Flintlock Pistols of Old Regime France by Kyle Schottenhammer


The detail and symbolism that is displayed on these eighteenth century flintlock pistols represents the themes of Old Regime France before the French Revolution completely changed people’s ideas about identity concerning fashion. Old Regime France refers to the time before 1789 in France when it was still a kingdom with an all-powerful ruler and an aristocracy. The intricate artwork on the pistols represented the Old Regime because of its emphasis on royal power and prestige. Based on the mechanics of the pistols, it was made to be fired, but most likely was for ceremonial use or as display (de Marolles, Essay on Shooting). The wealth and magnificence that surrounded the monarch was envied by the nobles in France and so they tried to copy the styles of the king because identity was so closely linked to one’s fashion. The grandeur of the pistols was similar to the grandeur that surrounded the monarch on a daily business. After the revolution, the views towards this lifestyle were looked down upon. The French Revolution created a new sense of identity where these intricate pistols would never be displayed like they would be during Old Regime France, where simplicity in dress was praised.

The flintlock pistols were made by Jean Baptiste, the royal gun maker of Paris, most likely for Louis XV or to be used as a gift for another ruler (Hayward, European Firearms). The symbols on the guns portray classical references with the royal seal of France in order to link the greatness of Rome with the French monarchy for the viewer. This symbolism of the monarch was discussed by Peter Burke in his, “Fabrication of Louis XIV.” The monarchy was carefully portrayed to be linked with greatness in order to create an image of the king as divine, which Louis XV continued (Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV). The pistols compliment this image with their artwork on the barrels and handles.

This prestige and greatness was also portrayed through the monarch’s clothing, which the aristocracy tried to emulate. This identity link with fashion changed with the French Revolution as the “Definition of the Sans-Culotte.” Simplicity of dress was valued, “he goes to his section, not powdered, perfumed, and outfitted in the hope of attracting the attention of all the citizenesses,” (Definition of Sans-Culotte). Here, the desire to stand out in a crowd because of one’s fashion is frowned upon after the French Revolution, because that type of dress represented Old Regime France. Old Regime France of course was in stark contrast to the values of the new republic. Instead of displaying the monarch in different forms of media like Burke described, the average citizen, or the sans-culotte, is idealized. With this new version of the citizen, ideas of fashion and dress changed due to the implications it had to Old Regime France.

The identities linked to Old Regime France were often associated with what people wore which changed with the French Revolution. Ideas about how one should dress also changed since older aristocratic style fashion was looked down upon for the implications it had towards Old Regime France. The pistols represent this aristocratic France because of the artwork and royal seal of France on the handle. This aristocratic style was rejected after the French Revolution for a simpler style of dress


Burke, “The Fabrication of Louis XIV.” Yale University Press New Haven and London, 1992.

Hayward, J. F., European Firearms, HMSO, London, 1969 cat. 90 A guide to the Museum Collection of firearms first published in 1955. This edition includes a large number of illustrations and a complete text revision. The items described have been selected on the grounds of artistic merit and technical or historical interest.

Hayward, J.F., The Art of the Gunmaker, Volume 2, Europe and America 1660-1830, Barrie and Rockliff, London, 1963, pp. 270, 327, pl. 12 ill.

Mason, Laura. Tracey Rizzo (eds.)”The French Revolution: A Document Collection.” (Cengage, 2009).

De Marolles, Magné  , “An Essay on Shooting” The Eighteenth Century Collections Online, The British Library. 1789. find.galegroup.com

Patterson, Angus, “Power and Glory”, Chapter, Medlam, Sarah, and Miller, Lesley Ellis, Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publishing, London, 2011, pp. 62-63


Controversy over the Hoop Petticoat

“The very sight of these cursed hoops is enough to turn one’s stomach”- A.W. Esq.


museum #E.2262-1888 (1)

These words were written in The Enormous Abomination of the Hoop-Petticoat As The Fashion Now Is, and has been For about these Two Years Fully Display’d: In some REFLEXIONS upon it, Humbly offer’d to the consideration of Both Sexes; especially the female, about the hoop petticoat in London in 1745. The hoop petticoat then and now represents eighteenth century fashion, but during that time period this article of clothing was a point of contention between men and women. The subject of much debate, the hoop petticoat remained popular with women. Throughout the eighteenth century, with the skirt growing wider and wider as the years passed, the hoop petticoat gained contempt with men. (Haulman 638) A source of satire the hoop petticoat was adopted by women “as a means of protecting, controlling, and, ultimately, liberating female sexuality.” (Chrisman 5) The sack back robe and petticoat made of silk and velvet at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was made in 1774-1775 (2) and highlights the luxury garments women desired. Although not the widest of hoops, as by the time this garment was made hoop petticoats were going out of fashion still shows the exaggerated hips that were so fashionable in the eighteenth century.


museum #T.93:1, 2-2003 (2)

