Early Modern Fashion
The decorative art of France of the eighteenth century seems to command a lot of attention. The one big reason for this could be the objects that were there then, reward close scrutiny. Their studies by scholars have not only led to the formal appreciation of their former complexity, but also to how they shaped sporadic and social experiences. In her observation, Hellman juxtaposes the decorated interior of eighteenth-century France to the body and motion of a pretty woman. “The vignettes of Dangerous Liaisons suggest that the design of clothes and interiors worked in unison to create an elegant environment of intimate encounters” says Hellman (Koda and Bolton). She says that the intimate games that the people of the time played also had the furniture that surrounded them, involved in them as well. “Chairs and tables became protagonists that facilitated a process of alluring self presentation and communication that was central to elite identities” says Hellman (Koda and Bolton). The role of interiors in eighteenth-century France cannot be discarded as objects used for support and comfort; they were bestowed with bewitching beauty that they at times even became more seductive than the mistress herself. The eighteenth-century French were known for their affinity for blemishless interiors, and used “silk-upholstered chairs with carved and gilded frames, tables and cabinets veneered with exotic wood and lacquer, fittings of gilded-bronze light fixtures, and porcelain vases and so on (Koda and Bolton). For the elite of the times, was to transform them into a living work of art. The painting of Jean-Francois de Troy’s The Reading of Moliere, stands testimony of the amount of materials used in interiors. The mood is intimate and it is further instigated by the designs and position of the chairs. Hellman says “with low, wide seats, tilted backs, and generously stuffed upholstery, they reveal an aura of comfort and relaxation. They are also arranged in a tight cluster so that the elegantly dressed bodies come close together” (Koda and Bolton). The French elite considered the body to be an instrument of pleasure; be it that of a man or woman, or a furniture or interior. Seduction wasn’t merely sexual; it could be the exchange of poses, gestures, expressions, and conversation, and this was something that drove their imagination when it came to furnishing their interiors. The elite dressed in such a manner that their dresses matched their interiors revealed Hellman; “their movement had to be smooth and flowing, neither too rapid nor too slow, and their gestures had to be expressive, but not too broad, abrupt, or agitated. Their facial expression had to be grandeur; a mix of pleasantness and warmth” (Koda and Bolton).
In The Art of Movement by Alicia Annas, she says that the elegance of art of the eighteenth-century was complimented by how the costumes were cut and worn by the people. For the, movement isn’t as simple as it is today; they had four different types of movements; the carriage or body posture, motions, manners, and Address. Each one of them was different and these movements were reinforced by the costume they wore reveals Annas (Maeder). Unlike today, when character and behaviour are symbolic of culture and status, the eighteenth-century French were profoundly movement-conscious. It is the grace with which a person walked, sat, danced, or stood that marked that person’s status. “Movement couldn’t be purchased, it had to be learned, and this required time and practice. The rules were also rigid, and these could be learned only from dancing masters, etiquette books, and costumes” (Annas). As Annas says, the eighteenth-century dresses are deceptive; they look as though they could be worn by anyone today who could then do things the same way the elite women of the eighteenth century did, but that’s not true. Women today will discover that they would find it hard to slump or bend forward without getting poked by her corset. Similarly, it would be hard for them to turn around in those ballooning skirts without causing any inconvenience to those around them or to themselves. “On her first attempt at sitting down in a chair, she would most likely end sitting elsewhere” says Annas (Maeder). The elite women of eighteenth-century France prioritized status for physical comfort explains why today’s women would find it hard to walk around in them. They were willing to face hardship, but never compromise on their stature. As the Duchess of Devonshire’s letter to a friend in 1778 read, “my new French staysare so intolerably wide across the breast, that my arms are absolutely sore with them; and my sides so pinched – But it is the ‘ton’; and pride feels no painto be admired, is a sufficient balsam” says Annas (Maeder). The eighteenth-century men and women challenged their bodies by attiring in costumes that caused immense discomfiture, but gave them pleasure of the mind and stature. Their costumes were not for the weak; but for those with a disciplined body. Ornating those bodies with curved asymmetrical serpentine dresses illustrated their beauty, grace, and stature.
The robe a la francaise; a typical French dress of the eighteenth-century elite class women, century, was worn on occasions of private meetings. It could be in halls where the rich and famous came together to celebrate an important event such as a private get-together. The gown is in many ways associated with the classical decorative style of eighteenth-century interior designs that matched the furniture and furnishings of that age. The robe; made of rich fabrics and consisting of frilly decorations, was worn by the wealthy class. It merged with the interior to the extent that it portrayed harmony and sensuality. The mood would be romantic and the tight-fitting bodice with a square neckline showed how upright the women moved in the picturesque surrounding. Since the French women and men were movement-conscious, the robe a la francaise, a symbol of aristocracy, would have encouraged gracefulness in movement. This could mean that the women danced and walked more during the get-togethers. The dress added to the grace of the furniture around the room, and since the women wore them on occasions, it obviously straightened her spine. She couldn’t have leaned forward much, as this could have led to uneasiness. The dress matched the designs and curves of the furniture and interiors, and this must have been occasions when the mood represented the picture of Jean-Francois de Troy’s The Reading of Moliere
Koda, Harold, and Andrew Bolton. Dangerous Liaisons. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. Print.
Maeder, Edward. An Elegant Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983. Print.