There are many descriptions of what people wore in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France. Some of these descriptions were printed in books and were the kinds of French masquerade ball costumes worn to such dances and parties. Descriptions also sometimes included actual fashions worn by peasants, gentlemen, ladies, merveilleuses, incroyables, and nobility. Here are some of those descriptions:
ALSACE PEASANT (Male) – Jacket of drab cloth bound and faced with blue. Red cloth vest. Breeches of brown velvet, fastened at the knees. Thick ribbed stockings, tied with garters of red ribbon, and high boots. Round the waist is an embroidered belt, with straps hanging down to fasten to the breeches. Fur cap with a red crown.
ALSACE PEASANT OF FRESCHWILLER (Male) – Jacket in brown cloth, trimmed with a row of brass buttons down each front. Double-breasted waistcoat of red cloth, trimmed with brass buttons. Trousers of brown cloth, trimmed with brass buttons down the side seams. Black felt hat, with a prominent peak. Blucher boots.
ARTIZAN (French workman) – Blue skirt, fastened down the front with gilt buttons. Long vest of velveteen; cut very open, double-breasted and trimmed with gilt buttons, and bound with cerise ribbon. Knickerbockers of velveteen, trimmed with cerise ribbon down each side, and gilt buttons. Blue stockings and high laced boots. Belt round the waist, with gilt buckle. Cerise silk soft cap.
BALSAMO (of Louis XVI’s time) – One of the French masquerade ball costumes worn was this and included a coat in plum velvet embroidered with silver. Large pocket flaps and deep cuffs. Long flat waistcoat, embroidered with leaves. Plum velvet breeches. Silk stocking, and low shoes with buckles. Lace cravat, and waistband.
BASQUE PEASANT (Male) – Short kilted skirt of red flannel; embroidered and striped stomacher of same, showing beneath black jacket trimmed with gold; or light blue bodice and tunic bordered with green; bodice laced with gold cord; red stockings with blue garters; lace cap; head-dress blue; drooping bag attached to black velvet band worn of white lace cap; gold brooch, cross, and earrings.
BLACNHISEUSE (Washerwoman) – Short skirt of yellow sateen, with a band of blue sateen round it; blue tunic, tuned up à la laveuse, with a piece of yellow; blue bodice cut square with fichu; cap and apron of clear muslin; blue stockings; black shoes, an iron at side and piece of soap. Sometimes for the French laundress the dress is red and white striped print with a cambric cap. A Normandy cap would also be correct, as would shoes resembling sabots.
BOUQUETIER (Female) – During the time of Louis XV. Coat of biscuit broché silk, bound with garnet velvet; buttons to match; lace cravat; gilt basket of flowers slung round the figure with velvet; short plaited skirt.
BOURGEOISE (Female) – During Louis XV’s time. Grey silk shirt, having lace flounces; pink over-dress and mantle, showing grey stomacher; pink shoes, with diamond buckles; grey stockings; headdress of Brussel lace and pink ribbons; diamond ornaments.
BRETON (Female) – In mid to late 1800s black cloth, silk, or satin skirts are worn, showing a white cambric chemisette; above the waist an elaborate folded, starched and embroidered band with silver or gold ornament. Headdress of white cambric with bows and ends standing out at one side fastened with jeweled pins. But the headdresses differ in the several parishes. Petticoats of various hue are worn one over the other, with vertical folds. Apron of embroidered cambric on silk sabots.
BRITTANY (Male) – French masquerade ball costumes included the Brittany for males. It was a short jacket of drab cloth. Long double-breasted waistcoat of black serge. Knee breeches that were made full at the waist and fastened with a belt. Black gaiters. Low shoes, and white felt hat.
BERGER (of Louis XVI’s time) – Tunic of blue satin, trimmed with amber, cut square at the throat, and filled in with a frill. Sleeves slashed and filled in with white. Breeches of blue satin, trimmed amber, ribbon bow at the knees. White stockings. Low shoes, crook, and hat of blue satin trimmed amber.
BRITTANY (man of Faouet) – Long loose trousers in blue serge. Long double-breasted vest, braided round the neck with two rows of gold braid, and ornamented down the front with two rows of brass buttons. Very short jacket, edged with gold braid. Large felt hat, trimmed with a fancy cord.
