How did ladies dress in the era of the Sun King?

King Louis XIV managed to build an unparalleled phenomenon: the brilliance of his Court influenced all other European Courts, imposing prestige on all chapters.

The attire of the Court ladies highlighted, through wealth and sumptuousness, the noble rank of the wearer, first of all, but also the country in which she worked. Very ceremonial and solemn, elaborated in details and with many accessories, the dress subjected the ladies to a real torture, due to its weight and cut.

The image of the elongated figure was given by the high hairstyle and heels, and revealing the neckline, elbow-length or three-quarter sleeves and the train amplified the feminine grace and charm. The hairstyle, extremely elaborate, consisted of curls raised in the crown or arranged on the side. The fashionable dress pattern had a high, oval neckline, an angled waist, “fastened in the laced bodice over a triangular board, draped in embroidered fabric,” and the double-breasted skirt had underneath skirt, usually tailored with horizontal ruffles.

On top of the dress, the ladies wore coatopen in front, just to show skirt, or bouffant on the side, to emphasize the hips. The code required that, at ceremonies, ladies’ dresses had a train. Sometimes an embroidered and lace-trimmed apron, Dutch-influenced, and a hooded cape in the cold season were worn as a clothing accessory in day wear, and shoes had higher heels. The massive jewels gave maximum brilliance to the ladies of the Court. On the street or when they went to visit, the fur collar and sleeve, gloves and walking stick were not missing from their clothing, just like men.

The great outfit

The spectacular outfit of Queen Maria Theresa of France illustrates the luxury and opulence of the majestic clothing of the Court of King Louis XIV, the elaboration and manufacture of which was strictly handled by the queen’s personal seamstresses or Court tailors.

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The great outfit it included the bodice or upper part of the dress, the petticoat or skirt of the dress, and the train or bottom of the dress. A typical element of this period was the corset, reinforced with whalebone, which flattened the chest, pushing the shoulders back. The sleeve of the dress was worn off the shoulders, in a bouffant cut to the elbow, and the edge was enriched with gold threads and fine lace, applied in several layers.

The skirt of the dress was supported by baskets (which also gave the shape of the dress), made of whalebone or wicker and, later, of wire, covered with cloth stiffened with starch. The size of the chimneys increased with the passage towards the 18th century.

Queen Maria Tereza and her son Ludovic, imposing in the great land

Queen Maria Tereza and her son Ludovic, imposing in the great land

The status and importance of rank at the Court of King Louis XIV was also highlighted by the length of the train. The dress code required the queen to wear a long train, which was not to exceed in length, in any way, that of the ladies of the Court.

The silk of the dress was woven with gold and silver thread and richly decorated with gold threads, which gave distinction to the wearer. The queen’s entire outfit was complemented by precious jewels and natural pearls, adorned with ostrich feathers, which “added an exotic touch to her dress”.

In the 17th century, the palatine was fashionable, a necklace of pearls that hung down the back, and in front remained at the base of the neck, in an ample and generous neckline. Both the queen and ladies with noble titles wore a mask on hot days to protect their face from the sun. The same mask was an indispensable accessory for the ladies of the Court when they participated in dance and opera performances, where they had the opportunity to display their wealth and status by appearing in clothing.

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The traditional royal colors were red, black and white, complemented by bright gold. The color code for younger ladies was silver or gold, while older ladies wore black dresses.

The inverted conical shape of the bust of the dress created great discomfort for ladies, especially those with robust forms, however the Duchess of Orléans “adored her outfit, preferring it to the more informal mantou, which appeared in 1678”.

The maximum luxury at Court was represented by French silks, and the appearance of the mantle relaxes the formality of the fashionable aristocratic style. Open in the front and worn over the bodice and skirt of the dress, the mantle contributes to the definition of an elaborate clothing style, revolutionizing the daily wear of the ladies, who, with this piece of clothing, manage to make the feminine forms much more delicate.

The fontanges hairstyle is born from an accident

A new hairstyle fashion was started by one of King Louis XIV’s mistresses, Marie-Angélique, Duchesse de Fontanges, who hastily pulled her hair back after losing her hat falling from her horse during a hunting party to which she had been invited by the king. After the hairstyle was destroyed in the accident, the duchess had the inspiration to tear a piece of lace with which she had tied her hair back, thus the style was born fontanges hairstyles.

Because the king appreciated the new hairstyle, after the 1670s the ladies of the Court began to arrange their hair in the new fashion, combing it back and vertically, then tying it over the stacked curls with a lace accessory with several rows of frills, attached to a metal frame, which had the name “commode”.

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You could not enter the Court of the Sun King if the clothing did not comply with the imposed code, and on the occasion of important events, such as coronations or princely marriages, but also at certain celebrations or receptions given by the king, the guests’ attire represented an elaborate ensemble of clothing and luxury accessories, which in most cases ended up costing as much as a modest castle.

Ceremonial funeral garments

More than any of his predecessors and successors, Louis XIV brought kingship to a height of incomparable prestige by reinventing a power unprecedented and unequaled in Europe. September 1, 1715 is the only day when his mastery no longer belongs to him, it is the last day, the day of his own death.

At the royal palace, the mourning ladies let the train of their mourning dresses “sweep the dust” of the princely parquets as a sign of the funeral ritual. High-level funeral practice in the 17th century required ceremonial garments to have a train, for both women and men.

Men’s mourning clothes were long, loose capes, quite heavy, weighing many kilograms, which made the wearer walk carefully, so as not to step on his own train or others. In addition to princes of the blood, magistrates and prelates were entitled to wear the mourning cloak, and on special occasions, such as coronations, aristocrats of the sword could also wear them.

The fragment is part of the article “Fashion, Etiquette and Court Ceremonial in the Time of the Sun King”, published in issue 252 of Historia magazine, available at all press distribution points, from January 13 to February 14, and in digital format on the platform paydemic.

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FOTO: Getty Images

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