The Rococo History
Model Eva Khlebnikova
Text and Photo Alina
The Rococo period inherited many characteristics of the preceding Baroque period, for instance, the same intricate details and complex decorations. Despite the resemblances Rococo style significantly differs from the Baroque. Rococo is based on the ease and fluidity which during the period has become more expressive. Usually Rococo’s forms create an impression of something airy, rising up with complex and curved lines, contrary to both physical and mental gravity.
A style according with the time when science was more independent of religion, making extraordinary advancements and developing a lot. In consequence, technology would open the doors to the Industrial Revolution.
New social orders started to emerge; besides the nobility, a strong bourgeoisie of nouveau riche people appeared. They made a fortune and positioned themselves into the best of the social and political spheres, imitating the noble people in all their costumes.
The garments of the aristocracy were made of velvet, silk and expensive heavy brocade, lace and fine linen, glittering with gold and jewels. They even had gems instead of buttons. The Ceremonial Dress, the most expensive of all, was only worn once. Flowers, birds and wavy lines became the dominant motif of the style, emphasizing an idealized femininity. These elegant and decorative forms were present in all the fine arts. It is not surprising that the suit characteristics echoed furniture features.
In the 18th century a woman was best free and the most respected member of society in the history of Western civilization up to the 20th century. The arrival of the Enlightenment changed a lot Western society from the rule of force toward the veneration of chivalry and grace’s mind. Thanks to those changes, women were given more opportunities to develop and create. Most of the 18th century, they actually ran the society and having achieved this success became women writers, artists and entrepreneurs. It’s even a little strange that the art and philosophy of the time so exalted a woman and the Rococo style of the 18th century abounded with that psychologists call «feminine forms of perception.»
The style of women’s clothing in the 18th century reflected the improvement of women’s position in society. Simple cut dresses began to disappear, and transform. A lot of decorations appeared on dresses. In the end, the dress style has become “Rob de France”- doll dressed like layered cake type structure whereby women are concentrated in three more spaces than a man, thus attracting much more attention to themselves.
Just as fashions change, styles in hairstyles and cosmetics change too. The second half of the 18th century is an era which was obsessed with hair and makeup, as these became such potent symbols of aristocracy during the Enlightenment and French Revolution. France and England were the fashion leaders of this epoch.
It is essential to mention that hair styling and cosmetics application had a particularly important function in France. The toilette, or dressing, was a daily ceremony in which important persons were dressed.
After 1760s women began to grow up as well with the help of hairstyles and hats. Rococo is famous for its incredible decorations of coiffure. The hairdos were very complex and sometimes it took a lot of time to create them. Flowers, pearls, ribbons and even small ship models were put into the hair. It was considered to be very fashionable and beautiful.
Also, the Rococo women’s wear was famous for a wide use of such elements of décor as plumage, beads of pearls, lace and ribbons. The corset played a very important part in the dress structure together with the light structured hoops, called in French “panier”, made of wicker and suited under the dress.
A woman in a Rococo suit resembles an elegant porcelain statuette . The garment’s silhouette of bright and light colours was very feminine and emphasized the tenderness of fragile shoulders, a thin waist and a roundness of the hips. Women wore open high-heeled shoes made of satin or fine coloured leather.
In the 18th century blush, powder, perfume and moles were in fashion. Rococo garments were supplemented with plenty of jewelry.
Rings, bracelets, necklaces, gold watches on chain were very fashionable. A lot of lace, bows, ruffles and rich embroidery was used in making clothes. People loved the small bouquets of artificial flowers (often made of porcelain) pinned on the chest.
The pale skin was another important attribute of the Rococo fashion. Women made big efforts to emphasize the whiteness of their skin. They set off whiteness with velvet ribbons and laces tied around the neck.
The eighteenth century was an age of elegance. Never in European history do we see men and women so elaborately artificial, so far removed from natural appearance. Desired unreal effect in hairstyle was achieved by wigs. This epoch was an extravagant explosion of amazing hairstyles.
