Rich enough in appearance, the monumental entrance to class 36, devoted to clothing for both sexes, did not provide much inspiration to its organisers, and it is really much more industrial than artistic.
Of the three bays in the façade, two are occupied by display windows, where women's clothes are exhibited on mannequins, as in all novelty shops.
The facade itself is made of wood, covered with a rather sad grey varnish that does little to brighten up either the head of Mercury on the pediment, wearing the mythological winged hat, or the two compositions on the left and right, which obviously represent coquetry and the art of dressing.
Golden Book of the Exhibition - Alfred Grandin.
The exhibition of clothing for both sexes opens on the thirty-metre gallery. It is the ladies' clothing that adorns the main entrance, and this is only fair, as this part is much more successful than the part concerning the stronger sex.
Indeed, you have to be strong to be able to lift the first shoes you come across. They should have been displayed in the War Ministry Pavilion. They are shoes with armoured soles, cuirassées, the labels say; indeed, we can no longer see the colour of the leather, they are just huge iron nails, of all shapes, as unsightly as possible, armour plates on the heels and toes. These must be for the use of divers probably; one can be sure, with similar devices on the feet, that the centre of gravity of the body will be placed very low.
We also find waterproof, unsinkable boots, this time the nails are removed and replaced by nuts, these are made of copper, for example. Finally we come to more portable shoes. These are varnished boots, slammed in yellow, green, blue, white goatskin, etc. Boots as sticky as jerseys, laced up on the side, coming up to mid-thigh. It must be very awkward to bend the leg. Then there are the big boots for hunting. The foreign competition is quite formidable in this kind of article.
From the shoes, we jump to the hats.
And first the caps. What trouble the manufacturers must have gone to in order to make such successful horrors as those we regret to see. If only this could indicate some kind of tour de force, but no, it is ugly simply for the sake of being ugly. An assortment of ugly coloured pieces, sewn together 1 I make an exception for the racing, canoeing, lawn-tennis caps. These have their purpose, it's fashionable to have colourful headgear. But at least the shades here are cheerful, clear, pleasing to the eye. But these other caps without character, brown, false blue, green that makes us grind our teeth, what are they doing here, not to mention the silk caps, the three hundred bridges, the Eiffelian caps? At least they are completely black.
We also see black or blue velvet caps, with beautiful gold embroidery, all around and on top. It's not the latest elegance, the latest good taste, nor the latest fashion, but to attract the eyes, the embroidery represents the Eiffel Tower. It is a way like any other to modernise the antique.
Then there are silk hats, felt hats, padded hats for Amazons, black and even white satin hats, elderberry hats, so light that you have to put on a chinstrap to prevent them from flying off.
Would you like to have an idea of the different operations to be carried out to obtain a felt hat? A helpful exhibitor shows us the successive results of each preliminary operation. There are twelve operations, and these hats are advertised at twelve francs a dozen. The raw wool is first washed with soda. Then we proceed to what is called Vépaillage, which consists in destroying the vegetable matter, straw, etc., by sulphuric acid. The purification consists of removing all the detritus from the previous operation. In carding, the wool fibres are stretched parallel to form a wadding. The wadding is then formed by applying it to a cone. This is followed by a first start of steam felting, the simoussage or felting. The next step is to use the fulling machine, which is called fulling. The previous piece, soaked in boiling water, can be shaped, this is the dressing. In the sanding process, the protruding parts are shaved off. After this, the hat is dyed, then appropriated, where it receives its final shape under a pressure of thirty atmospheres. Finally, the last operation, or trimming, consists of tucking it in and putting a ribbon on it. All this for twelve francs a dozen, which is really not expensive.
Finally, for lack of novelty, the hat makers show us the old, historical hats, the hats of Bonaparte, Carnot, Kléber, Marat, Lafayette, etc.
Let us finish with the hat shop, with the children's headgear, some of which is quite pretty; but why show us again those horrible velvet hats, without any definite shape, which were worn by many of the little peasants who came to visit the great exhibition? They are no uglier than the others, these poor cherubs, but were they ungainly enough under this ridiculous ornament!