Although the creator and date of design of the hoop petticoat remains a mystery it is estimated that it came into creation around 1709 and remained fashionable into the early nineteenth century. (Chrisman 6-7) The design is historically related to the farthingale, which was thought to be of Spanish origins and popularized by England’s Queen Elizabeth I. (3) The hoop petticoat allowed more freedom of movement and its delicate construction using whale bone worked better with the lighter weight fabrics now being used in dress making. Part of the controversy of the hoop petticoat was the design that allowed for glimpses of undergarments and even bare leg. This was scandalous for the time, but the freedom it gave women in the ease of movement and comfort was worth the risk of exposure. (Chrisman 8) The design “by widening the hips while accentuating the small, tightly corseted waist, the hoop suggested both fertility and virginity, two characteristics universally valued in women.” (Chrisman 12) Women were keeping their hoop petticoats despite the scandal, mockery, and ridicule found in print.


museum #E.3288-1960 (3)

Satire was common in the eighteenth century and the hoop petticoat was a prime target as, “an enormous body of criticism had grown up around the garment, encompassing every available form of satire and social commentary—pamphlets, essays, caricatures, sermons, and poems—and every possible point of debate.” (Chrisman 12) From its inception men had written complaints about the hoop petticoat. Men complained of injury by women’s skirts as they walked down the street, that women could not go to church because there were not enough aisle seats, and that men could not tell the virgins from the non-virgins. (Chrisman 13) The “garment bec[ame] a publick nuisance” (A.W. Esq 7) for men and they would continued to vocalize their objections.

The hoop petticoat has become synonymous with the eighteenth century fashion and culture. By the time this garment went out of fashion styles had completely changed, with fashion being a means of displaying wealth and simpler, more tailored designs became popular. (4) The hoop petticoat had its moment in the world of fashion, and its detractors were happy to see it go though they were surprised how long it took for it to finally fall from fashion.


museum #T.124-1913 (4)

Chrisman, Kimberly. “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 30, no. 1 (1996): 5-23. doi:10.1353/ecs.1996.0042.
De Passe, Crispjin. “Elizabeth I.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. February 03, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O564295/elizabeth-i-print-crispijn-de-passe/.
“Dress.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. February 03, 2014. Accessed March 11, 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74251/dress-unknown/.
“Fashionable Dresses in the Rooms in Weymouth 1774.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed March 10, 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1109354/fashionable-dresses-in-the-rooms-fashion-plate-unknown/.
Haulman, Kate. “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia.” The William and Mary Quarterly 62, no. 4 (October 01, 2005): 625-62. Accessed March 11, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3491443?ref=search-gateway:9ad9d1a470cdc2b3dd78ebc387ed6393.
“Robe and Petticoat.” Digital image. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed January 10, 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O85966/robe-and-petticoat-unknown/.
A. W., Esq. The enormous abomination of the hoop-petticoat, as The Fashion Now is, And has been For about these Two Years Fully Display’d: In some Reflexions upon it, Humbly offer’d to the Consideration of Both Sexes; especially the Female. By A. W. Esq;. London,  M.DCC.XLV. [1745]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 11 Mar. 2014

The Farewell locket

Location: British Museum

Production Place: England

Museum number

Materials: Rock (crystal)

Dimensions: Width: 4.65 centimetres

“Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! Farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.” Marie Antoinette October 16, 1793.

Image of Marie Antoinette’s last letter: http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/05/last-letter-of-marie-antoinette.html

Love, compassion, loyalty, and chivalry, what value do theses different acts of affection have on us? During the eighteenth century, the verities of ways in which affection can be expressed from one to another, can be displayed in the form of commemorative objects. Despite the economic crisis that spread throughout France, which led to the increasing desire for social reform, commemorative objects played a significant role in the experiences of subject and state matters. The rights of common men in relations to the matters of state will eventually be the cause in the decrease of monarchy’ power in French society. In 1770 Marie Antoinette was sent to France to wed King Louis XVl, both were executed for treason in 1793. However, the objects representing this time in history will live on, and give us a true insight into the lives of these individuals, and the legacy they left behind. This heart shaped locket of Marie Antoinette displays the acts of love and loyalty she had for her family, however these acts of compassion have hardly been told. As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) states in his reaction to The Death of Marie Antoinette “the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” The misconceptions about material objects, in relation to Marie Antoinette character, and that of social and personal relations in the eighteenth century, is the topic of this blog.

Heart shaped silver lockets, were often a cheap enough item for middle age classes to obtain and were design to declare a formation of successful reunion with another. Even though Marie Antoinette’s locket has more luxurious features, than that of a simple silver locket, a locket in general is a symbol of courtship, an offering of ones affective interpenetration between public and private matters (McShane). In Angela McShance Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in 17th century England, she argues the value of objects such as jewelry, ballads, coins, and the impact it has over ones identity in society. In Belinda by Marie Edgeworth, we see how a simple lock of hair (Virginia’s) can interfere with Clarence Harvey identity in correlations with Belinda’s emotions towards him, due to the fact that she thought he was in love with another. This heart shaped locket, which obtains a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair, was given by her to Lady Abercorn by whom it was given to her sister Lady Julia Lockwood, whose daughter Lady Napier gave it to W.S. 1853 (British Museum), is a form of compassion and loyalty expressed without words. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Hair is essential to a face as a frame is to a picture.” Ones hair can be essential to ones political presence, or to commemorate ones union with another (Chertsey Museum).

