Presented to Suzanne Lussier
History of Art and Dress
Instituto Marangoni, May 2012
You may believe me, for you know I am an admirer of fashion
(Madame de Sévigné, 1811a, p.143)
The subject of this essay will mostly focus on the fashion in Mme de Sévigné’s letters and the 17th centurycourt’s style.
During King Louis XIV reign in the second half of the 17th century many great names of the time that are today known, witnessed this era. For now they are great sources of historical research and facts.
Madame de Sévigné was one of the court great observers at the time, mainly in Paris. She related and described many matters through her letters to her daughter, Madame de Gringan and herfriends but mainly to her daughter. One of those topics was fashion and its description and point of view. As her quote states, Mme de Sévigné was very fond of style and fashion subjects and followed closely its updates from time to time.
The sources for this work are mainly centred in the reading of the letters. However it will be used 17th century publications as sources as well. Therefore thedescriptions intent to be made will be richer and complete and also it will be possible to make an evaluation of different subjects making possible some comparisons.
It was in 1626 that Marie de Rabutin – Chantal, later known as Mme Sévigné, was born. Her parents died when she was just a child. In 1636 her parental cares were assumed by her grandfather, However he died a year after. By thismeans, her uncle, Christophe de Coulanges, Abbé de Livre took the caretaker position of the child and raised her as his own. He provided her all her needs and much important, a good education. In 1647 she got married to Henry de Sévigné also known as marquis de Sévigné. As a fruit of this marriage Mme de Sévigné gave birth to two children, Charles de Sévigné and Françoise Marguerite de Sévigné. In1650 her husband died leaving Mme Sévigné a widow with two child’s in her care. In this decade she was also brought to Louis XIV court. Latter in January, 1669, her daughter Françoise married to the Comte de Gringan. This event led to the main reason of Mme de Sévigné’s Letters to her daughter. Françoise, that was now known as Madame de Gringan, still remained in Paris till 1671. However she leftto reunite with her husband who was in Provence, South of France. By this time Mme the Sévigné suffered her great rupture in her life. She was entirely dedicated to her children and her daughter was miles away from her. So Mme de Sévigné attached her dedication to her letters that lasted till her death in 1696. Her letters were her main source of communication with her daughter. However she wouldwrite to her friends as well.
At the time there was an enormous acquaintance of French court style through all Europe. Fashion gained high standards. It was much as important as political and economic matters. The appearance, the conduct and posture was an imperative requisite in the court.
In Madame de Sévigné’s letters, her fashion point of view was mostly leaned to the woman’s garment andhair style and accessories, dress in particular.
In the 24th of April, 1671 she writes to her daughter. She informs her about her latest purchase that she just couldn’t resist to it, a Day Dress material (Mme Sévigné, 1982b, p.96). She chose the colours of it. Green and purple even though she was advised to go for flame colours. The top of the dress was modest and delicate. The colour was whiteand made from taffeta. Day Dresses were used for day clothing only.
There is a reference from Madame de sévigné about a Petticoat. The Petticoat was a skirt. In the 15th century it was used for warming purposes and to give shape. In the 17th century was used for fashion determinations. This skirt was worn underneath another skirt. In the letter of 5th of January in 1674 Mme de Sévigné wrote...