18th century court costume: the male side

Well, my post on 18th century court costume was one of my most successful, and I could not help noticing that it attracted comments from gentlemen readers. Yet it only featured one set of male clothes, the astonishing wedding suit of the Crown Prince of Sweden, future King Gustaf III. So the idea came naturally to dedicate a post entirely to 18th century male fashions.

Unlike ladies’ Court gowns, they very similar in cut to regular attire. Ladies’ very wide panniers were only worn at Court, and would have looked ridiculous anywhere else. Indeed, especially during the years that preceded the French Revolution, they were widely mocked.

On the contrary, the male three-piece suit (coat, waistcoat, breeches) followed the same cut as the clothing worn by noblemen and bourgeois alike in regular settings. The major difference between gentlemen’s Court attire and ordinary clothes was in the embroidery and of course the quality and cost of the fabric. It was literally ruinous.


18th century male court costume

The Comte de Tilly, who was a Page to Marie-Antoinette, admits to spendthrift habits in his youth. In his Memoirs,he recalls that, when he appeared before the Queen in yet another new embroidered suit, she expressed a motherly concern in the sad state of his finances.

Even hunting clothes were richly embroidered. The Royal Hunt took place in the woods that surrounded Versailles and other royal residences. It was an official event as any other.


18th century hunting suit

Look at this hunting suit, presented by Louis XV to Christian VII of Denmark, and displayed at the Versailles exhibition on Court Pomp and Royal Ceremony last spring. The Kings of the Bourbon dynasty were all passionate horsemen and hunters, which shows in the choice of this diplomatic gift to another sovereign.

I remarked in my prior post that jewelry was de rigueur for gentlemen as well. Now you don’t have to take my word for it anymore: here is a garniture of diamonds from the Court of Saxony.


18th century diamant garniture

The sword, scabbard and decorations are self-explanatory, but look at the bottom left of this picture: these are shoe buckles. Above are the smaller buckles that tied the breeches just under the knee. And note the set of diamond buttons, smaller (left) for the waistcoat and larger (center right) for the coat.

Speaking of shoes, here is a pair below, with a very modern look to it, except for the heels. They were, if anything, higher than for ladies’ footwear (for examples of the latter, see here.)

And no, contrary to popular belief, the fashion of high heels for men had nothing to do with the supposedly short stature of Louis XIV. The Sun King was five feet four, mesure de Paris, roughly 1.75 meters, or five feet nine in English measurements. That was substantially taller than average at the time. And the King’s heels would not have helped a bit since everyone, male and female, wore the same at Versailles…


18th century men's shoes

And I reserved for the end of this post these dressing gowns of King Frederic IV of Denmark, also extraordinarily opulent.


18th century dressing gowns Frederic IV of Denmark

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14 Comments to “18th century court costume: the male side”

  1. abstract art says:

    hi was just seeing if you minded a comment. i like your website and the theme you picked is awesome. I will be back.

  2. steven brown says:

    My wife and I are planning to renew our wedding vows in spring of 2011. We want to do like and 18th century theme. I was watching and a move the count of monte cristo and I love the clothes the men where wearing esp the short embroided jackets with the high collars and the french cuffs. Do you have anything like that

  3. lancerika says:

    Stunning,elegant images,
    men fashion was so beautiful back then..
    Lovely post.

  4. Ed Hardy says:

    Exquisite design, superior material, exquisite craft. Ed Hardy Close to her heart, the most perfect expression of your love.

  5. Felio Vasa says:

    I loved this post – it’s one of my favorites! The shoes are pretty fabulous.
    How would they clean silk & velvet then?

  6. How fabulous. I love all of your explanations and your photos are divine!


  7. Catherine Delors says:

    Well, I was more fortunate: I caught the exhibition on its very last day! These shoes seem to be a hit. They have almost a disco look to them.

    And congratulations on your new blog, which I am adding to my blogroll. I have a feeling I will be linking to your posts pretty often…

  8. wonderful post and great images- the late-seventeenth century shoes are great. i was so angry, i got back to france the day this exhibition left versailles !

  9. Catherine Delors says:

    Very stylish, aren’t they?

  10. Sheramy says:

    What an interesting post! Love those images. I wouldn’t mind a pair of those white shoes for myself… :-)

  11. Catherine Delors says:

    Marie – The email posts you receive should allow you to comment (look at the bottom left of each email.)  And what a coincidence you mention Barbie dolls! I was preparing a post on 18th century fashion dolls.

  12. Marie Burton says:

    Since I subscribe via email, I rarely come to comment, but I always read your posts and wanted to thank you..
    And this one and the last were absolutely fantastic! I loved “the vintage” pics, and the last picture made me think of a vintage Barbie dress. LOL!!

  13. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Harlan! Unfortunately the clothes of the working class were worn until they were threadbare, so very few have survived. I could still do a post based on paintings and engravings.

    Certainly there was a brisk trade in used clothes in Paris. Aristocrats would present their upper servants (valets and ladies’ maids) with last year’s clothes, which could be resold by the recipients, sometimes several times until they achieved a pretty decrepit state. Plus, as you say, pilfering by washerwomen, but that applied rather to undergarments and shirts, which could be laundered. Silks and velvets could not.

    There was a market dedicated to that on the Quai de la Megisserie, with used clothes displayed on poles (see Mercier in this regard.) And in my first novel, my heroine, Gabrielle, buys a used Court gown for her presentation.

  14. Harlan Lewin says:

    Magnificent. Thank you very much. Any chance you could do something similar for the working class? I understand that some working class women (milliners, actresses etc) wore aristocratic cast-offs, which were easy to come by (some pilfered by washerwomen). I suppose male servants and clerks wore aristocratic cast-offs also.

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