Gold locket with hair: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/hb/hb_2000.532.jpg

In the mid-to-late 1600s, the general increase of manufactures, and the production of cheep political commodities, demonstrates the link between object and politics. For example the state had no legal control over the use of royal images in England, which led to the depletion of royal power over the people. (McShane, pg.879). The image below demonstrates the impacts the appearance of Marie Antoinette in the eyes of the French people. They look at her in disgusted, and depicted her as being an unwanted queen of France, in the sense of devaluing her over all persona as member of royal nobility (British Museum). Marie Antoinette was not executed in this manner that is depicted in this image below, in fact, she was in a plain white gown and her hair had been completely cut off. As stated in her letter, that if brought a persist she would treat him like a stranger, she protested in giving the people the satisfaction of seeing her fall by keeping her dignity intact, which Burke expresses in is reaction that never will we see the generous of loyalty to rank and sex, which exemplifies Marie Antoinette’s respectable characteristics.

Print of Marie Antoinette’s execution http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=102756&objectId=1480033&partId=1

Silver coins of Marie Antoinette’s execution

Political ballads and silver coins, expressed the support, or the lack of support, in contexts to political leadership and loyalty. Shortly after Marie Antoinette’s execution, Conrad Heinrich Küchler and Matthew Boulton produced coins displaying the portrait of the queen on one side, and the seen of her being paraded through the crowd on the day of her execution, which severed as reminder of her unpopularity to the French people (London, The British Museum Press, 1989). The lack of sympathy for the former queen of France is presented in these kinds of material objects, which weakened the overall obedience to Monarchy’s power. Edmund Burke expresses a sympathetic light towards Marie Antoinette, in fear that the spread of overthrowing royalty would be a recurring theme throughout Europe. Burke states “Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” This heart shaped locket can be used to symbolize the passion embedded in the form of constructional obligations between public and private affairs, and shed some light on Marie Antoinette’s true self-image and not that of the image depicted by French society.

Diamond Necklace

Michael Kwass states in Big Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France, the value ones wig can influence a person’s idea of character. This can be applied to the material objects used to identify the true nature of Queen Marie Antoinette, and the miss representation of her ideal character. The historical significance, and the simplicity of this particular locket, does not fit the image of Marie Antoinette. Nancy Barker states in “Let them eat cake,” The Mythical Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, “by the beginning of the 1780s, the basic repertoire of the pamphlets attacking the queen was already established. She was foreign; she hated and disdained the French; she was extravagant and luxury loving, deplet- ing the royal treasury by her expenditures and her lavish rewards to her favorites; she intrigued to manipulate the king; and she was profligate, capable of sexual excesses without limit (pg. 715).” The Diamond Necklace Affair, involving Jeanne de la Motte, was a drastic turning point for Marie Antoinette, with the increasing anxiety during the Old Régime and the conception of the aristocratic body; she was depicted as a threat to the degree of nobility, which only the rights of men could dominate (Koscak, 2/13/14). The empowerment of her presents began to impact the relationship between dress and political identity, by which she was call “the female monster of the Revolutionary years (Barker, pg.715).” The depiction of her as a monster is hard concept to acknowledge considering her last wishes was to her sister in-law asking for her to forgive her nephew based of the his accusations against his mother in court. She writes, “Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it.” These are the last words of a woman who, at most could have been deemed misguided, but never the vain and sinister creation that the French Radicals had described her to the people of France.

In the course of the French Revolution, different opinions that were stated throughout this blog, Marie Antoinette is seen as a key member of the French Revolution, and the fashionable statements during that moment in time. The wide range of opinions of the French radicals of Marie Antoinette, displays the power of people over the rights of royals, and the power embedded in these objects enforce these opinions. However, objects that hold sentimental value, such as this heart shaped locket, add in other opinions of Marie Antoinette being represented in a more sympathetic light. These objects continue to contribute to the distinctions between dress and political identity.


Coin of Marie Antoinette

Print of Marie Antoinette’s execution http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=102756&objectId=1480033&partId=1

Diamond Necklace http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=1377463&objectId=3466355&partId=1


Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 631-659.

Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: An Introduction in to the French Revolution” 2-11-14

D. Bindman, The shadow of the guillotine: (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)


Edmund Burkes http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1793burke.asp

The importance of hair in the eighteenth century: http://chertseymuseum.org/hair

The last words Marie Antoinette spoke

Cited Quote from her last letter:

Images of Letter: http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/05/last-letter-of-marie-antoinette.html




Side hoop-petticoat

Figure 1

“The corset is probably the most controversial garment in the entire history of fashion.” – Valerie Steele

The stay, which is often called the corset, was prevalent in the 18th century as a staple in women’s fashion. Corsets were constructed with steel and whalebone that lined the inside of cloth or leather waistcoats as can be seen in Figure 1 and Figure 2.  It was meant to support the torso while also forming a feminine figure that creates the illusion of a smaller waist. An extreme version of the corset was made with cast iron, molded into the shape of a corset. (Figure 3) Stays were worn as early as the 16th century, but became interchangeable with corsets in the middle of the 18th century. Although the terminology of both stays and corsets originated from the French estayer (to support) and corps (body), it was worn more predominantly in England before the 18th century. (Steele 15)

half boned stay

Figure 2
French, Museé du Costume et de la Dentelle
Date: 1770s-80

iron corset

Figure 3
Place of origin:
 France or Italy
18th century
Materials and Techniques:
 iron, hinged and perforated.
Museum number:












As John Styles stated, “Dress is, of course, one of the key mechanisms of gender differentiation.” (385) Steele aimed to challenge the reductiveness of this picture, which frames the history of the corset in terms of oppression versus liberation, and fashion versus comfort and health. (1) Women’s experiences with corsetry varied vastly and it cannot be understood completely within these restricted frames.

