Sunday, November 10, 2013

Because They Were Dedicated Followers of Fashion

This English Illustrator wasn't  too impressed
with Directoire Fashion
Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
His world is built round discoteques and parties.
This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
-- The Kinks

The 1789 Revolution in French brought with it more than just political change. 

For the first time political philosophies that had subjects of merely discussion in the salons of France, now had the opportunity to be the dominant paradigm.

These philosophies – harking back to Greek philosophers -- brought with it a change in fashion that threw off the strictures of the old order in favour of the ‘natural order’.

The female form - indeed la Raison herself was depicted as a young woman wearing diaphanous Greek robes - was to be celebrated and not artificially shaped with corsetry.

"I say, have you seen the bottom half of
your dress, m'dear?"
Gone were sumptuous fabrics, tightly corseted waists and large bustles of previous generations; satins and silks were replaced by cotton and muslin.

Waistlines were high and necklines were low - dangerously low in fact – something that didn’t go unnoticed by social commentators and political cartoonists of the day.

Despite the egalitarian intent of the simple and minimally adorned silhouette, the pastel colours and the popularity of white gowns were only practical for women who did not have to work for a living. The ones who gravitated towards it first were the remains of the aristocracy and the nouveaux riche merchant class.
"Your clothes are nearly see-through!"
"Hey, that's a bit ruff!"
Compare and contrast 1556 v 1796
Since the object of the Directoire-style (which later evolved into the Empire and Regency styles) was to celebrate the natural beauty of womanhood, some fashionistas dampened down the fabric to make it near-transparent. 

Just as Madonna’s penchant for conical bras and wearing underwear as outerwear in the 1980s led to the more desperate attention-seeking  stunts of Lady Gaga, so too did the succeeding generation of trend-setters seek to shock and outrage.

Following the brutal Reign of Terror, the young leading lights of the era  - the Merveilleuses (most comprising now adult daughters of guillotined aristocrats) – took the Greek-inspired fashion further by wearing ‘woven air’ - nearly see through dresses.

The bravest of them went sans-knickers, most however wore slim-fitting flesh coloured pantaloons made of stockinet to maintain the illusion, but preserve modesty.

They were fond of wigs, often choosing blonde because the Paris Commune had banned blond wigs, but they also wore them in black, blue, and green.

Another revolution was to change clothing styles 30 years later – the advances of the industrial revolution meant quality fabrics and quality clothes could be mass produced and therefore cheaper and fashion reflected this with the return of fuller skirts and bustles of the Victorian era.

And to prove that history does repeat, the slim silhouette fashion of the 1930s and 1940s – made necessary by the Great Depression and the rationing of World War Two – gave way to the lavish use of fabrics and full skirts of the late 1940s – 1950s, a style popularized by Christian Dior as The New Look.

About Moonstone Obsession:
Moonstone Obsession is a historical romance set in England in 1790:

For Sir James Mitchell, Lord of Penventen, it was a toss of a coin between which was more dangerous - being a spy or being considered husband material by the Ladies of the Ton.

With high stakes political machinations threatening to draw England into the violent wake of the French Revolution, the last thing James expected was to fall in love with Selina Rosewall, daughter of an untitled seafaring family.

From the privileged world of London society and the wild, dangerous beauty of the Cornish coast to the seething heart of revolutionary Paris, James reluctantly draws Selina deeper in a world of secrets, lies and scandals that threaten England itself.

Say hello to Elizabeth Ellen Carter:

Purchase Moonstone Obsession:

Extract from Moonstone Obsession:
In the south facing morning room, the furniture was rearranged to clear the centre of the room and allow the dressmaker and her two assistants space to show their wares. In one corner, a pair of screens were erected to enable the modelling of some sample outfits brought in a large travelling trunk.
Selina and Lady Elizabeth perused fabric swatches and fashion plates. It appeared that as philosophical fashion in France was harking back to the Greeks and Romans, so too was ladies' fashion.
Many of the fabrics were plain coloured cotton woven so thin it was almost transparent.
In the books, they saw square cut necklines, v-pointed corseted waists, and bustles in silks and satins giving way to scandalously low scoop necks. There were ribbons tied beneath to busts emphasise their shape while the bodice of these new fashion dresses lightly skirted the torso, the wearer free from restrictive corsets, to drape fluidly to just above the ankle.
Both English women were startled as a young woman stepped out from behind the screen and modelled the latest style for them.
“You can see all her legs!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“Not to mention her breasts,” added Selina.
“But of course!” said the seamstress, dismissing their comments. “It is the latest style.
“You wet the dress like this...” She brushed a damp cloth across the décolleté and down the front of the dress.
“It reveals the natural silhouette, the magnificent form of la femme, and might I say that Mesdames would look glorious as such. You have outstanding figures!”
“Yes,” said Lady Elizabeth, “figures that our husbands would not be happy to see on display for everyone to look at.”
Selina noticed the model scowl almost imperceptibly and glance quickly to her co-worker who was watching from beside the screens. Believing herself to be unobserved, she mouthed two or three words silently.  Selina made out one of them—“bourgeois”.

1 comment:

Joanna Lloyd said...

Fascinating time in so many ways, post-revolution. We tend to think our modern times have the monopoly on revealing fashions! Your excerpt was wonderful, Elizabeth and would make me rush out and buy your book if I wasn't half way through it already. Your writing style is beautiful and I am breathless with envy mixed in with delight :-). Good luck with the book!