An 18th century fashion ambassadress

This may look like the other costumes displayed at this year’s Court Pomp and Ceremony exhibition at Versailles. But this picture is deceptive: this is in fact but a half-size model of a French court gown.

Ordinary fine ladies, unlike the royal family of Sweden, could not rely on their own ambassadors to keep informed of Versailles fashions. So French dressmakers, like the famous Mademoiselle Rose Bertin, who supplied Marie-Antoinette, sent dolls such as this abroad to spread the good word about the newest fabrics, colors and decorative motifs (the cut of the gown itself remained unchanged until the French Revolution.)

Such fashion dolls were given diplomatic passports so as to be allowed to travel freely through Europe. It is only decades later, during the wars of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, that international conflict took its toll on the free diffusion of fashion information.

This picture is particularly interesting because it shows the back view of the the gown. Note that the ends of the bodice do not meet at the back, and leave a gap several inches wide. This was indeed the proper manner of wearing a court gown at Versailles, as my heroine Gabrielle might have told you: the – very sheer – chemise had to show in the back.

18th century fashion doll

18th century fashion doll court costume

Related post: 18th century court costume and Marie-Antoinette

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