The corset was more than a material device that was meant to slim the figure for aesthetic reasons. Women of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries had believed in the positive connotations of social status, self-discipline, youth, and beauty that corsets provided. “The elite may have tried to differentiate themselves through fashion, but they were constantly imitated by those from more humble backgrounds.” (47) Women chose to wear the corset to signify their social status and autonomy over their beauty. Stays and corsets were literal symbols of a woman’s uprightness and virtue, which women were proud to exert through their use of corsetry.

During the 18th century, the ideology of the separate spheres established the notion that women belonged in the private and domestic sphere, while the public sphere was reserved for men. Women’s fashion was therefore scrutinized as the physical embodiment of the “maternalization” of female bodies. Steele posited that “attacks on corsets were often linked to ideological campaigns in favor of motherhood, reflecting fears that if women broke away from their domestic sphere, the entire social order would be threatened” (76) Contrary to popular belief, women persisted in wearing corsets because they employed it as an expression of power and assertion of their gender. (42)

This form of exerting power through fashion is exemplified by the Duchess of Devonshire, who “may be said to have produced a revolution in fashion life.” (The Duchess of Devonshire 123) During a period where gender roles were defined to confine women to the private and domestic sphere, Georgina Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, challenged these ideologies by using fashion as a method of empowerment in her political involvement. “Older women, not men, were primarily responsible for enforcing sartorial norms. Within the family, the patriarch usually deferred to his wife’s or even his mother’s authority in deciding how the females of the family should be dressed.” (78)

Although the corset was regarded as a sign of expensive infirmity, conspicuous leisure, and female dependency, in reality it did not prevent women from working. The corset did function as a sign of gentility and respectability but, as such, it was a sign that laboring women appropriated for themselves. (49) Steele added, “Corsets did not prevent women from working, and ladies of the leisure class were not the only ones to wear them. By 1824, apparently even the poorest street-walkers in London wore corsets.” (49) In a book that was published for women, a poet wrote “Why don’t these men, who say we trample on sense, set us a good example? Of womens’ dress make such a bother! Why don’t they criticize each other?” (Fashion. A Poem 3) By criticizing the men who believed women’s fashion were frivolous, she defends the notion of feminine dress and reaffirms that women’s fashion was self-determined.

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Figure 4
From the Collection at Colonial Willamsburg
“The Stay-Maker taking a Pleasing Circumference”
Place of origin: England, London
Date: 1784
Acc. No 1971-475

In the image of the stay-maker, the woman is having her waist measured by the man. She stands upright and places her hand on his shoulder with a comfortable poise while the man kneels in a compromising position. The stay can be seen as a tool for sexual empowerment for women as she is being tailored too by the man who she employs to make her stay.

Only briefly were stays loosened, or abandoned, during the worst neoclassical excesses of the 1789 revolution; when they returned in the 19th century, their hold on women was more exaggerated than before. For there was an industrial revolution in corsets; they were mass-produced in cotton and finished with metal eyelets, allowing much tighter tugging than had ever been possible through holes handstitched in silks. An early 19th century advertisement goes as far as to say that corsets are “healthful” and “durable”. Even with these new features that contributed to the discomfort of corsets, women chose to wear them.


Corsetcorset2 Figure 5

The corset played an important part in the fashion history of 18th century Europe and the Atlantic. Throughout history, the corset came to materialize many theoretical abstractions, mainly as an “instrument of torture,” a “major cause of ill health and even death,” and as a “coercive apparatus through which patriarchal society controlled women and exploited their sexuality”, which Steele argues is not the appropriate framework to study the corset through. The corset did not signify oppression versus liberation, and fashion versus comfort and health but rather a varied experience.


Steele, Valerie. “Steel and Whalebone: Fashioning the Aristocratic Body.” The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2001. N. pag. Print.

“The Duchess of Devonshire,” in Belle Assemblee; or, Court and Fashionable Magazine (April 1806): pp. 122-29.

Styles, John. “Dress in History: Reflections on a Contested Terrain”, Fashion Theory, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.383–390 (1998)

Koscak, Stephanie. “A Revolution in Fashionable Life”: Radical Whigs and Radical Fashion”, University of California, Los Angeles. Jan 14, 2014

Koscak, Stephanie. “Lecture: Enlightened Dress,” University of California, Los Angeles.  Feb 15, 2014.

Schomberg, R. (Ralph). Fashion. A poem. Addressed to the ladies of Great-Britain. In two books. Book first. London,  MDCCLXXVIII. [1778]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 11 Mar. 2014 <http://find.galegroup.com/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=uclosangeles&tabID=T001&docId=CW3313824212&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE&gt;.

