Fashion at Versailles: “For her”

Palace of Versailles

Fashion at Versailles continues to inspire notable contemporary designers. Decrypting its symbolic trends which emerged in the 1780s, around the iconic figure of Marie-Antoinette.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
Chapter I: The main fashion trends in the 1780s
With Marie-Antoinette, elegance and simplicity of clothing was the order of the day at Court. For everyday life, the robe à la polonaise, a modest outfit, was in fashion among women along with the robe à la lévite.
Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Simply dressed in a robe à la polonaise made of grey silk, the queen is putting together a bouquet in a countryside scene, with a rose in her hand.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

One of the specificities of the robe à la polonaise is the bodice, which was a single piece with the double skirt. It was a dress that was easily modifiable and which could be adjusted using a cord that passed on either side beneath the stitching.

Antoinette-Elisabeth-Marie d'Aguesseau, countess of Ségur, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1785, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Antoinette-Élisabeth-Marie d’Aguesseau was admired for her strength of mind and good nature, but was nonetheless conscious of the fashions of the time. The Countess is depicted in simple attire, with large creole earrings and a hat. Her hair has not been powdered and is styled according to a fashion which portraitist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun claimed to have started.

Antoinette-Elisabeth-Marie d'Aguesseau, countess of Ségur, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1785, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Her gown resembles a countryside-style dress, an effect which is reinforced by the bouquet of fresh flowers on the table beside her.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Depicted in 1788, the Queen is seated and leaning on a table covered with a red cloth and upon which there is a vase of flowers and the crown resting on a cushion. She is wearing a manteau of blue velvet with a fur trim along the edge over a skirt in white satin with a caraco, illustrating a version of the robe à la lévite. This was a straight, supple dress with pleats at the back. It had a large shawl collar and was often tied at the waist by a sash. In accordance with the latest fashion, the queen’s hair is styled with a pouf with ostrich plumes.

Illumination of Belvédère of Petit Trianon, Claude-Louis Châtelet, 1781, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
Chapter II: Appear at Court
Starting in 1775, Marie-Antoinette hosted several resplendent celebrations in the gardens of Trianon, during which it was crucial to have the right “dress code”...
Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Anonymous, after Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1779/1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#1 Grand habit de cour
The female grand habit de cour was composed of a manteau adorned with fleur-de-lis with ermine on the inside, and a wide satin or silk skirt with a panier that was sumptuously decorated with ribbons, flowers and beads.
Marie-Antoinette, archduchess of Austria, Queen of France, Martial Deny, Claude-Louis Desrais, André Basset le Jeune, 1774/1793, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The queen is depicted wearing a gown with a panier decorated with beads and garlands of flowers under a manteau adorned with fleur-de-lis.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Anonymous, after Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1779/1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

This portrait, of which Madame Vigée Le Brun delivered the original in 1779, follows the tradition of formal court portraits. The queen, depicted with a halo of light, is dressed in an impressive white satin robe de cour with a panier and a train decorated with fleur-de-lis; the crown of France is beside her.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Anonymous, after Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1779/1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The position of her head is highlighted by a high hairstyle with aigrettes.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Felix Lecomte, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

This bust portrait depicts Marie-Antoinette dressed in the royal manteau decorated with fleur-de-lis, lace, a tall wig adorned with flowers held in place by a ribbon and wearing a pendant of a large medallion bearing the profile of Louis XVI.

Queen Marie-Antoinette's necklace, After Paul Bassenge and Charles-Auguste Boehmer, 1785, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

This print shows the famously lost “Queen’s necklace”, which was comprised of two parts: a choker with festoons and pendants, and a second necklace composed of four dangling parts with two strands of diamonds separated by pearls, ending in four strands of diamonds and pearls inspired by the designs of trimmings.

Queen Marie-Antoinette's necklace, After Paul Bassenge and Charles-Auguste Boehmer, 1785, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

This necklace, with which the name of Marie-Antoinette will forever be associated, never actually belonged to her. A masterpiece designed by the Parisian jewellers Charles-Auguste Boehmer and Paul Bassenge, it was composed of nearly 550 exceptionally large diamonds and 100 or so pearls.

