To give hospitality, in the same enclosure, to the historical characters of the most outstanding periods of the history of costume; to animate them by a legendary or truthful scene; to present them to us in the most piquant, the most lively or the most graceful form; to surround them with the setting that best brings them out, and to make us breathe in the same atmosphere in which they lived: such is the work of the Costume Palace at the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
Haven't we all found ourselves, big or small children, serious mothers or hard-working fathers, wishing we could see with our own eyes such historical figures who have our sympathy or admiration?
A very young schoolboy was asked what distracted him from his history lesson.
"I would have liked to know about the good King Henry IV," he replied.
Yet, between the lines of his lesson, the schoolboy could fix a kindly and cheerful portrait of the valiant king. In many places, old castles and museums, he could have admired his bust, and such a bridge in Paris bears his equestrian statue.
The engravings are mute, the schoolboy would think, and the statues icy. Henri IV is indeed, in person, on his horse, but why does he never get off?
This is what we are most grateful to the initiators of this exhibition for: they clarify in our minds what was vague and uncertain there and fix our imagination, which was floating on inanimate memories. The schoolboy can go and see Henri IV smile and act; his mother can go and see Queen Marie-Antoinette sailing at Trianon; and his father will be seized with a grave and solemn impression before Napoleon, on the eve of the coronation. All these characters come alive before our eyes, they come to life in the scene they represent. Mme Tussaud in London and Grévin in Paris have shown us contemporary figures; Félix and his collaborators represent those of the past. By seeing their features, their gestures, their attitude, they will become more familiar to us, and, for a moment, Tartarin, returning to Tarascon after his tour of the Exhibition, would speak sincerely of his friend Triboulet or his acquaintance Théodora.
The first garments were obviously the simplest: foliage at first, and plants dried, then woven by hand, covered the first beings of creation even before they had the idea of killing animals to cover themselves with their skin. Then came linen and silk fabrics, first hand-made, then mechanically.
The first paintings in the vestibule of the Costume Palace show a patrician woman of the Empire dressed in linen; then there are Roman women, already more elegant, who have replaced linen with silk.
One must see how supple their dresses are! and what graceful draperies they obtain with this form of dress, always the same, and never the same, composed of two or three pieces of cloth thrown around the loins. The only distinction to be made then between the rich and the poor, is that the former wore them in herd wools or Indian colonnades, while the Chinese silk and transparent muslins were of the air-woven variety, following the forms of the women. The colours were also light or pale, and often graded: pink, dying into flesh tones; green, going from "apple to snow", without opposition, but by degrees of tone. These women were already refined in everything, and even too artificial: they used ointments to paint their faces, they applied false hair and even false eyebrows.
Your hair is curled," said an author of the time to one of them, "at a hairdresser's in the city who brings it to you every morning with your eyebrows. And your attractions, which are enclosed in a hundred different pots, no more than your face, sleep with you.
The very variable climate obliged them to have a well put together wardrobe that changed with each season.
Luxury was no less great in the dwelling; and the atrium, where we find them in the principal circumstances of the day, shelters objects of art, rare flowers and plants from all countries. They stand there, attentive, before actors who speak verses to them or play comedy, for by their shouts and their applause, women had made themselves excluded from the theatres and amphitheatres, and replaced public performances by private auditions.
From then on, and for centuries afterwards, women draped themselves rather than dressed. Depending on the degree of civilisation and the mildness of morals, the forms were more veiled or more uncovered. Saint Clotilde veils and hoods herself and shows only her face: she is still a barbarian queen in the garb of a nun. The clothes of Blanche of Castile and Marguerite of Provence reflect a time of high aspirations and simple taste. The waist is slightly marked and the bust is separated from the hips by a belt that runs down the dress like the beads of a rosary.
During this time, luxury was spreading in the East with frenzy.
The contrast between these two austere eras, characterised by saints, and Byzantine civilisation in the East is striking.
The court of Byzantium, during the first centuries of the Christian era, pushed the display of luxury beyond all imaginable limits. Indeed, it inherited all the refinements of the ancient world and borrowed from the oriental world, of which Constantinople was a part, its taste for adornment, gold, pearls and gems, garish fabrics, warm colours; everything that shines, everything that dazzles. Moreover, the emperor is here an absolute sovereign, almost an idol, and, just as one approaches him only with a whole complicated ceremony, and after gestures and genuflections fixed by almost religious rites, so the costume of the imperial couple and their entourage requires the most precious and rare riches that are locked up in distant countries and brought in as tribute by the defeated nations.
