Exploration One: French Rococo, Georgian and Macaroni

High fashion in France during the times leading up to the French revolution, is arguably the most luxurious period in textile and style history. The courts dictated the directions that fashion swung, and the royal family were, of course, the unrivaled stars of the garment scene.

In this period of fashion, names must be thrown, as it contains probably THE biggest fashionistas of all time, including Marie Antoinette, Madame du Pompador and Madame du Barry. The luxury in which the aristocracy lived during this time is almost inconceivable to people of today. Luxury was not just limited to clothing, it was jewelry, hats, shoes, handbags, parties, hair, food, dogs, carriages, furnishings, and palaces. The high class lived in such elegant beauty, it’s no wonder that the entire country was bled and nothing was left for the poor. This is one of the hardest fashion eras to explain, as the trends were changing so rapidly. The aristocracy would set the trends, and people of lower station would try and mimic their style. This would mean that people of a higher station would feel the need to create new trends to set themselves apart from people beneath them.

Getting the husband to help out. Notice the monkey hanging out on the floor.

Women wore a slip to begin with, which was immediately covered with a corset. Every morning a lady would lean against a post and have her corset fastened. Women would be expected to wear corsets every day of their lives from around 9-11, until the day they died. The combination of wearing them from such a young age, and having them pulled in so tightly, led to a literal deformity. All of their organs would be pushed in odd ways, and this is presumed to be one of the reasons for the health problems women had back in this time.


As you can see, the ribs of the corseted woman have literally grown into the shape which the corset demands. All of the vital organs are squished down low, deep into the gut. The corset was designed to flatten the stomach and lift the breasts, while pulling the shoulders back, which increased the wearers posture greatly - wether they wanted it to or not.



On top of the corset, a heavily decorated bodice would be placed. Usually laced up from the sides, or sometimes the back. This resembles the under corset, yet is usually made of finer materials. The front panel you see heavily decorated with ruffles and embroidery is called the stomacher. This was usually a very luxurious and overly exagerated. Low cut bodices barely covering the nipples were the height of fashion, the vest worn so tightly that the breasts typically puckered over the front seam. It wasn’t uncommon for a ladies nipples or areola to simply slip out from time to time at parties and balls. Mind you the women would, of course, be ‘so shocked’ and ‘mortified’ by the occurrence. In many illustrations of women from the time, nipples peak out from the tops of their stomachers.


Sleeves were exaggerated and embroidered and toyed with. There are hundreds, and hundreds of different kinds of sleeves from this era. Three quarter length sleeves were the height of fashion. It was an age in clothing where anything went, and those of the highest station could basically do as they pleased.


The pannier was the skeleton of the dress. It came in all shapes and sizes, but this version is an oval shaped hooped skirt. The pannier was usually made from whale bone and would give the dress its famous shape. In between each section of the whalebone structure was a thick shaping fabric called crinoline. The weight of all the different layers would constrict the movement of females dramatically. This dress shape is where french doors came from, as women needed a larger gap opening to enter and exit rooms due to the size of their skirts.


The skirts would be layered on top of the whale bone underskirt. This photo above shows the back view of the skirts. This is a court dress of the finest quality (Honestly, it gives me shivers, and goosebumps). The silk used to create these skirts, mixed with the embroidery probably took a year or two of more then one seamstress to make. This period in fashion was extremely fond of drapery, the drapes in the skirts added to the texture, and floaty cloud like effect this period is so famous for.

This is one of Marie Antoinette’s MANY gowns.

As you can see from the picture above, the Rococo high fashion was so illustrious, it was literally covered in bows, lace, poofs, ruffles, and multidimensional layers. Shaping was absolutely everything. Next to the Japanese Heian period, this was another highlight in the dying, and silk trade history. Skirts were usually designed to drape down across the back, and open in the front exposing the numerous layers of interesting petticoats.


One of the hardest things to keep up with in this time was the numerous kinds of prints, silks, colors, and embroideries which went trending through the fashion scene. Every season had a different set of fashionable colors. The French and English silks differed greatly from each other. England had a great interest in Botany at the time, as Kew Gardens had just been founded in 1759, and thousands of different species of flora were being shipped in and studied from across the globe. This was reflected in English textiles, as not only did different plants and flowers appear embroidered or printed on their silk, they were actually accurate to the species. The French silks and embroideries reflected interests from the east, tropical birds, monkeys, and hunting dogs were quite common, although they weren’t exactly historically accurate.


This was one of the greatest eras of all time for shoes as well. People could do almost anything you could imagine with shoes. Feathers, embroidery, pearls, bows, metalwork, jewels ivory carving - the whole shebang! Men originally wore heels, and after a while women adapted them as their own, as a masculine highlight.


Just like women, dresses came in all shapes and sizes during this time. Ankle length skirts, floor length skirts, and long draped skirts. Some skirts were draped in the front, some in the back. Some had lace trim, some had ruffles, and some embroidery. Everyone was trying to make a fashion statement, and it wasn’t limited just to the women....

This was the time of the Macaroni, and the Dandy!

This was a giggle in the French history of fashion for men, never had they gone through such lengths in the name of clothing before. Although not all men dressed up to scrap to be worthy of the great title ‘macaroni’ or ‘dandy’. Those who did would be remembered for hundreds of years to come.


Here is an iconic comic doodle, probably in a newspaper in Paris. It’s captioned ‘what is this my Son Tom?’. This photo depicts a father, and a son who’m happen upon each other in the street. The father teases him over his appearance, but also remarks upon his hat. This was a time when old customs such as lifting one’s hat to one’s elder were overlooked because of how high their wigs perturbed from their heads. If one needed to tip ones hat to someone in these days, they’d need a small decorative sword or cane to reach.

The macaroni wanted to distinguish themselves from ‘just any other’ wealthy tradesmen or gentlemen of lesser title, so they’d peacock themselves by showing their loyalty to France, and the aristocracy. This was a time in France when the commoners, and the blue bloods were the most divided in history, and the nobles subsequently liked it that way.


A macaroni would wear the standard male garments, although they’d push their fashions to the absolute max. He would power his face, wear wigs of all shapes and sizes, and cover himself in a masculine(ish) version of the women’s lace, ruffles, silks, pearls, and jewels, including a jacket, waistcoat, breeches, stockings, hat, shoes, a and decorative sword or cane. A true macaroni even wore a corset, and point toed heels, with buckles to add height. They wanted to shock people. They wanted to look like a creature of myth, like something that wasn’t from this reality.