Marie-Antoinette, archduchess of Austria, Queen of France, Nicolas le Jeune Dupin, Esnauts & Rapilly, after Louis-Michel Van Loo, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The queen is depicted in an ermine manteau with a high hairstyle with aigrettes, roses and beads. The queen’s hairstyles were in large part the work of her hair stylist, the famous Léonard.

Marie-Adélaïde de France, said Madame Adélaïde, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1787, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#2 Habit de cour
Women’s habit de cour was traditionally the robe à la française. These were large gowns with paniers covered with frills, beads, precious stones and strass, and were part and parcel of the sumptuous court ceremonies.
Apparel for the King's Court, Etienne-Claude Voysard, Pierre-Thomas Le Clerc, Esnauts & Rapilly, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Until the French Revolution, the formal gown for theatre and attending balls was the robe à paniers. During the reign of Louis XVI the two paniers spread outwards at hip-height, a style known as the panier à coudes. It was also during this period that steel elliptical paniers with hinges were designed, which could be folded. The skirt here is decorated with sable tails, blue satin bands and lace.

Marie-Josèphe-Louise de Savoie, Martial Deny, Claude-Louis Desrais, André Basset le Jeune, 1780, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Marie Joséphine Louise de Savoie, the Countess of Provence by marriage, is dressed here according to the latest fashion “in a robe de cour with paniers and drapery, with cords, toque hairstyle with a Pouf, decorated with plumes with a bouquet of flowers in the centre.”

Marie-Adélaïde de France, said Madame Adélaïde, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1787, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Madame Adélaïde, Louis XV’s daughter, is depicted in court attire with a long train of red velvet, a sign of nobility.

Marie-Adélaïde de France, said Madame Adélaïde, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1787, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Her hairstyle is characteristic of this period, namely a pouf. The princess’s hair is curled on either side of her face and topped with a cloth hat with a ribbon tied in a flat bow. This hairstyle, however, is relatively modest compared with the extravagant pouf à la Belle-Poule or pouf à la Montgolfière.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, hunting, Louis-Auguste Brun said Brun de Versoix, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#3 Hunting attire
The queen participated in hunting with dogs and rode side-saddle and astride, despite the disapproval of her mother Empress Maria Theresa. For convenience for this form of entertainment, she wore male clothing or a redingote with a tiered collar.
Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, hunting, Louis-Auguste Brun said Brun de Versoix, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Marie-Antoinette is depicted hunting in 1783, riding sidesaddle with a servant, a bloodhound and greyhound. She is dressed similarly in the Wertmüller portrait painted in 1788. Her straw hat topped with plumes resembles the one the artist made a pencil drawing of.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, riding, Louis-Auguste Brun, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Louis-Auguste Brun de Versoix depicted the queen riding astride with tight-fitting breeches. This kind of horse-riding breeches, often made of black silk, were often worn under a skirt, although this is not the case in this audacious painting. Brun de Versoix worked at Versailles from 1782 to 1788, where he painted the queen and her inner circle’s walks and hunts with hounds. This informal existence during the final years at Trianon was spent in simplicity and apparent carefreeness.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, 1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Depicted in 1788, Marie-Antoinette clearly stands out in a green striped jacket with a pelerine, white cravat and a creole hat, giving her a truly elegant look.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
Chapter III: Innovations and liberties
It’s Rose Bertin, the “minister of fashion” of Marie-Antoinette, who brought a breath of freedom to court attire.
Yolande-Martine-Gabrielle de Polastron, duchess of Polignac, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1782, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#1 The robe “en gaulle”
From 1781 onwards, the chemise à la reine or robe “en gaulle”, which Rose Bertin created for Marie-Antoinette, sparked a mini revolution. It was a gown for wearing in private spaces and made of white cotton, gauze or silk. It was straight, very low cut and fastened with a belt around the waist. This négligé (neglected) attire is characteristic of the lifestyle adopted by the queen and her inner circle of friends in the Petit Trianon. The style was one of a return to nature inspired by the Rousseau school of thought described in the New Heloise (1761).
Yolande-Martine-Gabrielle de Polastron, duchess of Polignac, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1782, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Depicted in 1782, aged 33 at the time, the queen’s friend is shown from the waist upwards with a rose in her hand. She is wearing a chemise gown made of fine white linen and decorated with a lace frill and a sky-blue ribbon. A straw-yellow belt with blues strips marks her waist, while the black taffeta mantelet with netting along the edge is draped over her left arm. The Italian straw hat, decorated with a black plume and bouquet of wild flowers held in place by a sky-blue ribbon, fits with the countryside lifestyle of the Petit Trianon. The sitter creates an impression of freshness and infinite delicacy.

