Paris Fashion Week is coming to a close, and the fashion writers are sighing in rapture over the accessories: this Chanel bag, that Dior hat, and oh, the shoes at Celine!
But there has always been a mystique about French women and their innate ability to add a scarf and a brooch to their oldest outfits and somehow instantly become the best-dressed women in the room. This is nothing new. One look at the Marquise de Lamure, left, and there's no doubt that the ability to accessorize was born in her blood.
Of course, in the late 1740s-early 1750s, about the time when the marquise sat for this portrait in pastels, the word "accessory" did not exist, either in French or in English. Clearly the concept did, however, with all those delicious little extras that the lady is wearing doubtless purchased in any number of elegant Parisian shops specializing in luxury goods. (See here for another pair of 18th c. French ladies who also carried the stylist-gene.)
Where to begin with the marquise, leaning on her velvet cushion? First, click on her portrait to enlarge it to show all the details. While all 18th c. women wore caps for style and as a sign of modesty, the marquise's cap is face-framing frill of fine lace that mingles with her powdered curls. The over-sized double-drop pearls at her ears are not real - even Marie-Antoinette wore faux jewels mixed with her diamonds – but likely wax-filled glass pearls. In her hand is a fan, probably with ivory blades and a hand-painted floral design.
Her pink silk gown has full lace ruffles pinned inside the cuffs of the sleeves. Also pinned in place is the icy-pale silk stomacher, a separate triangular piece that fills in the open front of her gown's bodice. The stomacher has rows of silk tassels, and is further enhanced by the centered jeweled brooches. Around her throat is a fur tippet, most likely of marten, a favorite 18th c. status fur. Her gloves are exquisitely thin; they could be kidskin, chicken-skin, or even the skin of unborn calves.
But most striking are her blue velvet wrist covers, edged with more fur (and probably lined with fur, too, from the slight puffiness of the velvet) and buttoned with silver buttons. Women's sleeves seldom extended beyond the elbows in the 18th c., but no lady would risk exposing her pale forearms to the sun or cold. Most ladies wore decorative elbow-length mitts like these, but the marquise's wrist covers are more elegant, much warmer, and far, far more luxurious. After all, one mustn't always suffer for fashion....
Above: Marquise de Lamure, née Charlotte-Phillippine de Chastres de Cange, by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1694-1752). Pastel, before 1752. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.