This magnificent dress is believed to have been worn by Marie Antoinette in 1780 or thereabouts. It is known to have come from Rose Bertin's atelier, where Marie Antoinette acquired most of her gowns and accessories. Purchased by the Royal Ontario Museum in 1925, the dress has not been exhibited for many years.
Currently on display until October 26th, the dress is a marvel to behold. Because it is behind glass and displayed in low light to preserve the fragile textiles, it is difficult to convey the beauty of the intricate embroidery, applique, beading and delicate workmanship in my photos. It is known that the dress was altered to make it narrower to conform with London fashions of the 1880s.
There is one thing that I find odd about the dress: the plain unadorned bodice with a relatively high neckline. The bodice neckline seems higher than it should be for 1780, especially as the corsets worn at that time tended to push the breasts upwards and into a decollette. I also find it quite surprising that the bodice has no ornamentation or embroidery. Given that most of the portraits of Marie Antoinette show incredibly ornate bodices, I wondered if this is in fact her dress. Or did she chose an unadorned bodice to showcase the incredible royal jewels? Or could it even be possible that the panels that were removed to make the dress narrower were reworked into a simpler bodice for the new owner?
While studying the dress, I heard one visitor remark that the dress was much "smaller" than she expected. She explained that she had envisioned "something larger than life" given the notoriety of Marie Antoinette. But to get a real picture of what the Queen looked like in this dress, one has to imagine the paniers and a pouf hairstyle which would have created a significantly wider and taller silhouette.
Take note of the opulent train. It is known that Marie Antoinette studied with a French dance master to learn to walk gracefully at court. Even if this is not in fact her dress, whoever wore it must have been a vision of loveliness.
Photo Credit: Ingrid Mida, copyright 2008 (Not for reproduction without permission)
Patricia Harris Gallery of Costumes and Textiles
Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park Avenue
Toronto, Ontario Canada