It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Several weeks ago, I talked about fashion plates (read here) and how
they were used to spread the latest trends in the time before you could
flip through Vogue, or browse your favorite fashion blogger’s Instagram.
But what happened before then? Fashion plates didn’t become popular
until the end of the 18th Century, yet fashions would spread across countries long before then. How? Enter the pandora.
Put simply, a pandora was a doll, typically
around 15-17 inches tall, dressed in the latest fashions. Nearly a foot
and a half in height sounds large for a doll, but they were meant to be
large enough not only to be prominently displayed, but also to
accommodate every detail of the fashion they miniaturized; from the
lining to the pleats, buttons, and trim. Also known as Queen Anne dolls (due to the Queen’s love of them) these dolls needed to be small enough to be practical in price, but more importantly, they
needed to be portable.
Pandoras were created
in Paris, which as I have mentioned before, was the undisputed fashion
capitol of the western world throughout history. There is some debate as
to when pandoras were created. They were popularized in the 17th
Century, but there is evidence they may have been used as early as the
14th Century. They were created by the top Parisian dressmakers and
shipped to both elite members of society and dressmakers across Europe
The dolls themselves were most commonly made out of
wood, but some early models were made out of wax, while later version
were sometimes plaster. In the 18th Century, they commonly had carefully
crafted porcelain faces. The dolls also had hair (typically made of
wool) styled in the lasted fashion. They came complete with all the
appropriate underpinnings, even little shoes. They were the complete
look. The pandora was so in demand that it ultimately became the most
desired and elite French export. It even rose above all political
strife. When France and England were at war at the beginning of the 18th
Century, all immigration and importation between the two countries was
halted, with the exception of pandoras. The dolls were granted immunity,
and escorted into England with full military guard.
reached their peak during the Rococo Age, when opulence was most
desired. However, they fell out of use at the beginning of the 19th
century with the rise of fashion plates. Additionally, the style at that
time was neoclassical fashion. The simplistic looks were easily
conveyed in fashion plates, rendering the dolls unnecessary. Even as
fashion grew more elaborate again, pandoras were not revived, as various
developments in technology meant they continued to be unnecessary.
However, over a century later, pandoras made an unexpected comeback.
World War II, the Paris fashion industry was nearly completely
destroyed due to German occupation (as I mentioned in my post about
fashion shows, here) They needed a way to revive Parisian couture,
though they had almost no resources to work with. The solution was the
pandora. All of Paris’ top couturiers created their latest design in
miniature, accessories and all. The doll’s bodies were made of wire, to
make it clear that they were not toys. However, their faces were shaped
by top artists, with expertly crafted hair. They were placed in complete
scenes and put on display for the public. It was a massive success,
dubbed Théâtre de la Mode, and effectively revived Paris’ claim as
fashion capital of the world. The Théâtre went on tour, and while they
were a novelty for a while, pandoras eventually faded into obscurity once
again. However, the cultural impact is far reaching, and pandoras are
often credited as being the precursor to modern fashion dolls, like
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!
When i’m listening to my favorite music on max volume and your chipper ass comes yellin’ in my ear talking about why i should buy something because it’s great, i make a mental note to never buy a product from your company. Ever.