Power to the Dresses and Shoes!

It will be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I subscribe to way more fashion magazines than are good for me. This year, I have resolved to save money and cut back to just 2 or 3. But which ones? I really ought to cut Vogue. They often have, er, questionable cover model choices (Blake Lively? Really? Don’t they know those Gossip Girl clothes are chosen by a wardrobe team???), condescending articles about The Wonders of Shopping at Target (who knew?), and too many socialites no one has ever heard of, yet who Vogue seems to think we should really, really care about. And yet, Vogue, I just can’t quit you. Because once in a while you come with a fabulous issue like the new March ’09.

I squealed when I opened my mailbox and saw this gorgeous Michelle Obama cover. It makes up for Blake Lively last month. Plus articles about Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Queen Rania of Jordan, and one about English country estates incorporating contemporary art into their gardens (like Sudeley, Lismore, and Houghton Hall. I’m not sure what I think about this, really, after seeing that ridiculous Koons exhibit at Versailles last fall, but the houses look gorgeous…)
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The Obama article actually deals very little with fashion, aside from a couple paragraphs and some speculation as to what influence she will have on American style. Obama says, “I love clothes. First and foremost, I wear what I love. That’s what women have to focus on: what makes them feel comfortable and beautiful. If I can have any impact, I want women to feel good about themselves and have fun with fashion.”

Fashion ‘leaders’ are nothing new, of course. There was Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, etc. And Marie Antoinette became Queen of France at a very young age, after a long line of dowdy, dusty queens (it was seen as a mistress’s job to be fashionable, not a queen’s). Caroline Weber, in her great book Marie Antoinette: Queen of Fashion says, “From her earliest days at Versailles, Marie Antoinette staged a revolt against entrenched court etiquette by turning her clothes into defiant expressions of autonomy and prestige.” And others followed her lead, even as she shocked with her rebellious innovations. Felix de Montjoie, in his 1797 biography of the queen, said, “By one of those contradictions that are more common in France than anywhere else, even as the people were criticizing the Queen for her outfits, they continued frenetically to imitate her.”

She introduced the “pouf” hairstyle, the idea of a ‘trendy’ color (such as the vividly named ‘caca dauphin’ when her first son was born), and the frilly muslin ‘gaulle’ dress and straw hat (“the unofficial uniform of the Petit Trianon,” says Weber). She also liked polonaise-style gown, the masculine-tailored redingote and tricorn hat for riding, and shorter trains and smaller panniers even for court life.

In England, queens were also not traditionally looked to for fashion trends. (Not since Elizabeth I, maybe, with her ruffs and white makeup. No one asked Queen Charlotte for style advice, I’m sure!). That was up to ton ladies, especially dashing, charismatic ones like Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her every outfit, every accessory, was observed and avidly copied (towering plumes, picture hats, colors like “Devonshire brown”). The gaulle caught on in England when Marie Antoinette made a present of one to Georgiana (which she then wore to a ball given by the Prince of Wales, setting off a furor). The Lady’s Magazine wrote, “all the Fair Sex now, from 15 to 50 and upwards…appear in their white muslin frocks with broad sashes.”

In 1785, a purveyor of perfumes and toiletries advertised he had ‘just imported a quantity of curious, beautiful, and sweet Powder a la Duchesse, or Devonshire Powder.’ In 1786, a scandal ensued when one of her dressmakers sold drawings to several ladies, supposedly of Georgiana’s latest gowns. Imagine the horror when they all showed up at a ball in the same gown–and Georgiana in something else entirely!

She was, like Marie Antoinette, not shy about using fashion in the service of politics. She often wore the Foxite “blue and buff”, especially when on the campaign trail. During the first Regency crisis, she and her friends donned a ‘Regency cap’ designed after the Prince of Wales crest with three feathers.

There could, of course, be a post days long on the crazy fashions of Marie Antoinette and Georgiana! I’m only grateful now that Michelle Obama tends toward sleeveless dresses as a trend and not poufs. But what do you think? Who are some of your favorite Fashion Icons? (I like Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel).

And be sure and check out my Oscar picks here, and don’t forget to become a ‘fan’ of Risky Regencies on Facebook! Happy weekend, everyone…

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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