CALVADOS FISHGIRL – Blue and white striped skirt, black tunic, and low bodice trimmed with cross-cut bands piped with red and white, over white chemisette; muslin gap, gold ornaments.
CHAPERON ROUGE – French idea of Red Riding Hood in the 19th century was another of the French masquerade popular costumes that was popular. It consisted of a cerise satin petticoat, with black velvet stripes; white muslin chemisette, and bodice of black velvet, laced with cerise ribbons; white muslin apron; small silk cap; fancy basket.
CHARLATAN (Male) – A fancy quack doctor costume, after the style of an INCROYABLE. Coat in crimson plush, cut with long swallow tails, lined and trimmed on the collar and revers with striped silk. Double-breasted waistcoat of cretonne, ornamented with large gold buttons. Grey buckskin breeches. High boots with amber tops, just showing the striped stockings. Powdered hair.
CHARLOTTE CORDAY – Short, scanty skirt of white muslin or grey cashmere; a gathered flounce round. A muslin fichu over the short-wasted bodice, crossing in front and tied at back; long, tight sleeves. Large muslin cap, which goes by her name, full crown, lace round, plain in front, much gathered at back; ribbon about crown, bow on right side, and tricolor cockade on left. Lamartine described her thusly: “A Normandy cap, the lace of which flapped on her cheeks, a large green silk ribbon pressed the cap round her brow. Her hair escaped from it on to the nape of her neck, and some curls floated down. On her early arrival in Paris she had a high conical hat. As a girl she word dark cloth robes; a grey felt hat turned up at the edge and trimmed with ribbon.”
COQUETTE – Blue satin train, trimmed with lace and roses, turned black with rose satin; petticoat of white satin, trimmed with roses and pearls; blue satin bodice, low and pointed, slashed with pink; elbow sleeves and ruffles; powdered hair, and small pink rose wreath and aigrette on one side; hair also looped with pearls.
COURIER (of Louis XV’s time) – Short jacket of white cloth, faced with crimson, and braided with gold. Deep cuffs of crimson, braided gold, and trimmed with bows of blue ribbon. Lace ruffles and shoulder knots of blue ribbon. Waistcoat of blue satin, braided gold, fastened round the waist with a belt. Lace cravat. Crimson plush breeches, with a stripe of blue and gold down the sides. Long white stockings brought up over the breeches, and fastened with blue ribbon garters tied in bows. Three-cornered hat, braided gold, and trimmed with a feather. Gold-headed stick.
DANDY – Cut-away coat, with long tails, made in drab cloth, having a very deep collar and wide reverse. The coat is worn buttoned, fastening only with two buttons. Double-breasted white drill waistcoat. Tight-fitting doeskin breeches. High boots, with amber top. Stiff stand-up collar with white handkerchief cravat. The opening of the coat at the chest is sufficiently large to display the shirt front, and a black and red striped handkerchief is folded inside, forming a narrow rim between the shirt front and coat. Sugarloaf hat. Stick and glasses.
DIRECTORY 1795 (Female) – Of the French masquerade balls costumes this one was popular for fancy balls and included many wonderful headdresses. The bonnets stood boldly from the face, like a spoon. There was the bonnet a la folle, with a tricolored butterfly bow at the top; and the casque hat, round without brim, worn over a Charlotte Corday cap. The hair beneath was inflated with steam. Directory style dresses – (1) Skirt of striped silk with one deep flounce; green pelisse scalloped at the edge, double-breasted, having pink cuffs and revers, and a double row of buttons to waist; ruffles and large jabot of crepe lisse and lace; large hat and feather; riding whip in hand; eyeglass. – (2) White satin dress, with panniers formed of loops of ribbon, with two pink satin belts, fastened with enamel buckle; plaited lawn fichu; long belts, fastened with enamel buckle; plaited lawn fichu; long suede mittens; white satin train mounted in box-plaits, lined with pink satin. – (3) Long skirt with very short-waisted bodice, the girdle coming from beneath low bodice; short sleeves; long gloves,; scant, round, brimless high hat with flowers at the top of crown. – (4) White satin skirt trimmed with rows of blue satin; tunic and bodice of striped blue satin, sash of buttercup satin at the waist; wide lace collar and shoulder cape; Leghorn hat with cornflowers.
