Nymphs and Merveilleuses. The Frenchwoman of the century; fashions – manners – usages
by Octave Uzanne, 1886.
Change of Fashion
The fashion changed so much from 1795 to 1799, that at least two big volumes in 8vo would be wanted to describe their different characters and their principal variations. Mercier himself, who sketched on the spot with a pencil, so able and so delicate, these Parisian physiognomies, seems disconcerted to see himself so soon distanced by the change of feminine costumes.
“A few days ago,” says he, “the fashionable woman’s waist was modelled in the shape of a heart; now the corset ends in wings of a butterfly, which the sex seems in every respect desirous to approach, and takes so often for its model. Yesterday we had hats à la Paindla, to-day the hats are à l’anglaise; yesterday they were adorned with feathers, flowers, ribbons, or a handkerchief in the shape of a turban made them look like odalisques; to-day their bonnets take the same form as those of the wife of Philippe de Commines; yesterday their elegant shoes were laden with rosettes and fastened to the bottom of the leg with a ribbon artistically tied; to-day a large buckle, figured with spangles, covers almost entirely their foot, and only allows to be perceived the end of a light bouquet, of which the embroidery terminates on the tiny point of the shoe. And let not any one suppose this to be a caricature of our illustrious ladies; it is hardly the merest sketch of their follies, their changes of dress varied to infinity.“ *
(* Mercier, Nouveau Tableau de Paris, chap. xciv. Caricatures folies.)
The merveilleuses survived the incroyables by two years; Madame Tallien, that madcap who so graciously personified them, gives us a model of their last hour. She came to Barras at the end of 1798, in a robe of muslin extremely wide, falling about her in large folds, and made in the style of the tunic of a Greek statue; the sleeves were attached to the arm by buttons of antique cameos; other cameos served as fastenings for the shoulders, the girdle; no gloves; on one of her arms a golden serpent enamelled with a head of emerald.
Trinkets in numbers were worn on the arms, neck, fingers, in bands, aigrettes on turbans. It is impossible to form an idea of the innumerable quantity of diamonds then in circulation. Neckchains of excessive length, falling down to the knee, raised and clasped beneath the bosom, were adopted by the majority of women. Rivers of precious stones and diamonds enclosed their throats; their girdles were gummed, and pearls ran in zigzags over the orauze of their dresses and coiffures. Cameos, set in relief, in the toilets of Madame Bonaparte, on her return from Italy, adorned hair and neck; nay, even wigs were enriched with stars and doves, called esprits, in diamonds.
Anglomanie raged over manners and fashions
Anglomanie raged over manners and fashions no less than anticomnanie; for certain women of fashion nothing was in good taste or of a pretty shape if custom had not established it in London. In fact some French workwomen crossed the Channel to satisfy more surely their patrons; who found again out of France the ancient establishment of Mademoiselle Bertin (Related: Ladies hat styles from 1776-1790 by Rose Bertin) , the celebrated Parisian modiste and of numerous emigrants, then established milliners, who had vulgarised for others the exquisite taste which they showed once at Court for themselves. (Related: The Gallery of Fashion by Nikolaus von Heideloff, London.)
Out of the land of fogs there came to us the wadded garments bordered with velvet, the spencer, bordered with fur, open over the half naked breast, giving to women a false Ladoiska air; country bonnets, dolmans, which they spelt dolimans, and a multitude of costumes of equally happy arrangement. The crowned hats in lawn, book muslin, lace with pearled edgings, were well received at the end of the year VII.; they were worn in white rose jonquil or blue; they accompanied the fashion of apron fichus of assorted colour. These aprons formed at once girdle and fichu; they were originally fastened behind with ribbons in rosettes. This attire might appear, at the first glance, an object of luxury; “but,” says a writer of fashions,“ * if one came to consider the transparent fineness of the robe, which served often for chemise, one would recognise in it the same advantage which is possessed by the aprons of the savages.”
- Journal des dames et des modes, 15 prairial an VII.
From the Book: The Frenchwoman of the century; Fashions – Manners – Usages, by Octave Uzanne. Illustrations in water colours by Albert Lynch. Engraved in colours by Eugène Gaujean.