The Enduring Fashion Legacy of Queen Marie Antoinette

Versailles, in all its ornate splendor, was not just the home of France’s central political power, but the birthplace of its fashion. There was no other man or woman who epitomized the decadence and spectacular baroque aesthetic of the time, quite like Marie Antoinette.

The Austrian Princess married Louis XVI in 1770, becoming Dauphine of France. In 1774, her husband would assume the throne, and she would inherit the title of Queen. The clothing of the time was a powerful signifier of patriotic nationality. Upon marrying Louis, Antoinette would be stripped of her traditional Austrian garb and don French fashions of the time, symbolic of her transition from Austrian to French.

The King’s child bride quickly became enamored with the country’s preoccupation with textiles, trends, and elaborate dress wear. Practicality and functionality were of little consequence to the aristocratic women of the day. Women wore extensive skirts, held up by an inner frame. These panniers could reach obscene sizes, some measuring up to 16 feet in diameter. The french pannier accentuated the volume of the hips, while corsets further exaggerated the effect. Corsets, painfully cinched-in by awaiting servants, created the allusion of a small waistline and an elevated and buxom bust.

Marie Antoinette Wedding Dress

The Queen also had a particular liking for fans. Intricately decorated fans, boasting lace trims and hand-stitched detailing, were a popular accessory which expertly treads the line between modesty and flirtation. Unspoken fashion etiquette dictated that the Queen could never be seen in the same outfit twice. Each morning, after being bathed, the Queen would select her daily dress from a book that held fabric samples of each one of her gowns.

Antoinette was responsible for popularizing alarmingly tall and intricate hair designs. The Queen wore poufs that sometimes sat three feet atop her head. Her hairstyles were set with fine rice powder and scented oils, delicately embellished with strings of pearls, ostrich feathers, lace trimmings, and glittering brooches.

Despite her initial popularity, the disenfranchised lower classes began to loathe the frivolity and shameless excess boasted by their Queen hedonist. When France was gripped by the revolution in 1789, the monarch’s social and political hold would soon disintegrate. In 1793, the fashion-obsessed Queen would meet her end at the hands of a public execution.