Let us now come to the costume in general. What can we say about men's costumes? Except that it is always the same thing, and that the main thing is not to have a nice garment, but to wear it well; it is not an art, it is natural. All men are dressed more or less the same. Apart from the jacket, the morning coat, the frock coat and the suit, not to mention the overcoat, we can find nothing better. A new form has been tried to dethrone the habit: the dinner jacket, which is only a jacket with a large lapel. This competition is not serious, the suit will have a long life ahead of it. However, they are trying to vary the colour, which brings us back to the past. For want of something new, we resurrect the old. I confess that I do not see the absolute necessity of inventing new forms of men's clothing. We see at the Exhibition red, brown, light green suits, with matching waistcoats or white ones, embroidered with silk all around. We also see dinner jackets, even cheap ones, which will quickly kill this new fashion.
But here is a novelty: the modest trousers. You read that right. So modest that it is impossible to see why they are modest, because they are so well folded. Is this new or a rescued old fashion? A mystery!
We see some very pretty dressing gowns, however; there is one, folded up like the canvas of a theatre, which must be nicely heavy.
We pass a shop window containing only a mirror, as in novelty shops, to try on clothes; it is the factory of Saint-Go-bain which obligingly exhibits a mirror, to try on nothing at all.
We come to the work clothes. Small cardboard figures represent butchers, commission agents, pastry cooks, grocers, coopers, waiters, in service clothes.
Let us finish the clothing proper with the military uniforms, where we see the model of the latest pelisse, which all mounted officers are now allowed to wear.
Let's go into the accessory sections of the garment.
We see braces, silk, embroidered, matching the tie. What refinements! Then embroidered shirts, pleated, with a daytime look, since this fashion has now come back more than ever in the high-life, which only wanted flat fronts. Shirt fronts are even worn in batiste, so fine that it is transparent. The slightest hint of this will be seen, and the chest will have to be carefully powdered so that there is nothing to draw the eye under the thin batiste.
The pants also receive embroidery, well matched with those of the shirt. The only thing missing is embroidery on the false collars and cuffs, then lace, and finally, borrowing from the ladies the model of their most elegant clothes. The pants, slightly shortened and decorated with lace, will imitate the trousers of the fair sex.
For our nightgowns the manufacturers do not find models elegant enough. All these embroidered silk shirts will make our elegant women jealous, and they will end up taking our models.
If, at the beginning of our visit, we found things horribly disgraceful, to finish we fall into the opposite excess, it is a little too much refinement, but this excess is however much preferable to the other.
Golden Book of the Exhibition - S. Favière.
We must begin this article by offering our condolences to our female readers, for they have been much misgendered, as regards the garment, or at least the principal piece of the garment, the dress.
And however brilliant the exhibition of women's clothing may have been on the surface, it was nevertheless one of the weakest and one of the least indicative of the present state of the industry which it represented.
In fact, it represented nothing at all. For sewing is an art - an art, I say - which does not lend itself at all to exhibition. If you show a design of a fabric, a competitor may be inspired by it, but he cannot copy it on sight; a patent protects the machine which is exhibited, whereas no patent protects this or that form of bodice, this or that drape, this or that arrangement of a trim; whereas it will only take a short study for a skilled worker to recognise the design of a machine.
to recognise how everything that constitutes the originality of a costume has been obtained.
The pride one may have in exhibiting pretty things is satisfied, it is true, but one's interests suffer if this exhibition allows the generalisation of any model which has no value except as long as it retains the individuality of the seamstress who made it, and does not spread it to an unlimited number of copies.
Under these conditions, it is understandable that the leading Parisian fashion houses, those who make the fashion and the law in matters of elegance, have refrained from exhibiting, thus leaving the field open to the workshops specially equipped for export and to the large novelty shops.
And the exhibition was vigorously resented. It shimmered, it glittered, it had every colour and shimmer. In any case, it was of execrable taste, and no Parisian woman of taste would consent to wear one of these composite toilettes, where four or five different fabrics, feathers, trimmings, pearls and rainbows of ribbons are superimposed.