The patrician women of this period wear silk linen woven with gold; their double tunic is embroidered and embroidered with gigantic heraldic animals: they are griffins, lions, or eagles, spreading their wingspan, or peacocks, describing with their tails an immense wheel with azure eyes. They have smooth hair dyed red and perfumed, and their chambermaids rub their limbs with fine essences.
It is an empress of this time (about the tenth century) who is admired at the top of the steps of a Byzantine palace which forms the central vault of the Costume Palace. The Augusta, haughty and proud, receives the tributes of the great or the solicitous, bishops or patriarchs, victors or vanquished, all in ceremonial dress. They have come from far away, these foreigners, or else they have just returned, these servants of the Empire. The women were carried on litters; while the men galloped on their mules or horses. Before appearing before the Empress, they put on their rich dalmatic, woven of silk and gold and covered with pearls and precious stones.
For her, the Empress, even more sumptuous clothes. Her brightly coloured court coat falls in a long train over her gold-stringed sandals. Her forehead is crowned with a diadem studded with palmettes. It stops at the temples and falls over the ears and shoulders in two rows of gold pendants. The half-naked arms are covered with bracelets of rare stones, and on her neck, more precious than any jewel, is a relic enclosed in a shrine which serves as a good luck charm.
All this is ancient fashion. But here comes the era of costume, perhaps the most brilliant of the past, in the sense that men competed with women in elegance. It was the time of François I and the Renaissance. It was also the time of the origin of modern costume. From then on, and until the Directoire period, we will no longer see the soft and supple fabrics that formed the floating draperies and designed the shapes. A completely different phase began with the appearance of the "body" or corset.
Agnès Sorel had already made sticky bodices fashionable. Following her example, some elegant or "dashing" women decorated themselves with aiguillettes, ribbons, and satin dresses stuffed for winter.
Here is what Clément Marot said about one of these elegant women:
Ell vous avait un corset
One fine blue, laced with a lace
Yellow that she had made on purpose.
She had you, then on purpose.
Eearlate and green cuffs.
Wide open pers dress.
White linen, sash hued,
Lee chaperon made of doll,
The hair in pa-se-filon
And the gay eye in swivel.
However, the costume of this period was much more luxurious than graceful. See how heavy and slashed the women's garments are! how they are overloaded with ornaments, embroidery, cords and
and trimmings, carcass chains, gazerans and patenôtres!... How the colours are clashed and how the face, and all that constitutes the grace of the woman, disappears under the heaviness of the background and the form!
No matter! Ideas are thrown in profusion in this sumptuous court. International exchanges brought marvels of all kinds from countries where art had never flourished; King Francis I himself, who refined in everything, emulated luxury; he offered the ladies of the court complete clothing, varying according to their distinction: hunting costumes, ballroom suits, travel suits, etc.; finally, for the first time, he allowed women to sit among men.
It was at this time that the meeting of the Camp of the Cloth of Gold between Francis I and Henry VIII took place. Francis I had set himself up as a competitor to Charles V in the election for the German Empire. This had led to a deep enmity between the two sovereigns. Unable to count on Charles V's alliance, the French king made advances to Henry VIII and invited him to meet him between Guines and Ardres in 1520.
The charming loggia of the Palais du Costume can be seen at the corner of the Camp du Drap d'Or. The ladies were not admitted; but from afar, under small tents erected for the occasion, or from their castle, they attended the ceremony. Two ladies of the court, all young and brilliantly adorned, watched what was going on in the distance, while Triboulet, the king's fool, put all his wit into discussing the result of this mad expenditure.
"The men carried with them everything they owned: land, mills, meadows, castles and estates.
Their pourpoint is a marvel of embroidery. It is a breastplate entirely made by hand, showing the shirt through cut-outs of gold or brocade cloth: the dress, which is as precious as that of the ladies, now stops above the knee, and the famous swords with velvet scabbards can be seen emerging from it. The shoes are made of fabric, the two legs, like those of our Triboulet, are cut from different fabrics forming bariolages, entredeux or transparents, the whole in as disparate or sharp a colour as possible.
