Friday, November 26, 2010

Le Code de la Mode

Dress codes today are almost non-existent but it was not so long ago that to be deemed fashionable, a woman had to make an enormous investment in time and money in her wardrobe.  In the 19th century, the books on etiquette often included several chapters on the topic of dress. Clothing was the way a society woman defined herself showing that the wearer had the time to devote to the many changes of costume required in a day and also had the financial means to do so.

Le Moniteur de la Mode, February 1879, pg 55
"A society woman who wants to be well dressed for all occasions at all times needs at least seven or eight toilettes per day: a morning dressing gown, a riding outfit, an elegant simple gown for lunch, a day dress if walking, an afternoon dress for visiting by carriage, a smart outfit to drive through the Bois de Boulogne, a gown for dinner, and a gala dress for evening or the theatre. There is nothing exaggerated about this, and it could be more complicated still at the beach, in summer, with bathing costumes, and in autumn and winter, with hunting and skating costumes, if she shares these wholesome activities with men." (Despaigne, Henri. Le Code de la mode, Paris, 1866, pg. 85)

For the "comme il faut" woman of the nineteenth century, "dress was a veritable science to which she devoted a third of her day." Attention also had to be paid to the codified progression of attire with simplicity and restraint expected for day dress and increased formality and opulence expected in the evening.

Society women hardly ever walked which is something that still seems to define the fashionable set today, given the dominance  and demand for unwearable high heels by the most fashionable shoemakers of our time (Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blanik et al).