DIRECTORY CADET – Swallow tail coat of blue cloth, made double-breasted, and trimmed with gilt buttons. Full trousers, tucked in high boots, made with pointed toes. The vest is high to the neck. Wide cravat and beaver heat.
DIRECTOIRE DUELLIST – Long cutaway coat, with a high deep collar, in blue cloth. Waistcoat of pink cloth, showing the lace cravat. Pantaloons of nankeen that were buttoned at the knee. White silk stockings and low shoes. Powdered hair.
FIRST EMPIRE (Male) – Beginning from time of Les contes d’Hoffmann, an opéra fantastique by Jacques Offenbach in 1851. Blue cloth coat, cut short-waisted, made with large revers and trimmed with brass buttons. White waistcoat, double-breasted. Knee breeches and high boots. White lace cravat and wristbands.
FIRST REPUBLIC (Male) – Double-breasted coat with a high, deep collar, very short-waisted. White waistcoat high to the throat. Tight fitting breeches that fastened below the knee. Boots, lace cravat wound several times, round the neck, and conical hat of beaver.
FISHER BOY OF NICE – Sleeveless vest of scarlet cloth, trimmed with white metal buttons, open to expose the shirt, and fastened round the waist with a scarf. Black cloth breeches and high sea boots. Bag cap. A bundle of nets over the shoulder, and a coil of rope in the hand.
FISHGIRL – Red and white striped skirt, navy-blue tunic à la laveuse; muslin lace-edged apron with bib, fichu (the ends tucked into bib) and cap with red ribbons.
FLOWER GIRL (of Louis XV’s time) – Pink and blue costume, covered with garlands of small roses, the Pompadour skirt; pink tunic ruched with pink satin; bodice to match; white muslin apron with pockets, trimmed with pink and blue ruches; large flat basket suspended form a garland of flowers passed round the neck and filled with real flowers; hair powdered; white muslin cap; at the side tufts of roses and loops of blue ribbon.
FLEUR DE CHAMPS – Petticoat of striped silk, rose and white, trimmed with rows of velvet, edge with gold; a green satin tunic looped up with wheat ears; on the right side a bouquet of wild flowers; velvet bodice, Louis XV style, trimmed with gold; a collar of green satin; forming reverse; apron, with lace pocket and bib; a coquettish hat, with wild flowers, and placed on the side of the head.
GARDE CHAMPETRE (Female) – A combination of forest ranger, game warden, and police officer. Short brown skirt draped with dark blue velvet; bodice of the same high, and jacket-shaped with brass badge on the sleeve; high hat covered with birds; red necktie.
GARDE FRANÇAISE – Blue coat with silver braid, turned back with scarlet revers on the coat tails. Silver epaulets, scarlet collar, trimmed silver braid. Scarlet vest, braided silver, and fastened with a belt. Blue knee breeches and white cloth gaiters cover the knees. Three-cornered hat or tricorne was trimmed with silver braid.
GARDE FRANÇAISE FIFER – Coat of scarlet, fastened to the waist, and faced with black, bound white. The sleeves are trimmed with colored stripes, black epaulets, and cuffs. Long vest of mauve, trimmed black braid. White breeches, and long black gaiters, covering the knees. Low shoes. Three-cornered hat trimmed with a cockade. Powdered hair, with a tail at the back.
GENTLEMAN (1740) – Long waistcoat of brocaded white silk, full on the hips, and reaching to the top of the stockings, edged with gold fringe. Single-breasted coat of plum-colored silk, brocaded or plain. The skirts of the coat are made full with large pocket flaps. Sleeves trimmed with very deep cuffs of brocade to match the waistcoat. Silk knee breeches. Long silk stockings gartered over the knee and end of the breeches. Low shoes with buckles. Powdered hair that is tied at the back with a bow of black ribbon.
