directoire style


Time for FRIDAY FASHION FACT! I mention the French Revolution in these posts all the time. A few months ago, I discussed why this war (and others) had such a huge impact on fashion (read here.) Now I’m going to delve a little deeper, and discuss how exactly fashion morphed in the years leading up to and following the French Revolution.

There are many misconceptions surrounding this tumultuous era. Many people believe that when the monarchy fell, the extreme opulence fell simultaneously. They think that women quickly switched to simple classical gowns because Napoleon introduced the style. Of course, much of this misunderstanding has to do with a lack of knowledge of French history. As I stated in the post referenced above, dramatic changes in fashion do not happen overnight. The Revolution began in 1789, and Napoleon did not become Emperor until 1804. By the time he gained the title, women were already wearing the simplistic classical styles. In fact, the peak of the simplicity occurred right before Napoleon had a chance to become fully settled into his supreme role. So then how did this style come to be?

Classicism had actually been creeping its way into Western society for well over a century. The Renaissance brought a new-found appreciation and interest in Greek and Roman art and architecture. The Enlightenment, and the scholarly pursuits which accompanied it, were an added catalyst for widespread interest in these ancient cultures. Naturally, this interest was reflected in the art of the time. While myriad art forms were impacted, for our purposes, we’ll just talk about portraiture. Kings were depicted wearing the laurels of caesars. Women were depicted as goddesses and muses. Sometimes the classical inspiration was blatant, other times it was very subtle, such as a woman wearing soft chiton or toga-like drapery.

The first instances of neoclassical dress outside of portraits were in fancy dress. Characters from mythology were a common choice for masquerade costumes. Yet it was Marie Antoinette, who everyone thinks of as the Queen of Opulence, who in the early 1780s introduced simple, loose dress into everyday fashion with the chemise a la reine (which I previously wrote about here.) However, the classicism was taken to another level during the Directoire Era- aka, the years following the Revolution (ca. 1795-99.) Without getting into a whole history lesson, this was when France was run by a (incredibly unsuccessful) Republic, which was inspired by the governments of ancient Greece and Rome. This classical inspiration saturated French culture in many ways, but particularly the arts and fashion. Dresses became incredibly simplistic, typically cotton gowns with next to no tailoring and minimal embellishment, inspired by the pristine marble sculptures from ancient Rome. And as we all know, if the French wore a style, the rest of the Western world did, too.

Around the year 1800, when the French government was changing hands and incredibly unstable, fashion reached the apex of simplicity. The French fashion industry, along with the rest of the economy, had taken a nosedive. Additionally, times of social turmoil often result in simplistic fashion, as style seems to be frivolous when such important issues are at hand. Shortly after the turn of the 19th Century, though, when Napoleon took over and introduced a stable Empire to France, embellishment and opulence began to make its way back into fashion. That, though, is another post for another day.

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!

Princess Serenity's Dress: An Analysis and Break-Down

Hey, Sailor Moon fandom, hey…

It’s that time again where I talk too much. This time let’s discuss Princess Serenity’s famous dress which is well-known as an interpretation of the “Palladium” / “Il Palladio” dress in the Christian Dior, Haute Couture Spring/Summer 1992 collection. Here’s a very nice post by Moonie Trivia with detailed pics comparing them with the included inspiration, an Ionic column.

So what more is there to add, really?

Well, let’s take a little trip down history and fashion lane.

Keep reading

Ceremonial court dress. May have belonged to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, nee Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg (1759-1828).

To give you an idea of how fast fashions changed in the Empress’s lifetime, here’s a formal portrait of her in the late 18th century:

In the above portrait, she is wearing a tightly laced corset, a stomacher, and a court hoop that made her skirt stick out to the sides. The dress is elaborately decorated with embroidery and beading, and the colors are vivid. Her hair is lightly powdered with gray and dressed high, accented with large ostrich plumes.

Below, in mourning (likely for her husband, who died in 1801, and whose cameo portrait she may be wearing on her brooch), she is wearing the French Directoire/Empire style, with its high waist (and scandalously low-cut bodice). The corset is entirely gone and the hair is its natural color. There is very little decoration on the clothing itself (though this is partly because it’s a mourning dress). In the blue dress at top, the waist is still high but has come down a little, and the fad for diaphanous outer fabrics has faded. Heavy ornamentation (embroidery, metallic threads, beads) on the fabric itself, such as along the hem, is back in. More petticoats were being worn, and a stiffer, more cone-shaped skirt became popular. Large, puffed sleeves were in, as well as a visual emphasis on wide, sloping shoulders. The corset also came back in and strictly confined the natural waist.

Confidences (1886). Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931). Oil on panel.

In this well-appointed room, the two women, one doing a needlepoint, the other quietly reading, sit at a guéridon (c.1804-1815), on a pair of gilded and white-painted armchairs, while a Louis XVI settee (c.1785) completes the furniture arrangement.  Adding to the period décor are the objets on the mantelpiece and the painted urn on the wall, a distinct element of Louis XVI or Directoire style.


M. Lesparre lived in a dim flat on the third floor of a Directoire-style building in the 14th arrondissement. It was tiny, but neat, just the way his wife had kept it when she was alive, though that was many years ago.

Late every night, after laying out his trousers and sweater and shoes for the next day’s park-sitting and bird-feeding, he would switch his television on and turn the dial just so, sticking the transmission into the snow between channels.

Most nights, after a short while, she would appear. He could make out her face in the static, and he would smile, and weep. Occasionally he would speak to her, but she never spoke back. Mostly he would just stare at her faint outline, an oscillating figure in the snow. A beautiful, lost phantom.

Then one day the maintenance supervisor adjusted the huge television aerial on the roof of the building, and old M. Lesparre never saw her again.