Friday, February 15, 2008

The Friday Fact

Napoleon is most remembered as a military genius. If you ignore Waterloo... He had a far more lasting effect on the world of fashion.

The French Revolution decimated all levels of French society. People were starving and the economy tanked. That's part of how Napoleon was able to come to power with very little opposition. One of the first things that he did, and one of the least known things, was to set about reviving the French fashion industry. This included making of fabric and the lace industry. Before the Revolution, French lace was the best lace in the world.

He did this by issuing very strict court apparel guidelines. Every single time a woman appeared in court, she had to wear a different dress. Even if she appeared 3 times in the same day, she couldn't wear the same dress. This led to an unnaturally high demand for fine fabrics and lace, thereby giving the stagnant lace industry the exact boost it needed to come back to life. Sometimes the dresses could be remade, but most ladies chose to just get another one.

This edict had many other side effects. Seamstresses never ran out of business, lace exports went back up and dress shops abounded. It put France back on the forefront of European fashion. During the Revolution years, that honor belonged solely to England. The Spencer jacket is English in origin, and is the one clothing item most associated with the Regency/Empire period.

From my perspective, the best side effect was the vast number of beautiful dresses that were left behind by all these court ladies. Since they could only wear the dress once, the fabric wasn't repeatedly exposed to body oils and sweat. Fabric lasts longer that way. There are literally hundreds of surviving Empire gowns for costume historians to go nuts over. No other pre-20th century fashion era has more surviving clothing than the French Empire.

1 comment :

  1. That's interesting! BTW, your Munchkin is so cute.