Being well dressed at Court was not that easy for the gentlemen. “Frac”, “justeaucorps”, waistcoat or coat, were the main fashion trends that appeared in the 1780s. Shapes were simplified in favour of a more slenderer silhouette, but who were the trendsetters of the 18th century?
The letter which is part of this engraving describes the type of costume: “Habit de printemps à la Française. M. the Count of Provence. This habit, although plainer, is in the same style as the king’s. This type of habit à la française was worn at the end of the Ancien Régime. […] The habit à la française is composed of a justeaucorps, coat and breeches. The justeaucorps, which was looser-fitting than the frac à l'anglaise, was never worn fastened, despite being decorated with buttons and button holes. It had a straight collar made of the same fabric, in contrast to the English-style collars which were turned-over and made of a different colour. The justeaucorps had external pockets whose flaps constituted an essential element of decoration. The waistcoat was very long and had sleeves, meaning it could be worn without a justeaucorps in négligée dress, and was generally made of a different colour; it hung low and had basques in front and behind…”
“…The breeches, made of the same fabric as the justeaucorps, were tightened just above the knee by a narrow garter with loops and decorated along the seams with a row of small buttons. The buckles on the shoes, which were square and descended low down the foot, were known as Artois buckles. The hat, a plain tricorne made of black felt with a white border, was more often held in the wearer’s hands or under the arm than worn on the head. It was an integral part of the habit à la française, whereas the attire à l'anglaise was worn with bicorne hats, turned up at the front (à la suisse), or at the side.”
François-Guillaume Ménageot was made a member of the Académie Royale in 1780 and later chosen in 1787 to replace Louis Lagrenée at the head of the French Academy in Rome. This elegant portrait depicts the artist wearing a white waistcoat with large lapels and embroidered with cornflowers (a very fashionable pattern at the time) and a violet silk coat with a high collar. A long white linen scarf around his neck is knotted over a folded jabot which opens in a fan-like shape on his chest. The painter’s thick, powdered hair is styled in an ailes de pigeon style.
Louis XVI is dressed in the same way as his illustrious ancestors, as attested to by the portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud and the one of Louis XV by Louis-Michel Van Loo. The blue of the thick wall hangings matches the coronation manteau decorated with fleur-de-lis and the fabric covering the floor. The column behind the King symbolises power and authority. The white of the ermine fur on the inside of the manteau and on the collar lightens the
King’s face. Louis XVI is also wearing a long-sleeved shirt of elaborate white silk, bouffant breeches, white silk stockings and light-coloured shoes with a large buckle and a red heel, as was the custom at court among the nobles. Like his grandfather, he is holding a hat decorated with white plumes in a white-gloved-hand. The regalia are depicted beside him. On a cushion adorned with fleur-de-lis to his right is the hand of justice and the crown; the hand of justice, which symbolises the King’s power to administer justice, is depicted here as a left hand in silver.
Monarchical symbols in official portraits consisted of a coat and breeches of purple velvet, a sign of nobility due to the colour and elegance of the fabric. Here, he is dressed in a red coat with the cross and blue riband of the Holy Spirit, the Order of the Golden Fleece, with the coronation manteau resting on his right shoulder.
During the 1787 Salon, Louis XVI was depicted in habit de cour from the waist up. He is dressed in majestic fabric and wearing a wig with two curls tied back with a ribbon. The insignia of the Order of the Toison d’or is attached with a plain ribbon to his habit de cour, over which he is wearing a shimmering sash. The sovereign is also wearing the knight’s cross of the Order of Saint Louis.
A personal friend of Louis XVI, the Count of Angiviller was made Director General of Buildings, Arts, Gardens and Manufactures of France at the ascension of the king in 1774. Here he is dressed in a habit d’été and breeches made of a lilac-coloured silk fabric, reflecting the fact he is a knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit, the King’s order. The ecru silk waistcoat gives the minister a radiant air.
The court attire was also sometimes used for parties, and made specially for princely balls. The outfit here was adopted by the most important members of the Court and worn at the Queen’s balls in 1774, 1775 and 1776, and was known as the Costume de Henri IV mainly due the ruff, stuffed breeches and hat with plumes.
The Duke of Brissac, who was Madame du Barry’s last lover after the death of Louis XV, is dressed here in the uniform of his prestigious function as Captain of the King’s Hundred Swiss Guards and Governor of Paris. His uniform as Captain-Colonel includes a ruff, plumes and silver coat with floral motifs.
Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles
Laurent Salomé, Director of the museum
Thierry Gausseron, General administrator
Béatrice Sarrazin, General curator, in charge of the paintings department
Yves Carlier, General curator, in charge of the collections management
Vincent Bastien, PhD in Art History, curator assistant, curator of the digital exhibition
Géraldine Bidault, in charge of the photography library and the digitization of the collections, curator of the digital exhibition
Ariane de Lestrange, Head of communication
Paul Chaine, Head of digital service
Maïté Labat et Marie Delamaere, Coordinators of the digital exhibition