Marie-Thérèse-Louise de Savoie-Carignan, princess of Lamballe, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1782, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The Princess of Lamballe, who was one of the queen’s closest friends, was the wife of Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, son of the Duke of Penthièvre. She was depicted here in 1782 wearing a robe de gaulle and a finely woven straw hat.

Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène de France, said Madame Elisabeth, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1782, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#2 Bergère gown
The bergère gown was directly inspired by the attire worn by country women. This fashion drew upon the popular intellectual concept of a return to nature.
Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène de France, said Madame Elisabeth, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1782, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

During the trend of a return to nature, Madame Élisabeth was depicted in 1782 in an attractive jardinière gown with a broad-rimmed straw hat decorated with flowers and ears of corn. She is holding a bunch of freshly-picked flowers in her hands. She is wearing a green bodice laced over a white linen blouse and a plain skirt in red cotton. This gown follows the fashion of a return to nature which was hugely popular in the late 18th century, as demonstrated by the construction of Marie-Antoinette’s farm by Richard Mique between 1783 and 1786.

Louise-Marie-Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre, duchess of Orléans, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1789, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#3 The robe à l’orientale
The robe à l’orientale was actually a déshabillé gown made of white or ecru silk that was tightened at the chest and whose design was inspired by tales from travellers.
Louise-Marie-Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre, duchess of Orléans, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1789, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The Duchess of Bourbon, wife of the Duke of Orléans who was later known as Philippe-Egalité, is depicted sitting down with a gauze turban on her head, wearing a déshabillé made of striped muslin under a light white satin garment wrapped over her chest. Her waist is accentuated by a sky-blue belt. Dressed in the orientale style and leaning on a red velvet cushion, the Duchess has adopted a pose which is melancholic, to say the least.

Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène de France, said Madame Elisabeth, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

Labille-Guiard painted the Princess in 1788, aged 25, in a serious and fairly reserved portrait. She is depicted in attire of a fanciful style inspired by the orientale fashion, with a belt inspired by Antiquity and decorated with fake gems, exactly like the portrait displayed at the 1787 Salon.

Elisabeth-Philippe-Marie-Hélène de France, said Madame Elisabeth, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1788, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The pouf, a large turban on her head, has been scaled down to fit into the oval format. The delicate grey and white tones with the golden-yellow highlights of the gown and coloured gems bring out the Princess’s blue-grey eyes. Two ostrich plumes embellish her hair.

Marie-Antoinette in front of the temple of Love, Jean Baptiste André Gautier d'Agoty, 1780, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
#3 The English fashion
The robe à l’anglaise was characterised by the rejection of paniers, which were replaced by a tournure (a frame that was padded using horse hair). This type of gown was inspired by the redingote worn by men during the same period. This redingote-gown was fairly versatile: always close-fitting at the waist, it was often worn open at the front but could also closed using large metal buttons.
Marie-Antoinette in front of the temple of Love, Jean Baptiste André Gautier d'Agoty, 1780, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles

The Queen is posing in front of the Temple in her Trianon estate. She is wearing a redingote gown over a large petticoat and frilled blouse. A straw hat decorated with ostrich plumes is on the ground beside her.

Credits: Story

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

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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