Figure 1


Figure 2


Figure 3


Figure 4


Figure 5

Coronet Corset Co. Me. McGee’s Cornonet Health Corset. Healthful durable. Everyday corset warranted manufactured by the Coronet Corset Co. Jackson, Mich. — [Detroit] : Detroit Lith Co., [between 1870 and 1900]

Elegant French Robe

“How constricting and unhealthy your manner of dressing is!  Your shoulders and arms are imprisoned, your body is compressed, your chest is squeezed.  You can’t breathe at all.  And why, if you please, expose your thighs and legs to bad weather?” (Mercier, pg. 303).  Mercier is talking about a conversation he imagines having with someone from the year 2440.  The man is talking about the elegant dress of the Louis XV era the Mercier is wearing.  Mercier describes the dress of the future as loose and practical.  Elegant dress was very important for people in France during the 18th century.  During the time leading up to the French Revolution, however, the people of France, mostly those of the 3rd Estate, began to reject elegant and luxurious dress and resorted to more humbling attire that expressed their sense of citizenship.  The robe displayed below, is a robe that is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was made in France around 1774 to 1793.  This robe is a very luxurious piece of clothing and was most likely worn by women of the 1st and 2nd Estates.

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The women of the 3rd Estate couldn’t wear clothes such as this robe because of their economic situations.  “The women of the third estate are almost all born without wealth…Having fulfilled the first duties of religion, they are taught to work; having reached the age of fifteen or sixteen, they can earn five or six sous a day” (Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King).  The women of the third estate had to work for very little pay and even if they were lucky enough to get married, it would be to an “unfortunate artisan”.  Robes, such as the one above, were sewn by men, or by women of the higher estates.  The women of the third estate wished to be able to take jobs were they could enrich the fashion culture of France.  They wanted to stop being educated in the sciences, because that helped them very little, and wished to take classes in embroidery and how to become seamstresses. “We ask that men not be allowed, under any pretext, to exercise trades that are the prerogative of women—whether as seamstress, embroiderer, millinery shopkeeper, etc., etc.; if we are left at least with the needle and the spindle, we promise never to handle the compass or the square” (Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King).  With the Revolution about to occur, it is unclear if these jobs were ever given to women, but, with the new movements in fashion by the people of the third estate, it is doubtful that any women in that social class ever wore or even desired to wear robes such as the one depicted above.


In relation to the history of fashion in the revolutionary Atlantic, the robe above is an example of a type of clothing that was worn by the wealthy and privileged.  The very intricate thread work that went into the creation of this piece of clothing shows that it was very expensive and elegant.  The bright color also might indicate that the robe was meant to be worn during the day and it was probably very popular amongst those in France who could afford it.  This robe also represents what France was trying to change. During the time that this robe was made, France was in great turmoil and revolutionary groups, such as the Sans-Culotte were rising up against the monarchy.  “The ‘costume of the sans-culottes’ is based on popular dress, but transforms it into a symbol; it should therefor be detached form its social determinations” (Wrigley, pg. 20).  The Sans-culotte dressed up in the same attire as the workingmen in France so that they could show that they were relating to the common people of France.  They disregarded luxurious and elegant dress.  Much like the homespun movement that occurred in Revolutionary America, where the people created their own clothing and rejected English clothing, the French people of the 3rd Estate chose to wear common and popular clothes and the women decided to take fashion into their own hands and became seamstresses and embroiderers.  In Mercier’s writing about the year 2440, we can see this progressive attitude towards dress in his fantasy.  The people of the future didn’t care for elegance in dress; they dressed for comfort and practicality.



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This dress is very similar to the robe that I have chosen to discuss.  This dress was made in the 1790’s and is made out of cotton.  Because it was made out of cotton, it can be assumed that it was either made in America or the materials were brought from America.  This dress could very well be a product of the homespun movement.


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This corset was made in England around 1775-1799.  It was made by a professional stay maker who was most likely a man, and was pretty expensive because it had to be fitted and made during private appointments.  Women of the upper classes in British society probably wore corsets like this one.




Wrigley, Richard. “The Formation and Currency of a Vestimentary Stereotype: The Sans- Culotte in Revolutionary France” in Fashioning the Body Politic: Dress, Gender, Citizenship. New York: Berg. Pp. 19-47.


Mercier, Louis-Sebastien. “The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Was One”.  Amsterdam, 1771. Pp. 300-313.


“Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King (1 January 1789) in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Lynn Hunt (Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston/New York), 1996, Pp. 60–63.


1790’s Dress. Bath Fashion Museum. Museum number: 1.09.2004


Corset. Bath Fashion Museum. Museum number: 2003.734

Reflections of a Consumer Culture: The Mirror and Message Behind Mass Consumption

Dressing Table Mirror, ca. 1756-1758 (made). Chelsea, England.

Dressing Table Mirror, ca. 1756-1758 (made). Chelsea, England.

Throughout the Renaissance period, men and women became increasingly concerned with the idea of the “individual” and self-identity. The increasing prevalence of mirrors as personal accessories highlights a growing emphasis on self-perception and personal reflection. Growing curiosity with ones own image, and an increasing awareness of an “individual” identity had profound effects on the way people viewed not only themselves, but also others. Awareness of individual identity manifested itself in many ways, but perhaps the most pronounced expression of this phenomenon was through fashionable dress and the growth of a consumer culture, which became increasingly focused on accumulation of material goods.

