this site to categorize galleries of late 18th century (mostly french) costume. We'll introduce this new subcategory with a summary timeline.

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