As I start having a passion for fashion history while discover my aesthetic at LCS (London College of Style) during my fashion style course, one of my favourite among others is Marie-Antoinette , this attitude is our through-line from 1772 to 2019. Marie Antoinette risked her neck — quite literally — to make a statement with swooping necklines, elaborate petticoats, and above-the-ankle hems. Thus adorned, she gained power in King Louis’ court, and ultimately immortalized herself.
Louis XIV’s reign in the early 1700s was dominated by the baroque style of art, music, architecture, and haute couture. Ornate decorations, rich, dark fabrics, and elaborate, heavy designs dominated courtier couture under the Sun King.
After Louis XIV’s death in 1715, clothing styles began to evolve. Fashion took a turn to a lighter, more frivolous style, transitioning from baroque to rococo. The latter period was characterized by pastel colors, more revealing frocks, and lots of frills, ruffles, bows, and lace. This look spread from France and was copied by the elite in other European capitals.
Marie-Antoinette was an Austrian princess before she married Louis XVI in 1770. Clothing had always been a powerful signifier of nationality. When the young princess traveled from Austria to France to be married, her entourage stopped at the border between the two countries. There, Marie-Antoinette was stripped of all her Austrian clothes and dressed with clothing made in France. The ritual signified her transformation from Austrian to French.
After becoming queen in 1774, Marie-Antoinette embraced her new nation’s passion for fashion. Her enthusiasm for clothing fit into the wider culture that reigned at Versailles. In the 18th century, it was every highborn lady’s ambition to impress at court with her clothing, no small undertaking. The pressure of conspicuous consumption at Versailles, and the complex rules of fashion etiquette, dictated that women ought not wear the same outfit more than once—not, at least, without some carefully chosen, and costly, modification.
According to the history books, Marie Antoinette was either a tragic heroine or an irredeemable spendthrift — toward the end, her subjects called her Madame Déficit. The feminist viewpoint sees a spirited young woman who was married off at the age of fourteen but managed to make the most of it. She broke eighteenth century norms (to all appearances with considerable glee) and successfully empowered herself in the process.
When time had come to Marie Antoinette’s goodbye with life, announcing the execution, she was informed that she will not be allowed to wear her black mourning dress. So she chose to wear her simple and revolutionary white dress. Plain but pristine white chemise and bonnet that seemed she had saved precisely for that occasion. An amazing finale, showing that Fashion could do very little, as well as too much.
More than 200 years after her death, Marie Antoinette’s style is still mimicked on fashion runways, John Galliano’s Marie Antoinette dress being the best and most accurate representation.