It is getting way too hot-and pregnancy just makes it worse. I've been doing various things to keep cool-worshipping my AC units, getting used to the sound of a fan at night, and trying to wear cooler clothing.
Of course, whenever I think of the heat I always wonder how people kept cool in the past. I'm not really talking about the lack of AC. I've lived without AC before-in Florida of all places. I know all about that. I'm really referring to the clothing people wore in the past. Women especially wore several layers of clothing-the chemise, stays, and petticoats (or panniers/hoops for more formal occasions-see Felicity's colonial undergarments). Women truly labored under heavy materials.
Eventually though there came a call for lighter, more relaxed clothing styles-Felicity's simple white gown tied with a ribbon and paired with a straw hat evokes this movement. That is what I wanted to discuss today, along with one of the women who made these styles very popular. Arguably, she had the greatest impact on Western fashion during this time.
Fashion and Marie Antoinette
In 1774, a month after becoming the King of France, Louis XVI gave his young wife the Petit Trianon, a small chateau near the larger palace of Versailles that had been created for the mistress of the king (Louis XVI had no mistress). Finally freed from the stultifying routine of Versailles where her every movement and moment was monitored and dictated by the complicated etiquette of the court, Antoinette began to create her own private paradise at the Petit Trianon. This included using a more subtle, airy decor in her new home, creating a wild, picturesque landscape on the grounds, limiting the invitation list to the people she liked, creating an idealized village, and (most importantly for the purposes of this blog) bringing in a more relaxed dress code.
Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in the 2006 Sophia Coppolla film
Pictured in her gaulle at Petit Trianon
Instead of the heavy brocades, cascades of jewelry, and wide panniers of Versailles, Antoinette and her friends wore a lightweight dress called the gaulle made out of muslin and tied at the waist and elbows with ribbons. The dresses were usually paired with elaborately decorated straw bonnets.
This fashion likely would have spread without Antoinette-like many fashionable people, she simply capitalized on a social movement. There was a growing obsession with pastoral life, largely because of the writings of Rousseau. Of course, Antoinette took the style from his writings without truly taking in the social meaning behind his words. I don't think Antoinette was purposefully cold hearted (she could in fact be quite generous and she never said "Let them eat cake!" in response to learning of her people's starvation) but these gaulles were deceptively expensive.
La reine in gaulle by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
This portrait caused a great scandal when it was displayed publically.
It seemed to many that Antoinette had chosen to display herself in her chemise-her underwear.
This was not the first fashion that Antoinette made so popular. Antoinette also attempted to do away with wearing the stiff corset worn by the highest nobility in France. She wore breeches when she rode, often wore her hair in a pouf (once decorated with a ship to celebrate a French naval victory), popularized the redingote, etc. This one earned her additional scorn, however, because it looked like the queen was appearing in her underwear (and also because it meant she wasn't spending as much with French silk manufacturers). This gave the rumor mill the idea that she was committing adultery. It is worth noting however that, even after her fall from grace, this fashion remained popular. On others, it was seen as evidence of purity; for Antoinette, it was seen as evidence that she did not take her queenly role seriously and that she was promiscuous.
Regardless of the eventual impact on Antoinette's life, the fashion for a more rustic, natural look stayed around. It reached England with the help of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and good friend of Antoinette (who sent her a gaulle) and eventually reached the colonies. That is, I believe, where the inspiration for Felicity's summer outfit came from.
Note: Marie Antoinette's impact on Western fashion (and her life in general) is too interesting and detailed to be captured in a few short paragraphs. See Antonia Fraser's biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey and Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, which gives a detailed analysis of the impact of fashion on Antoinette's life.
Felicity's Summer Outfit
Felicity's summer outfit (originally two separate pieces-the hat and slippers were sold separately at first) came out in 1992. The outfit consisted of the dress, the sash, the lace mob cap, the straw hat, and the slippers.
The white dress (made of cotton-as relations with Britain became tense, many Americans turned to their own cottons instead of relying on British made textiles-and muslin was seen as a British textile-which Antoinette was also widely criticized for, since France and Britain were enemies at the time) is plain, with few adornments. You'll notice that it is full length (colonial girls dressed like smaller women) and that it does include growth tucks so it can be adjusted as Felicity gets older.
Her sleeves reach to her elbow and are adorned with two layers of the same eyelet trim on her neckline. I really like the way it bunches together like that.
It velcros up the back.
The dress does sort of look like a chemise, especially without the ribbon sash. It is a very casual garment considering the times. But that is precisely what Antoinette loved about it. Felicity would have loved it too-the lighter material would have been cooler and easier to move about in.
