Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Glorious Abandon

    The rigid, confining structure of the Renaissance gave way, after a short period of relative monasticism in England, to a wild flourishing of color, texture, ornament and cautiously lascivious freedoms.  While England was going through the reign of Charles the Ist, and groaning the while under foolish restrictions of life's pleasures, across the pond in France, Louis the XIV was busily spreading the news that extravagance was THE thing, especially when it was derived from him, and set about not only pushing the limits of personal adornment, but also started expanding Versailles into the extreme expression of power that it became.
    The most significant changes for women, was a general loosening of the clothing.  Women's skirts became softer, more easy to move in.  Corseting was not quite so ferociously tight; and sleeves were, like skirts, softer and easier to manage.  Hair dress for women became a thing of major importance.  For the first time in over a century married women were displaying their hair, rather than hiding it under coifs and bonnets.  So having lavish curls tumbling about the shoulders became the hairstyle of choice to go with the new, more daring, more deliberately coquettish fashions.  Colors too changed.  Where strong contrasts ruled before, subtler, softer combinations became immensely popular.  And along with all this many a lady of fashion got herself painted en deshabille, with graceful drapery loosely wound about her entirely bare shoulders.
     For men the story was essentially the same.  The fit of the breeches at first loosened, then opened at the bottom entirely to create what became known as petticoat breeches.  The waistcoat was not fitted as tightly, and lengthened, eventually to the knee.  And we see the first iteration of what would become the 3 piece suit.  Where the waistcoat had been a sleeved affair, and was meant as the single garment for the top of the body, a coat was suddenly being worn in addition to it.  But this coat, like the waistcoat, was a softly tailored, and loosely fitted item.  Men's hairstyles, like women's, became larger, curlier, and expressive of a certain indolence, and dissipation. 
    Louis XIV had lots of hair, but even he resorted to extra locks to fill out his massive mane to enormous proportions. This was when wigs for both sexes started being commonly worn, where they had been primarily taken up by those who were aging and did not wish to look so, or those who had little or no hair. When Charles II came to the throne of England in 1649, he gleefully continued what Louis had already begun, clapping vast long wigs onto his head. 
Because of the influence of these two men, and the women who attached themselves to them, fashions were set that would hold in general shape for another 150 years before the Revolution in France would sweep it all away.
    It became a vision of people that was nearly universal.  Certainly there were differences from nation to nation, but the larger picture of how we visually defined ourselves was unified.  And from this point forward, it would only continue to become more so, till we reach our present state of globe spanning similarity of dress.  So, when I look at a period of apparel like the 17th century, I don't just see something overtly lavish.  I see the beginnings of the transition to our modern world. We are the summation of all that has gone before, not just with our political or economic history, but in terms of our Attire as well.

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