GENTLEMAN (later period of Louis XV’s reign) – Waistcoat is shorter, and there is an alteration in the cut of the coat, the skirt not being so full nor so much cut away from the front. Coat of brown velvet, somewhat of the shape of a single-breasted frock coat; trimmed with gold braid and buttons. Pocket flaps embroidered with gold. Deep cuffs, with lace frills. Long and straight waistcoat of white silk, embroidered and bound with gold braid. Lace cravat, knee breeches, and white stockings, brought over the knees and covering the ends of the breeches. Low buckle shoes with red heels and powdered hair.
GENTLEMAN (of Louis XVI’s time approximately 1775) – Coat of scarlet silk, trimmed with silver braid. Wide pocket flap, trimmed with same. Vest of the same and knee breeches. White silk stockings, fastened at the knee. Low buckle shoes. Powered hair, trimmed at the back with a black bow.
GENTLEMAN (of Louis XVI’s time for dancing quadrilles) – A gentleman’s costume was a coat of the same pattern as 19th century court suits, made in various colors. Vests and knee breeches. Stockings and low buckle shoes. Powdered hair and gendarme hats.
HUGUENOT OF SAINT BRAIS (Male) – Black silk double and trunks striped with velvet were another of the French masquerade ball costumes worn in the 1700s and 1800s. Cloak with a high collar, made of similar material. Lace ruffle. High hat with plume and ornamented with a double cross in the front. High boots reaching nearly to the hips. Black embroidered sword belt. Gauntlet gloves. The fatal white handkerchief is carried in the hand.
INCROYABLE (Period between 1795 and 1799) – The male version of the MERVEILLEUSES. The shape of the coat was altered and more like the double-breasted coat than the former long tail cut-away style. The short-waisted green coat had long tails lined with pink, open in front, made with a wide deep collar and revers, faced with silk, and trimmed with large buttons. Lace muslin cravat covering the chin and around the throat. Knee-breeches of drab cloth, fastened at knee with colored ribbon. A gold chain and seal hanging from each fob. Striped or white stockings and low shoes. Powdered hair and gendarme hat trimmed with a tricolored cockade. Eyeglass and twisted stick.
JACOBIN CITOYENNE IN 1789 – White silk skirt covered with lace, pink silk train, with lace and tulle; the tunic-bodice with elbow sleeves, trimmed with lace; French mob cap with hawthorns and forget-me-nots; powdered hair and patches; ornaments, old French diamonds.
LA BELLE BOULANGÈRE – Orange silk skirt, short, covered with white lace, headed by ruching; ow bodice, pointed in front, the back cut in one with the train, made of striped satin and bunched up; elbow sleeves; lace apron with bib and cap. A fan hangs at one side, at the other a hook with baker’s “mark-boards.”
LA BELLE CHOCOLATIÈRE – Short dark-grey skirt; white apron with bib, reaching to the hem of skirt; yellowish-brown velvet jacket with loose all-round basque; a striped yellow and black three-cornered fichu crossed in front; sleeves to elbow, turned back over white under ones confined in a band; close-fitting lace cap, lined with pink, having a lace puffing and frill at edge; tray of chocolates in hand; black high-heeled shoes.
LADY (of the time of the Empress Josephine) – Clinging dress, short-waisted bodice beneath armpits, with short puffed sleeves; full ruche at the edge of the skirt; hair arranged in small curls with rows of pearls intermixed.
LORRAINE PEASANT – One of the French masquerade ball costumes was the Lorraine peasant as it was easy to recreate such dress. In this case it consisted of a mob cap of fine muslin, a cockade in front; brown dress; bodice opening in front; white muslin fichu; lace ruffles.
MARQUIS (of Louis XV’s time) – Coat of plum-colored velvet, buttoned on the chest and sloped off, trimmed with gold braid. Narrow pocket flaps trimmed gold braid. Sleeves with deep cuffs of blue silk trimmed with gold braid. Long waistcoat of brocaded silk edged with gold braid, and made with pockets, covered by deep flaps and braided. Knee breeches of plum-colored velvet. White silk stockings covering the ends of the breeches. Lace jabot. Three-cornered hat that is trimmed with gold lace and white feathers. Low buckle shoes, with red heels. Hair powdered, and tied at the back with a bow of black ribbon.
