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Between 1789 and 1799 France was going through great turmoil. Immense political and social upheavals were commonplace in the changing nation. New ideas were growing, ideas of freedom, government and of self-expression. Such new attitudes by the people gave rise to a new style of clothing. The clothing became more expressive and more ornate. People began to dress the way they wanted.
French soon became the center stage for fashion. The French revolution, while failing in many aspects did one thing no one expected. The French revolution created a new image of fashion in France. There are several reasons that contributed to this occurrence. New beliefs of freedom, equality and self-expression each contributed to this new era of clothes.
One major contributor to this new image in France was the new belief in freedom. This was a time in France were the tides were changing and the power over the country was moving from the hands of the Old regime to the Bougiose. As this occurred this working class felt a new freedom, and a respect for freedom that they had never felt before under the iron fists of the nobles. Such ideas broke the people away from their normal standards and every day drab. With a new freedom new ideas started to pop up everywhere.
These new ideas led to the creation of " 'the new costume'.. reproduced in England's The Home Circle" (Ewing, 123). With the new freedom people of all sorts started to speak up and voice their desires. This caused a revolution in fashion for France with the invention of the sewing machine and other cloth production machines the ideas quickly became "vast quantities of fabrics" (Ewing, 105). As restrictions gave way to freedom many old ideas gave way to new ones.
With this newfound freedom women's wear especially went through "a slow reform for women" (Ewing, 173). While corsets had been used earlier to give women a narrow waste and flatter chest, new half corsets were used to provide a "round, high waist" (Cassin-Scott, 74) while still providing the full chested appearance. This new freedom allowed men and women alike to change their image from a more strict and prudent society, to a more open and casual fashion. As the people gained more freedom so did the style of dress. The bustle gowns were a new style where "the curve between breasts and waists and waists and hips became more pronounced" (Yarwood, 242). Style became more pronounced and less restrictive. Curves became fashionable and in many cases tailors took it to the next level, producing the dell shaped full gown, what would have been thought of as vulgar and showy only a few years before. With this new freedom offered to the people by the French Revolution the fashion grew form restrictive top loose and changed style long after.
New beliefs in equality also made a major contribution to the new image in France. No longer did class separate the people. When the working class took over everything turned upside down. While ornate and colorful clothes had once been only for the nobles and upper class, the new attitudes of equality became commonplace in all society, and no limits were held including the limits on clothes. There was no longer a specific line between what people of each class could were. Now businessmen could dress like a noble, and a noble could even dress like a peasant. With the introduction of machines that could mass-produce clothes, the costs for even the most ornate items greatly dropped.
For a long time suits, especially with three pieces were a sign of the richest and gentlemanly people of society. With the introduction of a new coat called the frock coat, "designed as part of a three piece suit" (Yarwood, 223), everything changed. Even the common men now had the ability to imitate the richer people of their society. While many times this would not be allowed, in order to keep a fine line between the classes, with the new equality given to the people through the revolution, nothing was able to stop it. In many cases, like with the "D'ecolletages" (Cassin-Scott, 74), "Demi-redingote" (Ribeiro, 36), etc, a compromise between classes began and the noble and rich began to dress in more "common" fashions and the common and lower class people began to dress in fancier and upper class clothes. It became harder to distinguish between the two classes as everyone began to care less about the differences.
For a long time wigs had become an expression of elegance, mostly using white or gray powdered wigs. Such wigs were extraordinarily uncomfortable and often cost a lot to maintain. During the French revolution, the form of head cover for men changed. While wigs were only for the rich, "top hats [were] for all" (Ewing, 113). Equality from the revolution changed the status lines of each class and created a new fashion not entirely poor or rich in image but part of both styles at the same time. Finally, the largest contributor to the fashion in France during 1789-1799 was the new attitude towards self expression brought about by the French revolution. It is true that the people wanted freedom and equality, but they also wanted too be able to express what was on their minds. With this new equality and freedom allowed the people to do so. When this occurred the clothes radically changed from stiff to loose and casual images with clothes that were more comfortable, while still looking good at the same time.
Such clothes as short jacket suits became common among every man, steering away from the "absurdity and inconvenience of long tailed coats" (Ewing, 112). They became an expression of an active man and they did not limit the individual to a specific class or place in society. Everyone wore clothes that suited them and their daily activities, not what they were told to wear and conform with. These new ideas of self-expression through clothes are often called a relation between "Politics and Fashion" (Ribeiro, 45). Fashions only dreamed about before by such fashion radicals as Marie Antoinette became real. Women led to a great portion of this clothing revolution and "keeping up with fashion was influencing many women" (Ewing, 119). Everyone wanted to be part of this change in image, and everyone wanted to put in their own two cents on how they thought it should be.
Such ideas and contributions gave the new styles a large array and made everything exotic and new. Ideas of self-expression through the French Revolution had a giant, direct affect on the emerging, controversial fashions of the time. When you add it all up you can see that ideas of freedom that sparked and fed the fires of revolution led to new openings in fashion and broke down the barriers and allowed ideas of equality, also from the revolution, to take away all limits on the old class differences in fashion. Most of all, the equality allowed self-expression to set in and mold the old styles into new ones more befitting of the people who wore them, and allowed the people to express themselves, being no longer limited by the boundaries of class. Ideas of freedom, equality, and self-expression from the French Revolution caused another revolution on its own, a revolution of image and style never before seen. The affects of the revolution even outlived the revolution itself, and were some of the few changes in France that actually remained the same, while most of the changes from it retrograded.
The Revolution of fashion in the decade between 1789 and 1799 would not have occurred without the French Revolution, and it changed styles in the world forever.Bibliography:. Cassin-Scott, Jack. French Costume and Fashion 1550-1920. New York. Brandford Press Ltd, 1986.
Ewing, Elizabeth. Everyday Dress in France1650-1900. London. B.T. Badsford, 1984. Ribeiro, Aileen.
Fashion in the French Revolution. London. B.T. Badsford, 1988. Yarwood, Doreen. European Costume. New York.
Bonanza Books, 1975.
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