The costumes of the two ladies sitting in front of the window are incomparably rich. As young and charming as they are, they seem crushed under the weight of their clothes, which turn them into ungainly domes; on their hair, masked under the three-piece or four-piece hairdo, is a heavy bonnet weighed down with fine pearls, embroidery or precious stones. The jewels that are strung in garlands around the neck and on the chest are so numerous that it is difficult to follow the pattern. Add to this the fact that most of the great ladies wore, according to the season, the muff or the feather fan, the mirror attached to the cord, and all sorts of other trinkets: balls, seals, flasks, called objects of containment, because they were taken in the hand from time to time to serve as containers. Add to this the fact that their fingers were covered with rings, their hands veiled by cuffs and laces. All that was missing for these "unfortunate women" to be completely imprisoned was to have their faces covered. This is precisely what happened: an edict from the king declared that they should never leave their homes without being masked. The privilege of the mask or hide-aid, or black velvet wolf, lined with white satin, then became the privilege of the ladies of the nobility.
One can see from here how much under the heavy corset and the thickness of the vertugadin, behind the ruffles and collars which were going to start framing the neck; under the legs and the wings; finally under the mask whose bell counterfeited the voice, how easy it was to recognize even one's own wife.
One can also guess what torment all the ceremonies and performances were for the great ladies of the time. And is it any wonder that when evening came, their legs were swollen and they had to be laid on a couch to be freed from their clothes?
Just as after any extravagance or exaggeration, a reaction had to occur.
The following reigns reduced all proportions. Serious or placid colours were preferred: black, white, grey, lilac. The vertugade became a simple frame, the sleeves tightened at the wrist no longer had as much breadth. The crevices shrink, and the light coquette Henri II toque replaces the chaperon or real nun's cornet. Then, the fullness will return, the hollows will inflate again, the legs will bounce back, the strawberries will spread out; the whole thing, to flatten and then to rise again, in turn disappearing and reappearing, dying and coming back to life. In this incessant race, the tireless fashion will not stop. Neither the mourning of courts, nor bloody wars, nor even revolutions will calm its unrestrained march. On the contrary, science and the progress of art are driving it faster and faster in its mad course. For if fashion can be defined in the past and circumscribed in a reign or an era, how can it be confined to a horizon today, however narrow? Our mothers used to say "the fashions of yesteryear" when referring to the fashions of their foremothers. Their daughters do not call it last year's or last season's fashions, but last month's.
From the Renaissance until the middle of the reign of Louis XIII, women's costume followed the progressive and voluminous march of ballooning. Under Henry IV, the fullness reached its peak. It also reached the height of the grotesque. All feminine grace is buried under the thickness of the domes that women drag with them.
Whatever the physiognomy of the women of this time, the ridiculous is attached to it with the exaggeration of fashion, pushed to its last limits: Gabrielle d'Entrées, smiling and adorned in her pink satin finery, does not manage, despite all her beauty, all the grace of her wide embroidered collar and cheerful pointed bodice, to gain any followers among us. Nor did Queen MArie de Médicis, wife of Henry IV, in her imposing and solemn velvet dress embroidered with golden fleur-de-lis.
But as dresses could no longer be widened, they were bound to fall back.
Under Louis XIII, they became both simpler and more fashionable. Moreover, it is necessary to make this remark about all things fashionable and, first of all, about the choice of costumes: the direction comes from above.
With a refined man like Francis I and a "bon vivant" king like Henry IV, luxury had to reach its peak.
With the arrival of Louis XIII, a taste for simplicity and moderation appeared. But these qualities were to disappear immediately with a Sun King: under Louis XIV, a friend of pomp and grandeur, luxury returned, this time applied to the most minute details. Indeed, one of the particularities of the costume of this period is that the ornament prevails over the main part. This creates an originality that varies with each model. From now on, there is initiative on the part of each one. Oppositions and contradictions result from this independence, and also a new development, from which the Louis XV style will emerge.
Here we must stop. A great movement is going to take place, an exact reflection of the morals and art of the time.
The essential point to notice then is this harmony, this unity of style in all the decoration; this adaptation of the costume to the furniture, to the uses of all kinds, to the table service, to the objects of toilet, to the thousand trinkets of the everyday life. It is this harmony, this marvellous agreement which creates an unprecedented era: the triumph of lightness, of coquetry. Do you not see this as the result of a superior influence? King Louis XV, frivolous and living in the midst of a dissipated court, passed on his taste for luxury and pleasure in his costume as well as in his morals. He surrounded himself with light-hearted people like himself, for whom the desire "to please him, and to please first, took precedence over all other concerns. It is then an affettery, a preciousness, a cuteness and a pose without equal. To parade in this way, one chooses brocaded silks and especially light, vaporous fabrics. To stage these fabrics, one needed at least a complaisant stage. As the vertugadins were an ancient thing, they were given another name and called "baskets". The Louis XV costume is therefore entirely reminiscent of the one we described under Francis I, but with the difference that in the Renaissance period the fabrics were heavy and weighty, whereas never in the history of costume have we seen so much volume under so little weight.
