French Cavalier Dress, 1635-1650

Original price was: £20.00.Current price is: £15.00.

History of Costume III 1500-1660

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France having purged Dissenters entered a flamboyant period of its history. The only country to have come out of the Thirty Years War with advantage, she developed a refinement of civilization that made her the model for all other nations in matters of dress and manners from the second half of the 17th century onwards. Louis XIII is said to have been extraordinarily polite and this encouraged high-born women of France to expect and receive chivalrous attention. It is likely that the gifted and strong-minded ladies of the French nobility were instrumental in mandating little niceties of social contact like a gentleman removing his hat before a lady. French women had always lively and witty but some of this generation were brilliant. The tone of society was raised and the French became the universal model of fashion and wit that they are to this day. With more gracious manners, more graceful clothes were necessary. French fashion never reached the careless grace of the clothes of the English Cavaliers as the attitude of the wearers was quite different. The French have always been conscious of showing off a fashion while the English (until the 1960s) have worn it to show off their persons. The clothes of high fashion were designed to suit new manners. The French made man’s costume swaggering and precious and, as if to highlight their masculinity men contrasted it with feminine trappings. There were many men of valour in the French nobility whose affectation, or gimmick, would be eagerly copied. Jackets lost their skirts and were shortened, to show greater length of leg, and left negligently unbuttoned in the new careless trend. Breeches no longer clung to the knees but became tubular with loops of ribbon as a trimming round the ends to fill in the space between the knee and the boot-top. The lace of collar and cuffs was repeated, so boots were first cuffed with lace, then frills of it were attached to wide hose which filled the boot-tops and needed a nonchalance to wear. As the long­hair fashion hid most of the beautiful lace collars, they were narrowed at first by folds at both sides, then, cut smaller at the back to hang in a bib shape in front, only, and called falling bands. The hat was the main feature of the costume, with a lower crown wreathed in plumes and a flexible brim tilted according to the mood of the wearer it made an instrument for a flourish when greeting. Boots grew more and more important, with wide tops and huge plaques holding the spur straps, until the 1660s when it was thought that high-heeled shoes were a better accompaniment to the ultra-feminine petticoat breeches. Women’s clothes altered little once the hip-pads and tight waists were discarded. The silhouette became slimmer and the puffed look that made the arms appear akimbo (especially in French fashion) gave way to a smooth conical shape from neck to elbow. French women managed the transition very neatly, from the stiff, upstanding collar to the sloping shoulderline, and achieved a low neckline at the same time by turning down the Medici collar so that it wrapped closely round the back and top of the arms in a ‘bertha’ effect. In this period of unabashed vanity, patches began to appear, probably because a mole, close to the dimple on the face of some well-known beauty, was found to be attractive. The fashion for wearing these tiny velvet shapes became so popular that one critic thought that all the fashionable world had been smitten with a new disfiguring disease. Although many of the details of costume did not originate in France they were cleverly used and given a cachet by the fashion leaders of Paris, and from now on all who would be considered smart followed their lead.

Additional information

Dimensions 38.1 × 25.5 cm