The Bourbon Restoration began after the fall of Napoleon, and, at the time, as “the white flag floated from the dome of the Tuileries … there was a passion for white gowns.” These white gowns were generally trimmed at the bottom with flowers and worn to both private and official balls. In addition, there was “more than one lady at the court of Louis XVIII [who] trimmed the edge of her skirt with a wreath of lilies, while she altered but little the shape of her gown, which remained as short waisted as under Napoleon I.”
In 1814 and 1815, besides the passion for white gowns, many French women were also seized with “anglomania” when it came to fashion. But this predilection for everything English was not embraced by everyone. For instance, when one mother tried to get her young daughter to wear an English dress, the daughter replied, “Gracious! how frightful! what dreadful taste! To think of wearing English fashions!”
French women did wear “spencers … and they wrapped themselves in green kerseymere cloaks with double collars, in merino coats, and in silk ‘douillettes,’ or wadded gowns.” Dresses were also made in various styles, worn ankle-length with medium-high waists. Collars were high and often trimmed with Vandyke ruffs, and scarves were considered a popular accent.
Sleeves were long or short, although they usually tended to be long. When long, they were sometimes “funnel-shaped, that is, there was a certain amount of fullness at the shoulder which gradually diminished as they reached the wrist, where they were hermetically closed by a ribbon over a coloured kid glove.” When sleeves were short they were “puffed, and trimmed with several rows of ruching.” Furthermore, short sleeve dresses were worn with long gloves so as to conceal a woman’s arms, and women did not hesitate to buy a new pair of gloves every day, as soiled gloves were not permissible.
At least one visitor to France thought the Bourbon Restoration fashions occurred because of the French Revolution. He visited France sometime between 1814 and 1815 and wrote:
“[There appears] to be a sort of blending together of the high and low ranks of society … In France, they dress so ill in the higher ranks, that you cannot distinguish them from the lower. One is often induced to think that those must be gentlemen who wear orders and ribbons at their buttons, but alas! almost every one in France at the present has one of these ribbons. In the dress of the women there is still less to be that points out the distinction of their ranks. To my eye, they are all wretchedly ill dressed, for they wear the same dark and dirty-looking calicoes which our Scotch maid-servants wear only on week days. This gives to their dress an air of meanness … They … shew very neat legs and ankles, but covered only with coarse cotton stockings, seldom very white, often with black worsted stocking. I have not see one handsomely dressed woman at yet in France.”
Whatever the visitor’s opinion, Kashmir shawls added a great deal of panache and beauty to French fashions during the Bourbon Restoration. The shawls were popular because they helped women keep warm when wearing lightweight fabrics on cold evenings. The Kashmir shawls first appeared in France when Napoleon’s General in Chief of the French campaign in Egypt sent one to Paris sometime between 1798 and 1802.
The Kashmir shawl’s arrival created such a sensation, plans were immediately introduced to manufacture them. Genuine Kashmir shawls were extravagantly priced and extremely prized because they were created from cashmere wool and bore the scent of patchouli. The French soon found a way to imitate the shawl’s fabric by importing Cashmere wool and rearing Cashmere goats in France, but they could not imitate the smell.
Despite no patchouli smell, the French became known as “the best imitators of the India Shawl.” Then they discovered the secret — patchouli — and once they began applying it to their shawls, they pawned off French shawls as real Kashmir shawls. Moreover, by 1814, France’s shawls were said to be superior to England’s when it came to the design and “production of elegant shawl patterns.”
Although fashionable French women dared leave their house without a hat or bonnet (something previously associated with prostitutes), most French women continued to wear bonnets or hats when they went outdoors. French women also adopted the English custom of straw bonnets and green gauze veils. Moreover, the millinery French women chose at this time, as shown in the above illustrations, generally had crowns or brims trimmed with elaborate ornaments, such as feathers, bows, lace, flowers, or ribbons.
There was, however, one piece of millinery that caused a sensation when it made its debut. It occurred in Paris in 1816 when a wealthy foreigner appeared at the opera wearing a Russian toque. “She created … a sensation; and the next day a first-rate milliner … reproduced the head-dress, which soon afterwards was universally worn.” Moreover, it also resulted in the popularity of “embroidered ‘toques’ … ornamented with pearls and a wreath of marabout feathers.”
- Alison, Archibald, Travels in France, During the Years 1814-15, 1816
- Challamel, Augustin, The History of Fashion in France, 1882
- Hogg, James, Titan, 1847