MARQUISE (of Louis XVI’s time) – Pink silk shirt bordered with a lace flounced, caught up in vandykes with pink roses and silver tassels; long upper-skirt of silver gauze, with stripes of pink satin ribbon, and silver tassels and roses, keeping it in its place; low stiff bodice with gilet of silver cloth; powdered hair; blue silk skirt with lace flounces, headed by bands of pink silk laid on in double gatherings; pointed stomacher of the same, with pink bands and bows across; skirt and bodice of pink silk, bordered with the same plaiting in blue, elbow-sleeves and ruffles; powdered hair. WAITING MAID – Short silk skirt, two flounces gathered at edge; square bodice, and bunched-up tunic in contrast; bibbed apron; powdered hair
MERVEILLEUSE (Period between 1795 and 1799) – Female version of the INCROYABLES and included such women as Theresa Tallien, Josephine de Beauharnais, and Madame Juliette Récamier. Nothing was too eccentric. They could been seen in skirts of gold and spotted muslin, with gathered flounces sewn with red, and headed by crossbands; green Directory bodice, with belt, lined with red; double sleeves both ending in lace ruffles, the upper one coming to elbow; muslin fichu; large jabot and ruffles; enormous bouquet fastened on left shoulder; crimson satin boots; large hat trimmed with red and green feathers, fastened with tricolor cockade; snuff-box, gloves, and eyeglasses; hair plaited in a pigtail and tied. Underclothing was almost dispensed with, as well as all substantial stuffs; only muslin, organdy, tarlatane, gauze, and sometimes, but seldom taffetas, composed the narrow dresses, which were often embroidered. The short spencer, or canezou, was cut extremely low for all occasions, hence the necessity of always carrying a scarf ready to be thrown over the shoulders when required. Rows of Roman pearls and long gloves covered the bare arms, and the feet were encased in tiny slippers, strapped round the ankles with colored ribbons. Powder and rouge had been abandoned and blonde was the obligatory color for the hair.
MONTAGNARD – Tunic of drab cloth, fastened round the waist with a belt, open at the chest, and trimmed across with three bands of crimson satin. Deep collar and cuffs of the same. Knickerbockers of the same, trimmed with bands of crimson satin. Leg guards of the same. Felt hat that is trimmed with a band of crimson.
MONTAGNARD DES EAUX-BONNES – Red cloth jacket, thrown across the shoulder. Waistcoat of yellow cloth, fastened round the waist by a red silk scarf. Black cloth knee breeches. Gaiters, with a frilling falling over the instep. Large woolen cap, like a Scotch bonnet. Climbing staff in the hand.
NORMANDY PEASANT – Dress consisted of a bright-colored petticoat, striped or plain, with rows of black velvet; tunic bunched up, either by drawing through the placket-hole, or sewing the side breaths together at the back, so that the inside of the skirt was visible; the tunic formed a contrast to the skirt, such as the blue over red, violet over amber. The bodice terminated at the waist, close-fitting, and only having a shoulder-strap, the linen sleeves have a wide band, and fall below the below.
PAGE FROM LA MASCOTTE – Tight-fitting body of white silk, embroidered in gold spots, and made with full sleeves of crimson satin, trimmed with stripes of black satin edged with gold braid. Trunks to match the sleeves. Pink silk tights. Low shoes. Cap to match the sleeves, trimmed with a feather. Lace ruffle and gold sword belt.
PARISIAN BEADLE – Watteau overskirt of pink satin, cut square at neck, and showing a sliver cloth stomacher; petticoat of gray satin, slashed with silver cloth, and having two gathered flounces; pink satin shoes with high grey heels; grey satin hat, worn on the side of the head over powdered hair, with pink ribbons.
PEASANT GIRL – Peasant girls were always one of the more popular French masquerade ball costumes. This one consisted of pink and white striped petticoat, short blue and white over-skirt; black velvet basqued bodice, low square, with shoulder-straps; white low chemisette and short sleeves, bodice laced in front over white, with blue and white cord; white apron, with pink and blue bows; dainty muslin cap.
PEASANT GIRL (of Louis XV’s time) – Linen striped skirt, blue, red, and white; red tunic caught together, high at the back, square, sleeveless, blue cashmere bodice with velvet bows and trimmings; loose linen under-sleeves, flat muslin cap, black velvet bracelets, and band round neck.
