Monday, October 20, 2008

Marie Antoinette, Madame Deficit

At the height of her glamour (prior to the birth of her first child), Marie Antoinette spent a fortune on clothes, accessories and pouf hairstyles. Although she received an allowance of 120,000 livres per annum to cover these expenses, she often spent far more than that. In one year alone, she ordered 172 new gowns and in 1786, she earned the nickname "Madame Deficit" for spending more than twice her allowance. Her shy, indecisive husband covered her overages without complaint.

According to Madame de Campan's memoirs, Marie Antoinette typically ordered twelve grand habits, twelve robes with paniers and twelve undress robes each season. Everything was given away at the end of the summer and winter seasons to make room for the new. There were three rooms allocated in Versailles for her clothing.

During the Revolution, almost everything belonging to Marie Antoinette was confiscated or destroyed and that is why the dress on exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum which "may or may not belong to Marie Antoinette" is such a rarity.

It is believed that the dress was given to a member of the court who took it to England and passed it down through that family, with alterations taking place and the dress being worn by its new owner in the 1880s.

In 1925, the dress was sold by Christies Auction House to the Royal Ontario Museum for 450 English pounds. The dress is unsigned but has been dated to 1770-1780 and is believed to have come from the marchande de modes of Rose Bertin. It also matches a description of an ivory silk dress worn by Marie Antoinette as noted in Rose Bertin's records.