Thursday, November 8, 2012

Historical Longings: Chemise a la Reine

Now, I'm not usually a Marie Antoinette girl. I find her absolutely fascinating as a historical figure and love the historical debate about her role in the onset of the revolution, but something about the extravagant wigs and excessive nature of her dress makes her less-than-appealing as a fashion icon to me.

But this dress.

The gaulle, or chemise a la reine, was introduced by Marie Antoinette in the early 1780s. In contrast to the highly structured garments worn by the French court and society at large, the gaulle was incredibly light, flowing, and simple. It consists of layers of thin muslin, loosely draped around the body and belted around the waist with a sash. Fashionable ladies of France and England quickly took up the trend.

There was, of course, scandal. The name "Chemise a la Reine" is a reference to the similarity the garment bears to the chemise worn at the time as an undergarment by ladies, a mocking moniker that notes that the queen looked, to many in the public, as if she had been painted in her underwear.

Despite the scandal, though, women wore it. The Duchess of Devonshire, a famous fashionista by any account, reported that she got one from Marie Antoinette. The fashion spread through England and France, and why shouldn't it? Look at these dresses.

They're frothy, fairly comfortable concoctions of draping and ruffles that are perfect for spring and summer.

I really want one. Preferably one that's been shortened to be appropriate for modern wear, but a historically accurate gaulle would do. I don't mean a mini-gaulle, of course; that would be ridiculous. No, I want a gaulle that's knee-length and just as full. I  Doesn't that sound like the world's most comfortable summer dress?

This dress gives you an idea what I'm looking for. It's a Lolita line, but without ruffles and frills and heavy fabric that would make the dress unbearable in summer.

Historical dresses: they're not just for paintings anymore.

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