PEASANT OF COLINETTE (Female) – Short petticoat of red and black stripes; over-skirt of gold cashmere lined with red, arranged to show the lining; black velvet bodice; white kerchief, apron, and French cap; black stockings, gold and red clocks, black shoes and buckles, gold ornaments of Normandy type, hair in plaits.
POSTILLION – Short cut-away jacket of blue, with facings of white, trimmed with gold braid. Blue waistcoat, bound gold braid. Drab knee breeches that are tied with rosettes. White stockings. Powdered hair. Low square top hat, turned up at the sides, and bound with gold braid.
REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE (Female) – French masquerade ball costumes involved three different versions of this with the first being a classical dress of white or pale grey cashmere, trimmed with gold; with a long flowing skirt, loose low bodice, confined by oxidized silver belt; hanging sleeves from the shoulders; a tricolor scarf draped from the right shoulder, a Phrygian cap of scarlet cloth, with “Liberté” worked in gold, and a tricolor cockade. Another version might have a white jacket bodice over tricolor striped skirt; blood-red sash; red cap of liberty, flag in hand, or sword. A third version would be a red cap with tricolor rosette, tricolor skirt and overskirt looped up.
RICHELIEU – Close-fitting robe of black. Purple baretta edged with deep lace. Scarlet cloak and train. Scarlet wide-brimmed hat, hanging down the back.
SANS-CULOTTE – Madame Tussaud once saw Philippe Égalité, the former Duke d’Orleans, dressed in the sans-culotte fashion of the time and described his outfit in her “Memoirs” stating:
“It consisted of a short jacket, pantaloons, and a round hat, with a handkerchief worn sailor-fashion, loose round the neck, with the ends long and hanging down, the shirt collar seen above … the hair cut short without powder, a la Titus, and shoes tied with strings.”
SOUBRETTE or WAITING MAID (of Louis XV’s time) – Among the French masquerade ball costumes that people wore was the pretty poudré short dress, generally a quilted skirt, cap, and muslin apron. Example: Rose-colored quilted petticoat; blue satin tunic; black velvet low bodice laced up the front with blue and bordered with lace; muslin apron trimmed with lace; small lace cap with wild roses; gold ornaments; high-heeled shoes, and pink and white stockings.
TRENITZ INCROYABLE COSTUME – High-waisted pants, fastened above the ankle. Short-waisted vest, and coat of striped silk. The coat is made with very long tails, lined red silk, and revers faced to match. Belt, suspending watch and eyeglass. Large muslin cravat, cuffs and coat facings. Low buckle shoes.
VAL-JOLY – Long vest of brocaded silk with large pocket flaps. Coat with full skirts made in cream silk shot blue, the sleeves being trimmed with deep cuffs of brocade. White silk knee breeches. White silk stockings gartered with blue ribbon. Lace cravat.
WAITING MAID – Striped black and red petticoat; over-skirt of deep gold color, lined with red, forming a puff at the back; black velvet bodice, and white plastron, barred across with black velvet; small muslin cap with plaiting à la vieille, black velvet round it and a bow; a gold cross tied around the neck; red and white striped stockings; black shoes.
WATTEAU – Another of the French masquerade ball costumes was the Watteau that was so called because the dress style reproduced the images delineated by French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, who died in 1721. A sacque in most cases formed a part of this dress. It was fastened to the bodice (which is either high to the throat, or a low square at the back) in a double box-plait. Sometimes it was merely attached at the top, and then fell loosely, so that the body could be seen distinct from the plait; but more generally the plait formed the back of the dress. The sacque may be tacked to the front breadth, or it may be quite loose and distinct from the skirt and bodice. Sometimes it was looped up as tunic; or sometimes reached to the hem of the dress.
ZOUAVE – Short jacket of red cloth, trimmed braid. Vest to match, fastened up to the throat. Very full breeches; fastened round the waist with a sash. Usual military accoutrements, spats, and shoes.
-  Holt, Ardern, Fancy Dresses Described, 1887, p. 54.
-  Herve, Francis, Madame Tussaud’s Memoirs and Reminiscences of France, Forming an Abridged History of the French Revolution, 1839, p. 174.