Mirrors are interesting objects of consumer culture in this period because they literally reflect one’s image in relationship to the world within which they exist. They allow one to see themselves in relationship to others, as well as others in relationship to themselves. This small dressing table mirror, manufactured from fine Chelsea porcelain in the mid 18th century, features a concave for a watch movement, as well as possible mechanics for a music box. The ornate piece, white with gold-gilding and pastel flourishes, was an expensive luxury item when it was first introduced to consumer markets. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, as factory and mass manufacturing increased, mirrors became a more widely available and affordable personal product. Mirrors were often embellished with ivory, ebony, or tortoiseshell and sometimes featured ornate wooded frames. This particular piece, a “top end of the market” item was manufactured by a “skilled draughtsman and designer” in the Chelsea porcelain factory (Dressing Mirror)

As historian Neil McKendrick points out in his article, “The Birth of a Consumer Society,” eighteenth century England was marked by period of expansion of material consumption—a “consumer revolution”—driven by the Industrial Revolution. Factory manufacturing made goods that were once manufactured on a small scale (and therefore expensive) available to wider, less affluent, audiences. Everyday items that we take for granted today, such as the knife and fork, became available to more common households. What was once found exclusively on the tables of the aristocracy could not be found on the tables of the middle class.

Knife & Fork, ca. 1750-1770 (made). Chelsea, England

Knife & Fork, ca. 1750-1770 (made). Chelsea, England

This particular knife and fork set was a standardized type that were typical of hosted dinner parties –the knife and fork provided by the host. This set features a pistol shaped handle, a look that would wane in favor of straight handles by the end of the eighteenth century. The metal is made of a steel blade that fits into a resin moulding. The union between the handle and blade fitted with a “ferrule” or small metal collar. Porcelain hafts were introduced to Europe by way of china and the resin moulds for the handles would have been mass manufactured in English factories at this time, making the wares available in larger scale (Knife & Fork)

The mass manufacturing of goods, such as mirrors, clothing, and tableware, allowed for lower and middling classes to “enjoy the accumulation of riches, luxury, and pleasure,” though, “the rich, of course, led the way” (McKendrick, 4). Even as lower classes obtained access to fine goods, it was always the upper crust that introduced the newest fashions into the culture.

Because fine mirrors, at the time of their introduction, were expensive luxury items, one might assume that those of lower economic status may not have been as likely to afford ornate mirrors or to keep them in their households. Given this notion, one could possibly entertain the idea that because those of the lower classes could not afford to surround themselves with personal items of ornate adornment and decoration, such as the mirror, they also may not have been as keenly aware of the potential potency of material goods as a signifier of individuality and self-worth. This was not the case.

Artisan guilds of the middling classes were often involved in the manufacturing of mirrors that were sold in the luxury market. Those of middling and lower classes often worked as laborers in manufacturing houses or as servants in the homes of elites where luxury items and fashionable objects were kept. There was constant, everyday interaction between the haves and the have-nots. For many, the resultant effect was the institution of a nascent culture of emulation, the “Veblen effect of emulative spending,” whereby those of lower social ranks, who were constantly surrounded by dramatic polarities of wealth, aspired to achieve a level of social stock as those “above” them, often through the accumulation of material possessions (McKendrick, 6). Those of lower classes who were participants in this “culture of emulation” hoped to achieve social ‘leveling’ through the accumulation of luxury items such as mirrors, furniture, fancy foods, exotic animals, and ornate dress.
Fashionable dress, alongside other commercial goods and accessories, became a potent signifier of social class, wealth, power and political station. One’s dress, in the eye of the eighteenth century beholder, could denote one’s social ‘attractiveness’, as one’s social status and character was perceived through the extravagance, expensiveness, and ornateness of their dress.

Man's Formal Suit, ca.  1740-1750 (made). United Kingdom.

Man’s Formal Suit, ca.
1740-1750 (made). United Kingdom.

This Man’s Formal Suit, ca. 1740-1750 exemplifies the ornateness of dress in the eighteenth century. Made of multiple fabrics, but composed mainly of wool, this item featured silver gilt braid and a silk lining, panels of linen and buckram, and was hand-sewn. It may have featured mass manufactured buttons and trimmings, which could bring down the cost. This particular coat was gold and green and was fitted snuggly to the body. The cuffs were shallow and the coat collarless (Man’s Formal Suit).

The 18th century poet, John Brevel, discussed his feelings on the prevalence of “fashionable” items in the eighteenth century, as well as the potency of dress to influence one’s perception of another’s identity.

Breville , John . The art of dress. An heroi-comical poem.. London : Eighteenth Century Collections Online

Breville , John . The art of dress. An heroi-comical poem.. London : Eighteenth Century Collections Online

Brevel comments that a woman’s toilet accessories, “the polished mirror, comb, patches, paint,” were “toys” that had the ability to give the “Sex a Grace,” meaning to imbue a woman with an air of refinement after beautifying herself with products. However, later in the poem, Brevel suggests that emulation and aspiration towards betterment through the accumulation of goods is daft endeavor, “fools and coquets” he says, are “the false pretenders to both air and wit” (Brevel, 20). Brevel also comments on the ability of fashion to engender one’s perception of another’s character. He says of the woman, “Be wond’rous tight about the Leg and Foot, for those parts neglected, soon betray the Slut: In Chusing Stocking, shun the Vulgar blue, and Braidm as well as lace, the Damask Shoe” (Brevel, 22). Here, Brevel is making a distinction about the air of promiscuity a woman displays through dress. For Brevel, one can consciously govern how others perceive them, and in essence to construct their own identities, by knowing how to dress. For him, knowing how to dress means knowing how to conduct oneself in society.