The reign of the baskets lasted for the whole of the long reign of Louis XV.
These baskets were a marvel of confection. Their shape was nothing other than a bell as flared as the diameter of the inner frame would allow. For the thin drapery which formed the basket itself always fell on this dome, so invasive that the queen and the princesses were obliged to have stools next to them to spread out the size of their balloons.
The young queen Marie Antoinette followed this practice during the first years of her reign. Ladies of her court were seen carrying baskets, each four and five metres in circumference. The whole was covered with bunches of gauze or tulle, muslin or lace, bouquets of flowers or fruit.
The designs sometimes formed the chain, i.e. the straight line; at other times, they indicated crosses or arches. The pearls and gems following all these contours, one sees from here what fortune could represent a similar toilet.
But a new trend, improvised by Queen Marie-Antoinette, broke, for a moment, the inconvenience of falbalas and frills: she created Trianon and, with it, a country court. From then on, the rustic tastes, hitherto reserved for the villagers, were those of princes, princesses and the great. People play at being farmers with short skirts and "no-frills" costumes. The queen throws a field bouquet on her shepherdess hat and frames her shoulders with a simple muslin scarf. She handles the pastry and cream with her fingers, and in her royal hand the sceptre is replaced by the wrapped dumpling.
It is a corner of Trianon, exquisitely drawn, that we discover in the Costume Palace, after the series of flourishing reigns. It is on the lake, in a canoe, her head in the wind, her hair powdered, framed by a halo of tulle, as light as moss, that the young queen walks, lively and happy, in this atmosphere that she has made her own and which suits her grace and beauty so well. In the distance, a wing of the castle, an alley in the park, a few strands of greenery and a few metres of water: everything is summed up in the same smile: that of a woman in nature.
Towards the end of the reign of Louis XVI, and like a precursor of the plagues that were to strike France, women's costume became not only simple but austere. One seems to see the ugliness of men's clothing under the straight lines and the sadness of the colours. This manner is only accentuated during the Revolution. One is afraid to show oneself and to go out, one is no longer dressed, one is "dressed up". It is a debacle, there like everywhere in France.
But as soon as 9 Thermidor came along, a reaction took place; a desire to see and be seen, a thirst for pleasure, equal to the regrets of the privations of retirement, took hold of everyone. What fashion will emerge from this anarchy?
A fashion without restraint or measure. There is no longer a court to indicate a movement. No queen to impose it. The fashion papers of the time, disdaining to be led by the people, or even by the bourgeoisie, cease to appear. But what prevails is the frenzy of enjoyment. One wants to have fun, and to have fun as one pleases. So they dress the same. Fantasy and variety enter into the composition of the toilet, along with audacity and eccentricity.
If there is to be a revolution, let the revolution be complete: dresses were bloated, they are to become sores; bodices were pointed, and waists were thin, the points will be cut off and the waists widened; hairstyles were high and scaffolded, they will become low; hats were light, supple and soft, they will appear dry, hard and unbecoming.
Better than any description, one can get an idea of the fashions of the time by stopping in front of one of the most interesting pictures in the Palais du Costume: the Fashion Merchant. She has come there, the elegant one, with her "Incroyable" husband, to choose a hairstyle to suit his taste and her blush.
She is as scantily dressed as possible, and this fact is the peculiarity of the time: the return to the antique, and compare them to those of the end of the Revolution. It is the same waistless bust, the same draperies and fabrics. It is also the same hairstyle and the same shoes.
Needless to say, these primitive costumes, returned to a more civilised era, were hardly practical. Moreover, the temperature in Paris was not as mild as in Rome, so it was difficult to wear large necklines and flowing dresses. Depending on the season, it was necessary to cover the body with knitwear or swimming costumes, long gloves or mittens, and to carry with or on one's person the indispensable crepe de Chine shawl to ward off gales or chills.
