French Fashion History from 13th to 14th century.
The influence of the Crusaders 1270 to 1350.
Severity of feminine costume – Long gowns and gimps – Marguerite of Provence – “Fermaux” – Reappearance of splendor in dress – Eastern customs – The priests of fashion – Haberdashery and peacock-feathers – Female embroiderers – Taste for embroidery – Continual temptations – Earliest sumptuary laws – Furs – St. Louis’s opinion on dress – Prohibitions by Philippe le Bel; speech made by his wife – Crépine.
The severity of feminine costume.
OWING to the influence of the Crusades and the predilections of St. Louis, the dress of women assumed much of that severity proper to masculine garments. Under Louis VIII a mantle had been the distinctive mark of a married woman. It is asserted that St. Louis’s daughters, whose legs and feet were ill-shaped, contrived to wear very long gowns in order to hide them. This was surely a pardonable piece of coquetry, and long skirts became the order of the day. Similar causes have led to similar results in more recent times.
Long gowns and gimps.
When once the long skirt had been introduced, it resisted many attempts to dislodge it. In the reign of Philip III women hid their busts under a “guimpe,” and looked almost like our sisters of Charity, The coat and the gimp seem to have been introduced by Marie, the king’s second wife, whose throat was too long, while her bust was absolutely flat, and the wives of the courtiers in this instance also copied the Queen of France.
Imbued with the religious spirit that exercised at that time so great a power over the imaginations of mankind, or at any rate overmastered by it, the ladies of the court, with few exceptions, were modest in their attire. They added indeed to the elegance of their veils, but continued to wear them in obedience to ecclesiastical decrees. Queen Marguerite of Provence wore a dress close-fitting in the bodice, the sleeves were long and narrow; her mantle was embroidered with fleurs-de-lis, and was made with long open sleeves. Her veil was folded with a band beneath the chin, but not setting closely to the face. Her head-dress was not unlike a turban.
Reappearance of splendor in dress. The priests of fashion.
But such humility as this could not long prevail over the malicious demon of coquetry. On the one hand, people of wealth indulged themselves in luxury and splendor, and many knights on returning from the Crusades, retained in France the habits they had acquired in the East, and on the other, the middle and lower classes tried to walk in the steps of the nobles, and the bourgeoises endeavored to array themselves like the haughty consorts of the Crusaders.
In consequence of the relations existing between France, Europe, and the East, and notwithstanding the deep religious convictions of the time, innumerable artisans and working women were employed in the service of Fashion; drapers or weavers, dress cutters and makers, trimmers, ribbon-makers, manufacturers of thread, or silk-fringers who made coifs; weavers of the coarse flaxen thread called “canevas,” sellers of precious stones or jewellers, who exhausted their ingenuity in hundreds of new inventions; goldsmiths, whose art astonished the world; gold-beaters and silver-beaters, dyers, skilful in altering the colours of materials; moulders of buckles and delicate clasps; furriers who possessed the rarest and most costly furs; and makers of brass, copper, and wire buttons.
Haberdashery and peacock-feathers
It was at the shops of haberdashers that the wives of the nobles bought the splendid “parures” with which they ornamented their heads. Gowns of siglaton and cendal (a material like modern silk) were ornamented with rubies and sapphires. Head-dresses in Paris were sometimes surmounted with peacock’s feathers; and these soon called into existence “paoniers” or peacock-hatters. One Geneviève had great custom as a feather seller, and after having made a large fortune by her trade, she devoted it to the decoration of a chapel.
A very striking head-dress, though simpler than that of peacock’s feathers, consisted of wreaths of natural flowers, principally roses, and was prepared by the herbalists or floralists who abounded in several parts of the capital. Epernon, the haberdasher of Rue Qui qu’en poist (Quincampoix), had certainly the largest choice of ornamental finery for feminine attire. His fame was in every one’s mouth, and his shop always crowded with customers.
Female embroiderers. Taste for embroidery.
A large number of embroiderers obtained a living in Paris; there were also many who made up purses with beautiful embroidery, or elegantly worked borders. These purses were fastened to the waist-band, and were called “aumônières sarrasinoises, Purse in the style of the Saracens“ (sarrasinoises: Synonym Sarrazins, l’Orient sarrasinois) or Saracen almsbags. Their name recalled their benevolent object to the wearers, though they were used to hold other articles besides coin for the poor. Within their castles noble ladles employed their long hours of leisure in needlework, imitating and sometimes excelling the work of the East. They embroidered veils, scarfs, armlets, belts, alms-bags, gloves, and shoes; they copied the family coat-of-arms in silken, gold, or silver embroidery on their gowns, their surcoats, and their mantles. The bourgeoises also devoted their time to needlework, so as to increase the elegance of their dress, without Infringing the regulations of the sumptuary laws.