The department stores have exhibited the masterpieces of this genre, which is a great success among the high life of the South American republics. Some of these toilets represent the synthesis of all industrial production applied to the art of clothing; they were no more charming for that. And last but not least, these suits were dead. Let me explain. The most beautiful dress in the world is only worth seeing on the shoulders of the woman for whom it was made, and shown in the environment for which it was intended, it is probable that these costumes, loaded like those of the Queen of Sheba, and of a luxury so curiously "fairground", would have produced the most mirific effect if they had been worn by some superb Venezuelan creole, with the blue sky over her head, in the air the tremor of an approaching earthquake, and
With the great tropical sun. . on her back,
as François Coppée said.
Here, in the blackened fir windows, between the columns with white imitation marble capitals of class 36, it was very banal, and let's say the word, very ugly.
Another category of costumes which, without being more remarkable, offered the opposite of these defects, was that of the so-called "tailor-made" clothes. The others lacked taste in their richness, these lacked taste in their poverty. The suit is an English import, one that is not to be welcomed. The woman is made to be wrapped in silk and lace and not wrapped in the thick sheets that have the stiffness of the capote of the pioupiou. With that, the forms lose considerably in elegance. You can see that there is no reason to be very enthusiastic about the tailor type. You have met them in the galleries and gardens of the Champ de Mars and also on our boulevards, the hideous Englishwomen tied up in a skirt that is too flat, without a supple fold, with one or two breaks, as stiff as a wall, with an ulster with three pilgrims that seemed to have been stolen from the wardrobe of their coachman. Here was the real suit, tailor-style. The prettiest woman in the world is nothing but a graceless androgynous thing underneath, and if all English women dress like that, I can understand Jack the Ripper.
In short, there was nothing very attractive about the women's costumes of Class 36.
The hats, on the other hand, were overwhelmingly lovely. Today's hats are eclectic, taking all forms from the antique capote to the huge Gainsborough; the Basque beret, the bolero, the real bolero also flourish. This one has been brought to us by bullfighting. It is no longer, as in the past, a simple evocation of the hairstyle of the majestic Andalusian majos, it is the hairstyle itself, flat and round with its three caterpillar balls. Our milliners have sometimes been more inspired.
The hatters' hats for women have shown charming travel headgear, but why should they want to make a city hat out of this thing that is heavy on the eye and has no other elegance than that of showiness.
I am, for example, quite opposed to another headdress which the Exhibition has also brought us: the English cap; it is of two kinds and both are more ignominious than the other. The first type is the cloth cap with earflaps, the stable boy type. It is more than ugly, it is villainous. The second type is the jockey cap, but with a sort of wick helmet folded down at the front at the top.
Ugh, the horror!
The shoe was a natural neighbour to clothing and hats. It allowed us to see the renaissance of the high heel, which had been beaten to the punch for several years by the almost imperceptible English heel. The Louis XV heel, which has not yet regained the position, but is well on its way, pushes the woman's body forward. The flat heel throws her backwards. Between the two my heart sways, while recognising the elegance of the foot arched by the Louis XV heel.
In English shoes, inflexibly cut to the given size, the foot has neither personality nor coquetry; it has the shape of the shoe. With the French shoe the shoe has the shape of the foot. I like the latter better.
In class 30 there were still artificial flowers, feathers and wigs. Let's move on, ladies, and please excuse me, but my duty was to report everything.
This duty forces me to say of an important part of class 35 what I said of class 36: corsets were obviously intended for Negresses. One has no idea of such garish debaucheries of colour. Golden yellow, fiery red, national blue, sometimes even the three colours of our flag together; these are the corsets. I like the lingerie around them much better. There were marvels of shirts, trousers for fairy-tale princesses, a whole snow of fine batiste, in the midst of which stood out with the elegance of a sunflower in a bed of roses, the German woollen lingerie. The inventor of natural wool underwear is quite clever: when your shirt is dirty, you have to burn it. This is his recipe, perhaps it is excellent for the
But what about gloves? There were many of them, made of goat, lamb, beaver, anything... and of all the colours of the rainbow; it is better to take a retrospective look at the fans, which are much more pleasant to contemplate, especially as there was a collection as considerable as it was varied, from the one-cent fan for advertisements to the twenty-five thousand franc fan painted by M. Meissonier, or one of his pupils.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Henri Anry