Hats of all kinds are presented to him, for the shop is well stocked, and deserves to be described as a few specimens of its products. Never, indeed, did one see such forms, or rather such utensils, adapted to the existing hairstyle: the flat hair is cut straight on the forehead, and curled on the side, the varied wigs came to enhance this frame: brown or blond wigs, black or red, and even blue. They were changed four and five times in the same day, so that it was impossible to discover the true shade of the women's hair. For so many hairstyles, many hats were also needed.
The 'Merveilleuse' therefore obediently lent herself to the advances of the fashion dealer. Faced with these ruthlessly combative or sporty shapes: helmets, drums, jockeys, tambourines, the customer hesitates.
She tries on the forward, dry morning hairdo with narrow satin straps; then the jockey with an invasive visor; finally, the feathered helmet that will fit her Greek-style bun. It is the one that suits her: thus adorned, as a conquering Minerva, the Merveilleuse in a pink crepe de Chine dress makes the spring green crepe de Chine scarf flutter on her shoulders. This scarf lends itself to all transformations; in turn shawl, mantelet, tie, belt or tunic, she drapes it according to her whim or the need of the cause: it is the first and most important of all the accessories of her toilette. The others are hidden: she throws her purse into her corset, puts her fan into her belt, wraps her reticule bag around her wrist, and slips her fine batiste handkerchief into her husband's pocket.
This fashion of a revolutionary age, dictated by artists who did not take into account the difference in times, although full of perils and pitfalls, nevertheless contained good elements. The flatness of the forms, if it had been tempered by respect for propriety, would have been a wise reaction against the eccentric bouffants of baskets and skirts. Was not the Titus hairstyle (with almost shaved hair) the only means of regenerating hair that had been lost to powder and scaffolding work? But a higher direction was lacking; an imperious instruction from a sovereign master was the only way to put a brake on these follies of the two sexes: a director, a consul and above all an emperor had to impose his laws here as everywhere. Since the trend was towards the antique and that trend agreed with the military tastes of the Emperor, the capricious and rebellious fashion became, for the first time in its known history, submissive and docile. There were no longer: dresses; but one dress, cut in one "way". One hairstyle: Greek. One form of footwear: cloth sandals or cothurns with bands. The dresses are therefore quite simple and straight, falling on the uncovered feet. A hint of sleeves: a barrette, a ribbon, less than nothing, separates the shoulder from the forearm. The bust, short, stops at the chest, which is barely supported by the Empire belt that replaces the corset, it is the Empire waist, that is to say the natural waist; it is the return to the Antique, that is to say the return to Nature. It is a somewhat dry, cold, stilted and official art, because even fantasy becomes classical: jewellery, which has always been the ornament of the toilet, is circumscribed in a narrow circle: the diadem of brilliants is the court adornment and hard stones are used in profusion to make cameos.
The order was thus given: the uniformity was absolute, like the will of the sovereign. However, a movement, oh! imperceptible, will take place with the genius of an artist. David, the painter of the imperial court, drew costumes of incomparable richness and whose initiative was in conflict with the given order. They were immediately seized upon; but one could hardly deviate from the principle; the eye of the imperious eagle made one bend and give in.
This is the important and superb period of the Rite of Coronation. The Costume Palace represents it as striking and majestic as possible: there he is, the great master, grave and reflective, in front of the imposing train of this purple cloak, embroidered with golden bees. The mirror reflects back to the public the face of Josephine, radiant and aware of her role, whose glory is at its peak.
This painting concludes the series of modern costumes. For twenty years, docile as soldiers, women will submit to the uniform; moreover, this uniform will extend to the decoration of their flats and their furniture. It is then, and also because the fusion, the harmony will have been complete between the various objects of the time, because the unity will have presided over their arrangement, that the Empire fashion will preserve its characteristic. However, tradition will forever retain its heavy aspect, its lavish and tasteless decoration, such as the master will that imposed it. While fantasy, caprice and imagination can play around the Louis XV style, can embellish it, without losing its sincerity, the inflexible line must be the rule of the Empire style.
Do we not see, here and there, the result of the guiding unity: art amuses itself and banters under the frivolity of King Louis XV; it returns to order "and comes into line" under the authority of the great Emperor.
As much as costume was precise under the First Empire, subject to immutable rules, as imperious as the master who dictated them, so much so, once this regime was over, the yoke was shaken off and freedom, variety and fantasy were indulged in.
