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?
Spring clothes at Court by Etienne-Claude Voysard, Pierre-Thomas Le Clerc, Esnauts & RapillyPalace of Versailles
Chapiter I: The main fashion trends in the 1780s:
Men’s attire in the 1780s were comprised of three main parts: the
justeaucorps, which was the coat that later evolved to the frac, the waistcoat,
and breeches. Shapes were simplified in favour of a more slender silhouette
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 (1785) by Marie-Victoire LemoinePalace of Versailles
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.
Chapter II: Appearing at Court
In order to appear at Court, in front of the King, gentlemen needed to adhere to the right "dress-code" for every circumstance: policital meetings, balls, military review.
Louis XVI in sacred costume (1779) by Antoine-François CalletPalace of Versailles
#1 Grand habit de cour
The King was identified by his clothing, characteristic of his function, and namely the coronation attire which included the sceptre, the manteau adorned with fleur-de-lis and made with ermine in the underside, the crown and the hand of justice.
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.
Fair and Charitable Monarch by Nicolas le Jeune Dupin, Pierre-Thomas Le Clerc, Esnauts & RapillyPalace of Versailles
As indicated in the engraving, the King is: “plainly dressed in a French habit made of cherry-coloured velvet with embroidery around the edges; facings and waistcoat of gold fabric, embroidered with different shades of gold like the coat.”
Louis XVI, King of France (1774/1793) by Antoine-Francois CalletPalace of Versailles
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.
Louis XVI, King of France (1790) by Jean-Antoine HoudonPalace of Versailles
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.
Charles-Claude, count of Angiviller La Billarderie (1725/1802) by Louis-Joseph-Siffrède DuplessisPalace of Versailles
#2 Habit de cour
The habit de cour was a habit à la française or habit d’été, often made of valuable fabric such as velvet, silk or satin. The shape of clothing became more understated, in contrast to the fashion during the reign of Louis XVI, while colour gradually played a more defining role.
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.
Duc et pair decorated des ordres du roi by Nicolas le Jeune Dupin, Pierre-Thomas Le Clerc, Esnauts & RapillyPalace of Versailles
The character of the duc et pair of the King’s orders, holding one of the most important positions at Court: “dressed in an embroidered habit d’été”. The sword, sky-blue sash across his chest and the embroidered badge on his habit testify of his rank.
Costume under the reign of Louis XVI by Charles-Emmanuel Patas, Claude-Louis Desrais, Esnauts & RapillyPalace of Versailles
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.
Louis-Hercule-Timoléon de Cossé, duke of Brissac by AnonymePalace of Versailles
#3 Military uniforms
Military uniforms identified the specific function of each officer in the royal regiments.
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.
Regiment of the Artois dragons, clothes of a colonel by Nicolas le Jeune Dupin, Pierre-Thomas Le Clerc, Esnauts & RapillyPalace of Versailles
The Count of Artois, the king’s brother, is depicted in his uniform as Colonel of the Artois-Dragons regiment. It is composed of a dark green coat with a straight collar, white buttons, a waistcoat and white breeches.
The Colonel’s uniform only differed in certain details from that of the officers, which consisted in tall white plumes bordered by red at the top, a red collar and silver epaulettes.
Marie-Joseph-Yves-Gilbert du Mortier, marquis de La Fayette (1788) by Louis-Léopold BoillyPalace of Versailles
Depicted at the age of 31, the Marquis de La Fayette is wearing the uniform of Captain of the Noailles regiment, namely a royal-blue coat with red facings and a straight collar. A hero of the American War of Independence, he was made Maître de Camp of the 5th cavalry regiment of the King in 1781.
Charles-Antoine d'Artenay (1792) by Adèle RomanyPalace of Versailles
Chapter III: new fashions and freedom
The love of England that developed in the 1780s, in particular with the rise of the English-style landscaped garden, also influenced male fashion. The redingote (a French alteration of the English word riding-coat) was imported from England in 1725. It was long with small collars which could be turned up. At the end of the Enlightenment the redingote à la lévite also came into fashion, which had lapels that were separated from the collar and held down with buttons, as well as the lévite à l’anglaise.
The deputy is wearing a redingote à la lévite with three collars of different lengths and separate lapels, as well as a striped waistcoat.
Sulpice d'Imbert, count of La Platière by Louis Le Coeur, Claude-Louis DesraisPalace of Versailles
The writer is wearing a lévite à l’anglaise decorated with metal buttons and, in accordance with the fashion in the late 18th century, made of striped fabric.
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