Many of the garments that are presently on display in the Court Pomp & Royal Ceremonies exhibition at Versailles have been loaned by museums in other countries, including Sweden and Denmark. While at first it might seem that the French Revolution was the reason that few garments from the 18th century French court have survived, that is not actually the whole story....
In the 18th century, it was the custom of the French court that the kings and queens would retire their wardrobe after one year of wear. Those garments would be given to the ladies and gentlemen who served them at court. The courtiers could resell them, refashion them for their own purpose or dispose of them as they wished. Most of the refashioned garments ended up being sold in Parisian second-hand clothing shops.
That is the process by which the "Marie Antoinette dress" owned by the Royal Ontario Museum was refashioned in the 19th century and ended up in England. This dress attributed to the atelier of Rose Bertin (shown in the photo below) was on display at the ROM in the fall and is currently included in the Versailles exhibition Court Pomp & Royal Ceremony.
While other European royal courts followed French fashion, they did not all follow the custom of retiring their wardrobes.In particular, King Gustavus Adophus (1611-1632) decided to preserve royal garments worn during key moments of his reign, in particular two of the outfits worn during the war in Poland. This established a custom of preservation which was adopted by other Swedish kings. In other royal courts like Denmark and Poland, royal garments, especially those worn during great events during a reign, were also systematically preserved. It is many of those garments which are currently on display at Versailles.
Court Pomp & Royal Ceremonies
Court Dress in Europe 1650-1800
31 March to 28 June 2009
Chateau de Versailles