From then on, there was no longer any question of ancient art and a return to Greek and Roman genres. The vague floating draperies disappeared, the short waist, dying under the arms, lengthened to the hips. Since the shoulders were bare and nothing took the place of sleeves, from now on there will be leg sleeves as flared as the inner body will allow. It is a costume from this time (1830) that the graceful godmother wears in one of the loggias of the Costume Palace, representing a christening.
The procession leaves the church, all perky, for he is bound to his gossip, and she is proud of her toilet; moreover, for a few moments now, the boy is a Christian. They walk arm in arm, he, in his black frock coat, open over the broad breastplate of the frosty shirt; his double and triple-knotted cravat holds his head high, crowned by the king's famous toupee. (It is known that Louis-Philippe, having no more hair, had a wig made, dominated by a toupee, and that all the elegant men of the day imitated the king's hairstyle)
The young godmother is radiant in her embroidered taffeta skirt and her white muslin "canezou" enclosed in the open bodice from which lace flounces escape. On the shoulders, the ruffles are arranged in several rows, and fall on the famous gigot sleeves. The width of the leg of lamb can be compared to the sleeves that were in fashion three years ago. Only these did not end as nicely as the aloi sleeves the little godmother has the embroidery facings opening into a funnel on the wrist: this is the "sleeve" of the gigot. Her hat, a hanging garden, raised to the side, reveals the graceful wavy headbands that hide the ears and go down to the neck. And the bridles, which fall on the neck beehive, do not ruffle the slightest strawberry in this beehive. Behind comes the nanny. Not the modern nanny in uniform, with a ribbon hat whose flaps sweep the floor. She is a "local" nanny, a fresh Mâconnaise with a hat as pointed as the roof of a pagoda and around which a lace beard is unravelling in front of her eyes. On each side, the mantilla makes a transparent curtain, and she seems to emerge from a second porch. The baby is covered, like a toddler, with a pink saline nappy framed in lace.
And the little godparents, for it is a great baptism with several "sponsors", prepare their sugared almonds for big and small passers-by.
He is a little man: he has his long breeches, his strawberry at the neck, and his king's toupee; she has her hair parted in staggered curls, and the long trousers go beyond the calves, reaching the ankles: for it is a newly created luxury, it must be shown!...
At that time, the bourgeoisie was the ruling class. It is therefore the bourgeoisie that makes the fashion. Suddenly called to this high function, without having been prepared for it by an artistic education, it sometimes makes mistakes, and fashion is tossed about between various currents. The most baroque shades replace the fresh and dapper tones of the supple fabrics of gauze, crepe and muslin. They are: angry fly's eye, frightened mouse, bloodthirsty spider, etc.; but these burlesque and colourful names did not manage to brighten up the neutral tones of the silks and woollens of yesteryear, nor did the names of the sleeves: à la saugrenue, à la folle and even à l'imbécile....
It was then the full success of the Indian shawl, the first models of which had been imported into France during the Egyptian expedition. From that time onwards, no woman who wanted to have a wedding basket did so without a shawl with palms lining the bottom. And here we come to describe an object of feminine toiletry, which all of us, young and old, have known, some on their mother's or grandmother's shoulders, others in the wardrobe, folded and folded up; unfolded especially to let Camphor or Naphthalene penetrate it; or converted, alas, into a thousand different attributions. Indian cashmere, which was quite modest, when it was worth only a few hundred francs and often exceeded several thousand, was converted, in turn, by us, into a day coat, then into an evening coat; into a table rug, or into a doorstop; and, finally, when it was seen that it could no longer be used in its entirety, its last destination was to be cut into various patterns: palms, arabesques then undulated in garlands on dresses, coats, furnishing objects: time, use, crumbled them, and most, today, when they do not constitute poor linings, are turned to dust.
With the Second Empire, a new boom was given to all things toiletry. Thanks to the creation of the railways, novelties circulated more rapidly and ideas flowed in more abundantly, encouraged as they were by more considerable outlets. The luxury of petticoats was then the most important. It was not uncommon to carry seven or eight of them, each longer and wider than the other, all of them heavy and trimmed with ruffles, flaring out the circle more and more. This was the starting point of the crinoline. Because, the degree of elegance being measured by the number of petticoats, that is to say by the width of the diameter of the tower, the stiffness of the stuffing and especially its duration had a limit: it was necessary to return to the carcasses of the seventeenth century! And the crinoline is nothing other than a return to the Renaissance vertugadins with a few modifications, or rather exaggerations. It is said that the Queen of England was the first to adopt it; the Empress Eugenie did not try to avoid it, and when she was seen entering Paris Cathedral on her wedding day, marvellous in her beauty, a shiver of enthusiasm made the audience tremble. Her white velvet gown, with its majestic train, was supported by a large carcass which later became the famous crinoline.
