Marie Antoinette in Riding Habit: Portrait by Joseph Krantinger, 1771
You wouldn’t think that the 200 year old tragedy of a French Queen could still capture our modern imagination today, but it does. Mention the name Marie Antoinette (1755 - 1793), and everyone has an opinion. I have been asked ‘Why are you reading about her? Surely there isn’t much to know about her, she was just silly, immoral and deserved what she got on the guillotine”
What I do know is that when Sofia Coppola’s movie Marie Antoinette came out, there was much eager anticipation. What was the attraction? A glimpse into a world so different from ours perhaps? Isn’t that what we all crave for, an escape, a few hours enjoying the beauty, the fashion, the masked balls, the colours, the feathers, the fantasy?
The French Court had a reputation for extravagant luxury long before Marie Antoinette joined it in 1770 as a young bride. France was, of course, the home of fashion and style. All Europe wanted to look French. By 1774, as Queen of France Marie Antoinette was expected to continue that great tradition and be the first lady of fashion, at once both leading fashion and representing French fashion designers and creators. It was the expense though of her wardrobe which became just one more reason to dislike her among the revolutionaries.
She must look like the Queen of French Fashion, but it must not cost like it.
Marie Antoinette early years as Queen of France were the last years of the rococo period: imagine fine swirls, curves, ribbons, shells, birds, leaves, blossoms as motifs, mirrors and timber with ivory whites, pale pinks and blues. It was a style which balanced delicate simplicity of pattern with complexity of design. This may sound like a contradiction in terms but when compared to the heavily elaborate baroque style which immediately proceeded it, rococo was seen as a lighter, frivolous style.
By the time Marie Antoinette became a mother of four children in the early 1780s, she was a champion of an even freer and lighter style that became known as neoclassicism. She adored the white muslin dress which characterises many a Jane Austen movie today. It was a simpler, more classical dress inspired by Classical Greece and Rome. She also favoured a personal appearance which was clean, simple and without the heavy makeup and adornment characteristic of earlier 18th century fashion.
Marie Antoinette’s ratings in the popularity stakes fell even further when she pursued this simpler lifestyle, portraits of her in this new style caused an outcry as a fashion unbecoming to a queen. One can’t help but think that Marie Antoinette could do little to please.
Summary of the Rococo Style
Rococo Style:Complex and intricate patterns, often swirls and curves, also loved natural shapes like flowers, leaves and shell patterns. Dresses had narrow waists leading into hooped skirts, wide at the hips. Fashion also loved ribbons, ruffles, frills and lace for decoration.
Colours: Pastel and light colours pinks, blues, greys were popular alongside brighter apricots and turquoises.
Key Designers: Rose Bertin
Fabrics: Silks, including light weight silks like taffetas, were popular
P.S. Marie Antoinette also loved to embroider!
I love Marie Antoinette's riding habit in the peach and turquoise. Download FlowersStripes_1 you can use, its a small design I based on her waistcoat. The detail of her waistcoat is a bit hard to see in the picture but it looks a lot like my image with lines of peach with little flowers in every alternate row. Enjoy!