Glove-makers made use of sheepskin, grey fur, hareskin, and doeskin in their factories. They also made woollen or silken gloves; long buttoned gloves and scented gloves, and “gloves made of kid prepared with violet powder.” Italy, Spain, and several French towns were famous for their skill and trade In gloves. But it was not enough to possess those articles; It was also necessary to wear them according to the latest fashion, and on suitable occasions. There were numerous makers of felt hats, flower head-dress makers of both sexes, makers of cotton, and of peacock-feathers, without counting the women weavers of silken head-coverings (a sort of milliner), women who made hats of orfrey, and silkspinners. The principal towns of the kingdom abounded in hosiers, manufacturers of cloth, linen, or silk hose; In tanners; In clever shoemakers, who well knew how to turn the point of a shoe à la poulaine-that is, extravagantly curved upwards and resembling the prow of a ship.
Generally speaking the shoe à la poulaine distorted the foot very unpleasantly. In the goldsmiths’ shops women’s eyes were dazzled by clasps, bracelets, necklaces, and other articles of marvellous workmanship; tailors exhibited goods that were in fact only too splendid. Some few mirror manufacturers kept open shops; their wares were exquisitely lovely. We may mention one mirror representing a betrothal, that may still be admired in a celebrated collection. On every side there was constant temptation. Fortunes were swallowed up by the passion for dress, and poorer people made the most senseless sacrifices in the same cause. It was becoming Impossible to determine the rank of a Frenchwoman by her garments.
Earliest sumptuary laws. St. Louis’s opinion on dress.
In order to restore respect for the inequality of ranks, which inequality was a fixed principle actually corroborated by dress itself, and to prevent one woman from wearing garments exclusively reserved for another, sovereigns began to issue sumptuary laws, Philip Augustus raised his voice against fur; though his court set no example of simplicity. “The gown and furred cloak of the Queen, at St. Rémy, cost twenty-eight pounds, less three sous.” It is interesting to learn what St. Louis, ninth of the name, thought about fashion and its rights. He said to his courtiers: ” You should dress yourselves well and neatly, in order that your wives may love you the more, and your people also will esteem you the higher for it.” Women of rank consequently dressed with great splendour. They frequently wore a long train fastened to their outer garment, and gilt belts enriched with jewels. They often wore two tunics, and a veil that was brought round under the chin. The fastenings of their mantles were of gold and jewels. They had rosaries of bone, ivory, coral, amber, or jet. Luxury knew no bounds. The copes, or mantles without hoods, made of silken cloth, and trimmed with ermine, embroidery, and edgings of gold were magnificent, and overloaded with ornament.
Prohibitions by Philippe le Bel; speech made by his wife.
After the Crusade the ruling powers endeavoured to repress the prevailing extravagance. St. Louis issued several enactments previous to the prohibitions of Philippe Ie Bel respecting dress. The wording of those prohibitions enlightens us considerably with regard to the manners and customs of those times.
No bourgeoise may possess a chariot. ” No bourgeois and no bourgeoise,” says Philippe le Bel, “may wear minever, or grey fur, or ermine, and all such persons must get rid of those furs in their possession within a year from next Easter, and they may not wear gold, nor jewels, nor belts, nor pearls ….. Dukes, counts, and barons, with six thousand livres a year or more, may have four pairs of gowns a year and no more, and their wives may have as many ….. No damosel, unless she be châtelaine (The mistress of a castle or large household. From Old French chastelain) in her own right, or lady of two thousand livres a year or more, shall have more than one pair of gowns a year, or if she be, then two pairs only and no more… . No bourgeois nor bourgeoise, nor esquire, nor clerk shall burn wax lights… . “ It was forbidden to barons’ wives “howsoever great” to wear gowns of a higher value than twenty-five sous (of the Tours mint) by the Paris yard; the wives of knights-banneret and lords of the manor were restricted to materials at eighteen sous; and the gowns of bourgeoises might cost sixteen sous nine deniers by the yard at the very most.
The sumptuary law of Philippe le Bel (1268 – 1314) proceeded probably from the following circumstance. On the occasion of his wife’s solemn entry into Bruges in 1301, she had seen the bourgeoises so gorgeously apparelled that she exclaimed, “I thought I was the Queen, but I see there are hundreds!” From a document relating to the king’s household in 1302, we learn that the complete costume of a lady of the palace cost eight livres, that of a woman of inferior rank one-third less, and that of a waiting-maid fifty-eight sous. The price of a Parisian bourgeoise’s cashmere shawl at the time of the Restoration would have renewed the whole wardrobe of a court lady.
According to another document of 1326, Isabelle de France wore a head-dress, sugar-loaf shape, of prodigious height; a veil of the finest gauze depended from it and concealed her hair. Certain head-dresses of the period were ornamented with feathers, others were shaped like bushels of greater or less altitude. Occasionally the hair was confined in a net, called a “crestine, crepine,” or “crespinette.” The side-locks were shaped into horns. Sometimes, too, women dyed their hair, or wore false hair. Guimpes were arranged something like collerettes; and were made lighter and lighter in material, so as to harmonize with every kind of costume.
By M. AUGUSTIN CHALLAMEL.