From then on, the sole concern of the dressmakers was to decorate this ballooning: the knots, the bouillonnes, the biases, the ruffles, the rollings and the twists, the fringes and the tapers, surrounded this fantastic circle under which the woman could only move and act with great difficulty. Then the crinoline gradually sank in front, leaving behind simply the bustle, which was accommodated by the peplum; the accessories of the toilet: handkerchiefs, parasols, jewels, found a revival of favour, and only lost it during the war of 1870.
Since that time, which is close to our own, progress has been directed mainly, albeit with struggles and reversals, towards practicality. The use of the bicycle inevitably led women to imitate the male costume. From this came the tendency to flatten the form and tighten it as if in a sheath. From this came the freedom to adopt the flat blouse, the rigid bib, cut by a more or less dry tie; from this came the soft hats and the boater, these "all-round" hairstyles so similar to those of men, that women, sisters and daughters often distinguish them only by the help of the initials inside. Hence also came the almost exclusive adoption of drapery, during these last seasons; of the suit for almost all daytime gatherings, and military trimmings for many of the town dresses.
Another trend, however, seems to be fighting against these aspirations, which are more practical than elegant, more fin de siècle than aesthetic: it is the sudden transformation of the woman's waist; it is no longer round, but straight and arched.
Since we are still in the Costume Palace, see how much this way of elongating the bust resembles that of the Renaissance. Here, a young woman (second from left, seated), in a pekin silk dress with lace applications, has a flat, modern bodice; in front, two straight, rigid lines, connected by a thin lace, and falling much lower than the hollow of the waist, are the exact representation of the busk of the current corset. As can be seen, the corset no longer follows the same curve as in the past. Between the inflexible nozzle and the waist, an empty space allows the movement of the breath more freedom; it is a little air and space that remain there, imprisoned no doubt, but making oppression less easy, breathing easier.
Standing on the right, against the window, another young woman shows exactly the same tendency. From now on, the idea is adopted. No more waistlines as we have them, it's the waistline as we do it. There are a few French women and many foreigners who will put up with it; but, charitably, we will not let them see that we know why.
It is thus in a completely new era that fashion enters with the appearance of the new corset: all sorts of inventions will follow from it, and which it is impossible to foresee, because, however recent it may be, we can already see a new rival on the horizon: the corset, or rather the Empire belt.
It is a fight that is going to open between these two wrestlers, and one senses that the struggle will be terrible; all the weapons of war are going to come out of their sides: resistant whalebones, rigid springs and arched buses are going to enter the battlefield. There will be casualties in the melee, and it remains to be seen which one, torn, disputed, will be planted, by assault, like a winning flag.
In the meantime, it is the straight and low corset that reigns. And it is with it that Félix made his toilet in the Costume Palace.
What makes them worthwhile is their originality, and because they do not refer to any master: the style, the cut, the creation of the fabric, the application of the trim emanate from such a personal inspiration that one can recognise his work without reading the label.
Notice, in the middle of the painting, the head bent over under the shade of the palm tree, the sequinned tulle toilet of this young woman. It is a soft-knit fabric, whose suspended sequins, like tears ready to fall, shimmer in the light. The bodice is a wimple of guipure moulding the top of the bust, and falling into a second bodice which is connected to the first by a tiny barrette brightened up by a shiny buckle.
This dress is, in all its meaning, the type of modern evening dress: a sheath in its lower part, flared out of a compound and not uniform fabric, in relief and not flat, and finally not low-cut. For, henceforth, the cleavage in favour is that which consists in partially veiling the skin, either by a network, a guipure, or a transparent of some kind.
As we leave the Palais du Costume, we want to say a final farewell to these charming loggias, to these enchanting vaults, where our eyes have rested with too much pleasure for our minds not to return to them often. It is a living teaching that we have taken from it, it is a pleasant recreation that we have taken there.
The memory of a work that will remain with us. History is placed in its precise framework, without haste; the sumptuous chronology becomes a smile.
The young were told that they should learn history, the old that they should remember it.
They came here. And without effort, almost without their knowledge, some learned, others remembered.
©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900