Fashion design as an industry has been around for millenniums now, dating back to the days when kings and queens, princes and princesses, and emperors as well as the wealthy used to dress up. It was all about robes in terms of how you present them and the material used to craft them until between the late 18th century and early in the 19th century when a major change was experienced. Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin was among the first people to set up a fashion shop under her name, and was privileged enough in this venture to focus on the highly influential segment of the population such as the Princesse de Lamballe, Dutchess de Chartres, Princesse de Conti, and the new Dauphine, Marie Antoinette. This paper will therefore look into the life of Marie Antoinette, both as princess and queen, the impact of her influence on France socially and politically, and the role she played towards provoking the French Revolution.
Marie was destined to life in royalty at a very tender age. She was the 13th of 15 children born to Maria Theresa, the empress of Austria and her husband, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. She was cultured from the tender age of three to present herself in an honorable manner, receiving education that was mostly centered around nurturing moral principles. She was married off to the French Prince Louis XVI when she was just 15 years old after it was ruled as the only way the two countries would enjoy peace was by cementing the royal families together in marriage (Hollander). It worked, and for a while, there was peace in the region. This would, however, turn out to be a tipping point to the monarchy as the new queen would bring to light the extravagant life of the monarchy that went on regardless of the fact that France was at the brink of bankrupsy at the time.
Fashion as a Lifestyle
Marie Antoinette came to France as the dauphine, and in following her mother’s recommendations, she tried to adapt to the French way of dressing as it was required in fulfilling her court duties. These duties demanded old-style corsets that were accompanied by thick rouge and stiff curls. Marie soon rebelled against this trend and took out to make her own decisions when it comes to fashion and how she presents herself. It was at this time that she procured the services of Paris Couturier Rose Bertin, a lady that would later be referred to as the Minister of Fashion (Weber). She wore her newest designs, inclusive of the robe a la polonaise, a provocative bodice that was bosom-enhancing. This was accompanied by skirts that were ankle-baring, and a 3-foot long pouf decked with saucy objects inclusive of veils and plumes. The look she was always going for was against the expectations of the court as she would wield her body to attract the level of respect she understood; shock and awe, wonder and delight, as well as sincere flattery of imitation.
Most of what she wore was not within the people’s reach and the fact that she had a policy of not wearing the same look twice did not auger well with the people. It clearly reflected the abundance of money that the monarchy had, regardless of the fact that it was broke from the recently ended American Revolution, which France joined. The fact that she was born and raised in a monarch, and finally wedded into a monarch also did not help her case. Marie Antoinette could not empathize with the poor as she had never experienced it and thus did not know what it felt like. Many looked up to her, but the grandiose in her general presentation was one that would never be achieved by a considerable chunk of the population.
Marie Antoinette believed she was of a different class, which was true considering her childhood and adult life, an aspect that she lived up to, without consideration of any consequences that could suffice. Her belief was also that women needed to be as dashing in their looks as possible, a factor that is well expressed by the attention she paid to her hair. At some point, she faulted court etiquette by sacrilegiously choosing to invite Plebeian Bertin to her private quarters behind closed doors. His role was to coif, clothe and advise her on matters mostly regarding fashion and how she needs to present herself (History.com). The end result was that she always stole a gaze whenever she went, something that was out of the ordinary, considering it was only reserved for the King’s mistress.
Even though the cost of all this was her neck owing to the extravagance involved, Marie Antoinette left behind an industry that has only grown bigger since then. The fashion industry as we know it is mostly geared towards going outside the societal norms and presenting oneself in a manner that is only unique to an individual, rather than conforming to societal expectations.
History.com. Marie-Antoinette. Web. Accessed November 12, 2016.
Hollander, Anne. The Queen’s Closet: What Marie Antoinette Really Wore. Web. Accessed
- November 12, 2016. <http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/fashion/2006/11/the_queens_closet.html>
Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. 2007. Vol. 17, No. 1.