Dress could indicate similarities in social status between men and women of similar backgrounds, and in turn, highlight inequalities between those of dissimilar social position. As the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau points out in his treatise, Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men (1755), “Before people invented the signs which represent riches, wealth could scarcely have consisted of anything other than land and animals” (Rousseau, 2). Material possessions did not signify wealth in the same way that they would after the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century. After the Revolution, as McKendrick points out, quoting from Adam Smith’s famous treaty, The Wealth of Nations, “the ‘doctrine of luxury’ eventually took over from the doctrine of the ‘utility of poverty,’ and “English society prepared intellectually and socially for the consumer revolution” (McKendrick, 7-8). To some, consumer society was nothing more than “an aggregation of self-interested individuals tied to one another by the tenuous bonds of envy, exploitation, and competition.” Frugality and avarice were valued characteristics. Conspicuous consumption was the antithesis to the theme of the spendthrift mentality, and for many, it merely served to consistently pit rich against poor and to highlight inequalities among men. Rousseau famously remarked, “Natural inequality manifests itself imperceptibly with inequality arising out of social groups, and the differences among men, developed out of differences of circumstances, became more perceptible and more permanent” (Rousseau, 1). To many others, conspicuous consumption and extravagant personal adornment allowed individuals to craft a unique identity. The purchase of exquisite garments, embellished mirrors, fanciful tableware, and exotic foods and animals, became an extension of their personality and character and symbolized their desired place in society.


Breville , John . The art of dress. An heroi-comical poem. London : Eighteenth Century Collections Online: Range 1291, 1717. http://find.galegroup.com/ecco/retrieve

McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England,” in The Birth of a
Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London: Europa, 1982), 9-33.

Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (1755), selections.

Dressing Table Mirror. N.d. Photograph. V&A Collections , London . Web. 11 Mar 2014.


Knife & Fork . N.d. Photograph. V&A Collections , London . Web. 11 Mar 2014.

Man’s Formal Suit . N.d. Photograph. V&A Collections , London . Web. 11 Mar 2014. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O34282/mans-formal-suit-unknown/

Dolls: And The People That Play

doll corset front

“Magnificent houses were built reaching a crescendo of building in the 1760s arid 1770s when the brothers Adam designed so many memorable Georgian houses to replace Elizabethan and Jacobean mansions…Superlative furniture was commissioned from the published directories of Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton.  Porcelain and pottery of a quality unparalleled in English history appeared, including Chelsea, Bow, Worcester and Derby for the few, and Wedgwood for the many.   Silver ranged from the sturdy mastery of the early Huguenot silver smiths to the characteristic elegance of a Schofield candlestick to the feminine delicacy of Hester Bateman. Mirrors came from the great master Linnell; cutlery from the master smiths of Sheffield; ‘toys’ in protean variety, from the costly ‘exclusives’ of Matthew Boulton to the cheap buttons for the mass market” [1].  Indeed, the production of these luxurious goods mark the height of English consumer society, where aesthetic items were the norm and extravagance earned them a pat on the back.  The birth and spread of consumerism, encouraged by the industrial revolution, saw “the closely stratified nature of English society, the striving for vertical social mobility, the emulative spending bred by social emulation, the compulsive power of fashion begotten by social competition…combined with the widespread ability to spend (offered by novel levels of prosperity) to produce an unprecedented propensity to consume.” [2]  Hence, traditional class structure was given a hard shake and identities could suddenly be created or bought.  Consumer power, of the rich and poor alike, became the façade of most people trying to catch up to their social betters or outdo one another.  With the trend of consumption resulting in constant competition, fashion and goods changed style more often than before, trying to captivate the consumers and best other producers.  The items were more detailed and exquisite; the items to purchase also became more unique.

The item I selected was created in the late 17th century and early 18th century (1690-1700).  It is a doll’s corset made in London by an unknown artist.   Although this is an item that was produced in the late 17th century, it marks the trend of overindulgence that was the norm during the start of the 18th century, and it is significant to watching the dramatic shift of design throughout rest of the 18th century.   From the lens of the history of dress, this corset is absolutely breath taking.  From its beaded bodice and whale-boning, to the silk tissue that ties together the whole article beautifully, complete with back-lacing in silver and cream, “[e]dged with silver braid and lined with blue spotted silk”; it is truly a work of art.  And this attention to detail is especially extravagant because it is, after all, the corset for a doll. It truly outdoes many of the similar products of the time, additionally disclosing the truth behind the ideal woman’s form.  From a fashion studies standpoint, this is definitely an article belonging to the upper-class.  It is absolutely telling of the owner’s stance in life, probably as a wealthy noble or of the older aristocrat family.  It is also an indication of the carefree spending habits of the time which induce glamour and awe, because they spent so much money just for a simple doll.  From the excellent condition of the doll’s delicate features, this doll could have been just for the admiration of adults rather than for the children to play with.  Finally, the material culture approach begs the question of why?  Why did they spend so much money to produce such a beautiful product?  What does this reflect about their lives, was it empty and frivolous so they filled it with material objects to cover up loneliness?  Or were they simply trying to outdo one another in extravagance?  Or did they not consider this as an extravagance, rather a normal expenditure, like we buy groceries today, and merely loved the beauty of the handiwork?

