A Fascination with 18th Century Fashion | Bleader

A Fascination with 18th Century Fashion


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Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette
  • Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette

Pondering why designers don't mine pre-20th century eras more often for inspiration, I soon answered my own question—few people want to wear corsets on a regular basis or look like a refugee from the Renaissance Faire.

That said, there are some specific features of historical dress I wish we'd see on contemporary clothing occasionally, like the box-pleated back panel of the sack gown, also known as the robe a la francaise.

Eighteenth-century clothes seem to have a particular resonance for fashion historians, costumers, designers, and indeed the general public—consider the excitement around sumptuous costume dramas such as Marie Antoinette and The Duchess. The very things that make them so utterly unfit for any aspect of modern life—the constricting layers, awkwardly wide panniers, complicated draping a la polonaise, and of course the expense in making them—are no doubt what drives that fascination.

Even Halloween versions of Versailles chic are not cheap.
I can only imagine how much the outfits on Chenilles et Papillons would go for, if they were for sale (this blog post and subsequent comment, in French, seems to indicate that they're not, at least not exactly). One autumnal robe a la francaise is described as being of satin damask with bronze flowers on a red background with flounces. (Its name, "Sang de Boeuf," translates to "Ox Blood.") Men have it easier: a gray double-breasted frock coat might look foppish, but it's not quite so entirely out of place on the street.

If you've got a few hours to spare, there are lots of interesting links on 18th century dress and other eras at the Costumer's Manifesto.