Take a look at any major fashion magazine, and you’ll see the term recessionista, or some version, used on practically every page. The economy has undeniably taken a nosedive. Everyone has been forced to examine their spending habits and limit purchases. Yet fashion persists.
Fashion is unique in that it adapts to crisis. It also serves to document social and political change. As I read How to Recession-Proof Your Wardrobe by Lisa Armstrong in an 2009 Harper’s Bazaar, I was reminded of the many catastrophes that fashion has survived.
So today, I’d love to take a look at one traumatic period where fashion was threatened, yet persisted. This just may give us hope for the future. Genius!
The French Revolution & The Reign of Terror (1789-1799)
Paris secured it’s global dominance in the fashion arena under Louis XIV (1638-1715). Louis goal as king was to create a centralized state governed from the capital and to assert his absolute power. Feudalism had given power to local rulers, which diminished the king’s power.
Louis’ strategy was to invite the local rulers to live with him at his palace in Versaille. Once at Versaille, Louis (portrait at left) organized continuous banquets, parties, and social events, each of which had a lavish dress code . The nobility could never wear the same outfit twice. The local rulers would spend exorbitant amounts of money on new clothing, making them financially weak. They were also so absorbed on their social lives that their political power diminished. (Hmm, makes me think of today’s social circles of elite and famous. Apparently, not much has changed)
This extravagance continued until the reign of Louis XVI (1754-1793). Queue the images from Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola. Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI’s wife, became the target of the French revolutionaries.
The court had become completely self-obsessed with displays of conspicuous consumption. So self-obsessed that they ignored that France was in an enormous financial crisis and was nearly bankrupt. (Sound familiar?)
Marie Antoinette had started a small movement amongst her closest friends of dressing very simply. She would often wear simple white muslin dresses, and even wore it for a public portrait. The portrait was met with criticism, as the dress was very similar to undergarments of the day and thought to be improper for the queen. (She is still a style icon. Love her!)
A series of riots occurred, and the monarchy was overthrown. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed at the guillotine, which marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror. Anyone who appeared to support the monarchy, by action, dress, or relationships, were sent to the guillotine. Women adopted simple fashion to avoid death. Ironically, most women dressed in white muslin dresses like the one Marie Antoinette’s (above, left) had received criticism for.
Another fashion from the terror? Wearing a red choker, to remember those who died at the guillotine.
Makes me want to examine World War II . . . come back tomorrow! :)
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