Discover the Mode in Prussia around 1800 and be inspired by the Style of a Queen
Luise, Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was born in 1776 and grew up with her grandmother at the court of Darmstadt. Her mother died young. Frederick William II discovered Luise and her sister Friederike at a ball and brought the pretty girls to Berlin as potential brides for his sons. In a spectacular double wedding in 1794 Luise married the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William and her sister Friederike married his brother Ludwig. Luise became Queen of Prussia in 1797.
Even as a young girl Luise was fascinated by fashion. She would draw dresses, hair-dos and hats in her notebook and describe fabrics, colours and cuts with an unerring eye for detail in her letters. Later, as Crown Princess, she noted with interest on a journey to Pomerania how the country people ”made both their clothing materials and clothes with their own hands”. She found that ordinary people were not troubled by the “grandeur of the cities and the caprices of fashion, the greatest tyrants of our age”.
Two Chemise Gowns
Left: France, ca. 1800
Right: England, ca. 1805
The chemise dress was a one-piece garment with a high waist and wide neckline. Worn beneath it were undergarments or skin-coloured stockinettes. For the first time, and then only briefly, women could abstain from bodices, hoop skirts or hip cushions.
While the permissive fashion for ladies’ dress and liberation from restrictive clothing was enthusiastically welcomed at first in Prussia, the formal nakedness of the female body very soon began to be frowned upon as being shameless. The fashion magazines satirised it and pointed out the danger to morals and decency from the wearing of transparent chemises. The Journal for the Elegant World even wrote in 1811, “It would be sad if this fashion were to succeed in making the noble love of the man, who only likes to approach the demure and modest woman and girl, ever more mistrustful of female virtue, and if the bonds of matrimony were to become ever less as a result.”
The charm of the fashion-conscious sisters was immortalised by Johann Gottfried Schadow in his famous double statue of the Princesses. The sculptor wrote in his notes,
"In silent excitement the artist worked on his model, taking the dimensions from Nature; the exalted ladies gave what he picked out from their wardrobe, and thus the fashion of the time had its influence on dress."
Schadow illustrated the different attributes of the two sisters in line with the currently popular fashion for Antiquity. Luise’s gown drops more simply and emphasises her dignity. Friederike’s gown seems more full of life with its more animated folds and emphasises her physical charms.
Nevertheless, critical voices raised at the Prussian Court complained that Luise’s appearance in her dress was too immodest: “The female persons wore only a chemise and the thinnest of dresses, in which all their forms were visible.”
A conspicuous feature is the recurring neck band. During her life as well as in the iconography that grew up after her death, the chin strap became unmistakeably associated with Luise, a fashion trend which the Queen herself is supposed to have shaped.
A fashion trend on which the Journal of Luxury and Fashions reported on many times: “Morning suit. The hair decoration comprises a white satin band which is drawn through the hair. The hair winds carelessly in small ringlets. … Around the neck is a riot of muslin, specked with dressed tatting.”
Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Astrid Alexander / Christine Waidenschlager
Concept / Editing / Realisation: Astrid Alexander
Translation: Catherine Hales and Stephan Schmidt
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz www.smb.museum