“CA C’EST INC’OYABLE!” THE EXTREME FASHIONS OF REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE. Written by LEE HERSHEY Illustrated by TANJA METELITSA Before the emo rockers of our time donned skinny jeans and let their hair grow disheveled, before the grunge glamour of the early ‘90s and the gritty luxe of the punk-rock look, far long before London Teddy Boys created a scene, and Baudelaire and Balzac haunted Paris as bohemians, stepping out into the streets of 1795 France in the wrong colors or cut of dress was a conscious, rebellious decision that could lead to certain death. FRANCE AND THE REVOLUTION The era of France between 1789 and 1799 was wrought with turmoil: ruling political groups went in and out of power as quickly as one could say, “Off with his head!” Moreover, France was fraught with famine, as well as enormous national debt which shook the traditionally regaled economies like the wine and silk industry. Perhaps what is so unique about the French Revolution is not only how quickly the country was engulfed in this fiery riot of reform, but, also, how young its leaders were. The main heads of the Revolution, like Robespierre and Danton, were entering their midthirties, but the real instigators were young middle- or lower-middle class men who either served as clerks or had bottom positions in the military. On both fronts, whether as part of the Jacobins or the Girondist, these youths spurred the fire of political fervor throughout France, especially in the streets of Paris. The political affairs of France during this time were more than complicated. On the extreme right, there was the National Convention, supported by the Jacobins and led by Robespierres. The Girondists on the other-hand were affiliated with the Royalists, the Federalists, and the Brissotins. While less extremist than the Jacobins in their ideas of political reform, they were quickly overthrown and Danton, their leader, was guillotined. Soon after the Reign of Terror (under the direction of Robespierre,
which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in a few short months), Robespierre and the National Convention were overthrown and Robespierre befell the same fate as many of his own victims and enemies: the guillotine. The Directoire took over power in France, and established a temperate government which would precede Napoleon’s reign during the Consulate era. LES INCROYABLES: THE ORIGINAL MEN OF SWAGGER The laissez-faire style of the Directoire permitted émigré French aristocrats to return to France and resume their luxurious and vagrant lifestyles. Because many of these aristocrats had escaped to England during the years of National Convention, upon their return, they brought with them many of the English styles of fashion. In many ways, this crossover of cultures would change fashion forever. Clothes became sportier (i.e. the English country attire for horseriding); colors took on gender roles (e.g. womenswear took on lighter shades of pastels and whites, while menswear was of the darker grays, blacks, navies and forest greens, thus giving birth to the origins of the modern-day suit). While such changes were being made among the higher class, street fashions went to anther extreme as they came to define not only political affiliations, but lifestyles and choices. The youth who had formally supported the Girondist efforts now aligned themselves politically with the Directoire, and aimed to wipe out any Jacobin supporters. Their beliefs demanded a reinstatement of the former monarchy and, particularly, the aristocratic standard of living. They were named the jeunesse doree, or the gilded youth, and they strutted the streets in titled clothing beckoning back to the court of Louis XVI. They wore eccentric green jackets (with exactly eighteen buttons, to show support for Louis XVIII) with ridiculously high collars, and cravats wrapped high around their necks or
huge neckties. They wore thick glasses, and hats that allowed their hair to fall out by their ears (the style was called oreilles de chien, or dog ears). The jeunesse doree were the first to wear tight pants, which came just to the knee and were elegantly and fastidiously decorated with lace and frills1. As they became more decorative and decadent, the jeunesse doree took on the name incroyables; “incroyable” or incredible, became one of their favorite words, and so, a namesake. But to show their distaste for those wily revolutionists, they dropped the letter “r” so that they pronounced words in slang, with a bit of a lisp: “Ca c’est inc’oyable!” LES MERVEILLEUSE: WOMEN OF THE DIRECTOIRE The female counterparts to the incroyables were equally audacious in what they wore: the merveilleuse modeled their dresses off of ancient Greece and Rome, thus changing completely the silhouette of the womanly figure and going without the restrictive corsets of the day. These stylish women— which included famous names like Mademoiselle Lange, Madame Tallien, Madamin Recamier and Josephine Beauharnais (later Bonaparte)—donned wigs (often dyed blonde or outlandish colors like purple, blue, black or green) and took to the streets of Paris, even in the dead of winter, in semi-transparent tunics in gauze or linen that amply displayed their cleavage because of the new Empire waist style (and sometimes, their entire bodies, if they forewent the nude body-suit beneath). The purse originates from this time. Before, with their full and heavy skirts, women were able to hide their belongings in and amongst their skirts in secret pockets. As the dress shape slimmed, there was no place to put their things. The reticule, called such because it was ridiculously tiny, emerged as the first clutch women would carry. As for accessories, women favored buckskin boots (think of today’s modern gladiator sandals), and bedazzled themselves with toe-rings, anklets, bracelets, necklaces and rings. Often their
1. The jeunesse doree carried cudgels and bludgeons like the muscadins before them, claiming the weapons as their “executive power,” but, by now, these were more fashion accessories than used for street warfare.
FALL INTO FASHION It's the September issue! Featuring Semi Precious Weapons and the death of rock'n'roll, the war within our "united" nation...