It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT time! Everyone knows that Marie Antoinette was one of, if not the most infamous fashion icon of all time. She is well known for her lavish styles, yet it is one of her simplest that became one of the most influential garments in history. It was simple cotton muslin dress, one which changed the world, and one of which few people know the full impact.
At the start of her reign, Marie Antoinette wore some of the most lavish fashions imaginable- not surprising for teenager living in Versailles, who was given whatever silks and gems she desired. As she grew, matured, and became a mother, she became more attracted to a “simple life” (with simple being all relative, of course.) She spent much of her time at Petit Trianon- an idyllic garden chateau on the grounds of Versailles. When spending time there, the Queen wore a simple cotton muslin dress, known as a gaulle. It was a very English style, as the English had adopted simple cotton muslin frocks from many of the countries they imperialized.
When the Queen wore a style, all of her ladies adopted it as well. The fashion then quickly spread through the masses. When Marie Antoinette had her portrait painted in her gaulle gown (shown above,) the style gained true fame throughout France, even causing it to be renamed “chemise a la reine” (chemise of the queen.) But why was this fashion so much more influential to history than Marie Antoinette’s countless others?
For one, the people saw it as incredibly unpatriotic. As stated earlier, it was an English style, and it used English materials, as England and it’s imperialized nations owned the cotton industry. They believed that it wounded the French silk industry, although it is a bit uncertain if there is much truth to that claim. However, cotton was much more affordable than silk and even wool, allowing the lower classes more accessibility to new clothing. The chemise a la reine was also a very casual style, seen as very scandalous for a Queen to wear. It was reminiscent of the chemise undergarment which all women wore. Sporting the style was viewed as insulting to the rank and integrity of the position of Queen. All of this contributed to the anger which led to the Revolution.
Beyond the influence the chemise a la reine had within France, the style had world-wide ramifications, since Marie Antoinette was not only a fashion icon within France, but across the western world. Her adoption of cotton caused a boom in the cotton industry. This lead to further colonization and imperialization of nations all over the globe, and an increase in plantations. Perhaps the most dramatic ramification of all, though, was that this spike in the cotton industry led to an increase in the slave trade- an impact a young queen who just wanted a simple lounging dress could have never imagined.
Want to learn more about Marie Antoinette’s influence on the fashion world? Check out these books:
Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, by Caroline Weber
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