It should be said that wigs as an element of Rococo’s style were very important in high society. Men started to wear wigs at the end of the 17th century, while the reign in France of Louis XIV, who also, was called The Sun King. All his court began to use wigs, and as France was the pattern of the fashion for all Europe at that age, the use of wigs was spread to the rest of the courts of the continent.
More or less from 1770, wigs became popular in women society. And, after years, women wigs were being made taller and more sophisticated, especially in France. Men’s wigs were generally white, and women’s wigs of pastel colors, like pink, light violet or blue.
A wig could tell a lot about its owner. Depending on how it was decorated, it could reveal a person’s profession or social status. It is clear that wealthier people could have expensive wigs from designers and made from better materials. Usually they were made of human hair, but also of horse or goat hair.
Also, near 1715, wigs started to be powdered. Families had special rooms for “toilette”, where they arranged and powdered their artificial hair. People had to protect their faces with thick paper, during the process of powdering.
As well, since the middle of the century men used to wear a single ponytail on the nape, tied with a bow, a very popular style in every European court at that time. Women continued with their extravagant styles until the French Revolution, when all the luxury was vanished into the new republican ideas. Since then, hairstyles were more classic and simple.
Also, it is worth mentioning that in spite it being funny to imagine that women could use those immense towered hairs on their heads and at every party where they attended, the reality is quite different.
Maybe those giant capillary arrangements could have existed, but only on very special occasions or in theatrical performances. Mostly noble women wore much more sober and elegant hairstyles, although they were pretty elaborated. The ideal woman of the 18th century had hair that was black, brown, or blond.
In the beginning of the Rococo era women wore their hair tight to the head, sometimes powdered or topped with lace kerchiefs, a stark contrast to their wide panniers.
Though, as it was mentioned before, sometimes, for special occasions, hair styles started to be higher and higher until the wigs were already required. Hair had to be decorated with flowers, different types of plants, miniature sculptures and figures. Hair was powdered with wheat meal and flour, which caused outrage among lower classes as the price of bread became dangerously high.
During this period, a new silhouette for women was developing. Panniers, in other words wide hoops worn under the skirt that extended sideways, became very popular. Very wide panniers were worn to formal occasions, while smaller ones were worn in everyday life. Small waists were very fashionable and women used to have them tightly constricted by corsets. All this provided contrasts with the wide skirt.
In its turn, In English women’s fashion, the robe a l’anglaise included more comfortable corsets for women. Also, a huge variety of fabrics was used. A lot of them were imported from India and were called ‘Indienne’. Silk fabrics were often replaced by printed cotton fabrics.
However, in France Marie Antoinette introduced the chemise à la reine, in other words a loose white gown with a colorful silk sash around the waist. This was considered shocking for women at first, as no corset was worn and the natural figure was apparent. This was very unusual for society in that time. However, women seized upon this style, using it as a symbol of their increased liberation.
In its turn, men were often wearing different types of the habit à la française, for example, coat and waistcoat. It should be noticed that the waistcoat was a decorative piece of outfit. It had embroideries and it was made of patterned fabrics. Also, jabots made of lace were very fashionable in that time. Usually they were tied around the neck. Men used to wear the breeches with white stockings and high heeled shoes with large buckles. Coats were worn close to the body and men used to wear them open to show the waistcoat. Also, Tricorne hats were extremely fashionable in that time. They were decorated with ostrich feathers.
Also, it should be noticed that white wigs were in fashion too. The Cadogan style of men’s became very popular in 1700s. French high society wore very expensive and luxurious garments and the lower classes hated their open show of wealth when they themselves did not have the possibility to dress in proper clothes.
In English men’s costume, for instance, the “Werther costume” – blue coat with brass buttons, leather trousers, high boots and yellow vest which young people adopted after publication of the famous novel, even Goethe, was influenced by English fashion.
People at that time believed that they were living in the best of all possible worlds. At the end of the century, artistic and cultural styles changed.
The ideal of Rococo was an elegant silhouette and refined manners. The movement, gait developed under the leadership of the teachers of good manners. “Good tune” has become the barrier that divided the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. The 18th century was called the “gallant century”, the century of the minuet, lace and powder. This was the last period of domination of the aristocratic fashion, which ended with the beginning of the French Revolution and the fall of absolutism.
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