Ignore the bracelet on her wrist-I haven't been able to get the hospital band off her arm and am currently waiting for my husband to do so. Yes, Felicity arrived back from the hospital!
Still, we can't have Felicity just wearing a chemise! In comes a sash!
Felicity ties a blue and white brocade ribbon around her waist. The outside of the ribbon is edged in blue; the inside is white. It is decorated with a flowers and butterflies motif. For these rustic ensembles, it was important that the decorating elements also harken back to nature.
The ribbon is long. I tied it vertically because I don't like it sticking out on the sides.
The outfit comes with a white lace mob cap. Lace ruffles frame her sweet face.
The lace has a delicate floral pattern. This mob cap could be paired with any number of Felicity's outfits. It is a very pretty, versatile piece.
And now to my favorite part of the outfit (I say that all the time about hats-I wish people wore beautiful hats like this again!).
No rustic outfit would be complete without a straw hat decorated with appropriately natural trimmings. Felicity wears a wide brimmed straw hat with pink flowers. A blue ribbon, matching the trim at her elbows, goes across the hat and forms two ribbons to tie the hat under her chin.
There are two ways to wear this hat. I prefer to place it on her head without the lace mob cap. It looks strange to me to have her wearing two different head pieces.
See how the cap bunches up unattractively when I place it on her head under the hat? Of course, it is likely a user error. Still, I prefer without the cap.
Felicity wears a pair of light green brocade slippers that tie with cream ribbon laces. The slippers are embroidered with cream and pink designs. The green is a nice shade (it doesn't show up very well). I might have gone for a light blue but I like the green as well.
Felicity's summer outfit is my favorite out of all her outfits (though it is tied with her green riding habit). There's something about Felicity wearing outfits that allow her freedom of movement and the ability to be herself that I just adore. The dress also reminds me so strongly of the fashions at the Petit Trianon that it appeals to the history nerd inside me.
Elizabeth's Summer Outfit
And then they created Elizabeth's summer outfit, released in 2005. They looked at the wonderful concept of a light, free summer outfit for the colonial girls and said, "Naw..."
Look, I get it. Elizabeth is supposed to be of a higher social class than Felicity. This can be seen everywhere from her fancier meet outfit to the pearls she wears. She's wealthy.
But people of all social classes were moving towards a more natural aesthetic when in rustic environments. You can't be of a much higher status than the Queen of France.
The outfit had three components-the dress, the hat, and the slippers.
The main part of the dress is a very light green-I would call the shade almost a seafoam green. It is made of dotted satin. The skirt of the dress is split to reveal an attached quilted white petticoat. The neckline is accented with eyelet trim.
There's a close up of the fabric. It is a very pretty fabric but it would not be very light and breezy during a hot Virginia summer. It simply isn't as practical as Felicity's dress.
The dress is accented with a cream ribbon on the waist.
The dress has elbow length sleeved with eyelet trim on the cuff. This matches the eyelet trim on the neckline.
It velcros in the back.
My biggest pet peeve about this dress is how short it is-it isn't floor length like the dress worn by Felicity. It reveals her shoes and quite a bit of her ankle. This isn't necessarily inaccurate to the time-women were wearing the robe à la polonaise which revealed the shoes and a bit of ankle. However, I don't really like it aesthetically-especially since the stock photos depict her wearing it without stockings.
As you can see from a bottom view of the hat, it is also made of straw. Unfortunately American Girl decided to cover the hat with satin instead of letting Elizabeth stick with a more rustic style.
The hat is covered in a creamy white, satiny fabric and trimmed with small green ribbons along the crown of the hat. Two pink bows adorn the side. Pink ribbons come down the sides to tie the hat under Elizabeth's chin.
The pink goes very nicely with the light green of the dress-it really is a pretty color combination.
According to the wiki, Elizabeth's summer outfit comes with light green satin heeled mule slippers. Well, the shoes that came with the set (admittedly, a secondhand purchase) are a creamy white that matches the hat. So...I don't know. They are satin shoes with low heels. They look very similar to the stock photo except for color.
I don't like them anyways because I'm not a fan of heels on dolls-they make the dolls stand oddly. I also paired them with stockings because I think they look better that way.
I like a lot of the components of Elizabeth's outfit-just not as a summer outfit for her to wear with Felicity. This doesn't have the rustic, natural elements that made Felicity's outfit so stylish and pretty. I can see her wearing this to a garden party in town perhaps. I realize that Elizabeth has more money than Felicity. But she could have still had a nice muslin (since she wouldn't care about giving money to England, being a loyalist) dress. So, in conclusion, I like Felicity's dress a lot more.
Ready for summer!