Marie Antoinette’s Wardrobe

“The business of the chief Lady-in -Waiting was to see that the Queen was suitably dressed, and had all the dresses and clothes she required. She also paid the bills, an allowance o£ 100,000 francs being made for this purpose, which was supplemented when any extraordinary expenses were necessary, which frequently happened.” Mme. Campan, who has given a detailed account of all these private matters, says that this lady used to sell dresses, muffs, laces, and cast-off finery, for her own profit, and the gain was very considerable.

“This lady,” says Mme. Campan, “had at her orders a head lady’s-maid to fold and iron the different articles of dress, two valets of the wardrobe, and a page of the wardrobe. The latter’ s duty was to take to the Queen’s room baskets covered with green cloth, containing all the clothes the Queen would require for the day. He gave the head lady’s-maid a book containing patterns of dresses, state robes, simple dresses, etc., with a little piece of trimming of each. The lady’s-maid gave the book and pincushion to the Queen, when the latter awoke. The Queen then marked with pins the patterns of the dresses she wished to wear.”

One of these books of patterns is extant, and can be seen in the Archives Nationales; it is for the year 1782. “When the Queen’s toilette was completed, the valets and pages came in and took away all the superfluous articles to the wardrobe, where they were
re-folded, hung up, and cleaned with such care that even the older dresses had all the brilliance of the new ones. Three rooms lined with cupboards, some with shelves, some to hang garments, were set aside for the Queen’s wardrobe; large tables in these rooms served to lay the dresses on to be folded.”

“The Queen usually had for winter twelve state dresses, twelve simple dresses, and twelve rich dresses on panniers, which she used for card-parties or intimate supper-parties. Summer and spring toilettes served for autumn wear also. All these toilettes were remodelled at the end of each season, unless Her Majesty desired to keep some as they were. No mention is made of muslin and cotton, or other dresses of that kind; these had only recently come into fashion, and they were not renewed each season, but were made to serve for several years.”

In the French Court everything was done according to tradition: a certain stuff was worn in winter, another kind in summer. Fashion was carried to the extent of fixing certain colours for certain seasons, such as gold for frosty days, and silver for the dog-days. Anyone appearing in the gallery at Versailles attired in an unseasonable manner was looked upon as a person of bad style unused to the ways of society.

Further reading:
Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette by Émile Langlade

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