This piece is an absolutely breathtaking, and miniature, example of the society of 18th century England, airs and all.  London’s high quality and decorative people were a force to reckon with.  Another piece, created by an unknown artist, during the exact same time shows almost the exact same attention to detail and visible quality.

doll waist coat

This second piece is made of silver tissue with silk taffeta, lined with more silk.  It is for a male doll’s waistcoat; this doll’s purpose likely serves as decoration as well.  It is definitely apparent that as a part of consumer culture, males become more effeminate and the lines between genders are blurred to focus solely on fashion.  Additionally, this demonstrates the 18th century consumer culture where good will not do, better will not cut it, only flawlessness will have an actually chance of competing in the market.  These articles of clothing are reminiscent of the likes of items that could certainly be found in the home of Lady Delacour in Belinda. And Lady Delacour’s placement in an upper class society, coupled by her desire to stay in that class as the center spotlighted figure, adds to her fondness for excess and consumption. Lady Delacour shows no shame in her spending habits and makes a whole spectacle of the way she is dressed and her mannerisms.  She is powerful in position as a consumer and it is recognized by many of her acquaintances.  Additionally, in a larger perspective of her role in consumerism, her stance is extremely important.  Because she is actively consuming, she is also fueling the industrial world to supply to her demands. McKendrick’s view on consumerism focuses on the developments that fueled the rise of production and its impact, because it certainly was not an event that took place in one day.  It was the consumer craze of people like Lady Delacour that supported the industrial revolution and lead to the competitive market.  Manufacturers exploited this desire to consume, and encouraged their consumers with exciting new products, such as the dolls’ beautiful wardrobe.  Moreover, Lady Delacour is in a position to be a “taste maker who led the fashion,” where she can influence the fashion and consumer habits of others that would love to be in her social circles.  Therefore, her role in supporting consumerism and the industrial contributions is more extensive.

Additionally, according to Act Discharging the Wearing of Silk-stuffs and Velvet, and Stamped Caligo (1705), it states “ OUR SOVERAIGN LADY with Advice and Confent of the Eftates of Parliament, Prohibites and Difcharges the Ufing or Wearing in Apparrel of all forts of Silk-ftuffs and Velvets in all forts of Cloath, Drogat-ftuffs, and Stockings Forreign or made within this Kingdom, wherein there is any Silk, except all plain Black Slik-ftuffs for Womens Hoods and Scarfs only, and Velvets and other Silk-ftuffs for Seats and Chairs of State, and for Pales, Mort-cloaths, Foor-mantles, and the Robes of fuch publick Officers who are in ufe to wear Velvets upon them” [3].  This shows that so many people of the 18th century were indulging in the finest that money could buy, whether they had a need for it or not.  These fine cloths were the norm in consumer culture; silks and velvet were now reserved for all classes, if only to all them to pretend they were all inherently equal.  Printed calicos and apparel of silk-stuffs were used for everything and no longer reserved for the delicate things.  I think they put a ban on the items to try to stop the normalizing of expensive things of taste.  But once everyone has it in the lining of “Womens Hoods and Scarfs”, the appeal is lost and again the market is pushed to produce items above and beyond what was already “above and beyond.”  Likewise the items for the dolls.  Only a few decades ago from the 18th century, the doll’s costumes were much simpler.  Yet due to the rise in relative prosperity and competition, the people had the power to demand a certain standard in their products, further fueling the industrial revolution, even if it was only for the sake of outward appearances.

plain doll.

Even with the lavish costumes, the dolls themselves were dull and, quite honestly a little boring.  They were very simple, made out of carved wood and finished with cream colored paint, with “bodies” already shaped for the clothing that would eventually adorn it (like the corset) and with the ideal and unrealistic representation of a woman.  It is peculiar that so much attention would be focused on the clothing that cover the doll, but at the core of it, is nothing spectacular.  I find this is a subtle reflection of the English people of the 18th century.  Most people are so caught up in embodying the latest fashion and portraying themselves as someone they could never be that at the very core of it they are empty and a little shallow.  They have invented themselves in the name of fashion for almost a decade and have not truly worked towards establishing themselves or investing in their own autonomy.  And when the luxury items and money is stripped away, they are hardly a sight to see.


Edgeworth, Maria, and Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England.” The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. 9-33. Print.

Riello, Giorgio. “The Object of Fashion: Methodological Approaches to the History of Fashion.” Journal of Aesthetics and Culture 3 (2011): 1-9. Print.

Scotland. Parliament. Act discharging the wearing of silk-stuffs and velvet, and stamped caligo. [Edinburgh],  [1705]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 1 Mar. 2014

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Figure 2:


Figure 3:


[1] McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England.” The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. 9-33. Print.

[2] McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England.” The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. 9-33. Print.

[3] Scotland. Parliament., and Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Act Discharging the Wearing of Silk-stuffs and Velvet, and Stamped Caligo. [Edinburgh, 1705.