Impressionism and Fashion

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At the Bonheur des Dames

Capote Bonnet© Stéphane Piera / Galliera / Roger-Viollet
Every woman who went out during the day had to wear a hat: a bonnet with a rigid (capote) or folding (cabriolet) brim in velvet or woven straw, natural or dyed, embellished with lace, silk or velvet ribbons and flowers in taffeta or silk velvet. Gloves, which had the advantage of making the hands look smaller, were also of the utmost importance.

An entire set of gestures and attitudes developed around these practical accessories - parasols, walking sticks and canes, fans – that added to one's "countenance". In winter as in summer, evening shoes matched the dress, had a small covered heel, and were always open-fronted and trimmed with a silk flower or a bow of lace and ribbon.
All these details helped to create the image of the Parisian lady, who was defined not by her social status but by her meticulously elegant clothes.


The Parisian Man of the World

Gustave Caillebotten a Café© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Martine Beck-Coppola
The choice of clothes for men was particularly limited in the second half of the 19th century. Colour disappeared and was replaced by plain dark shades; woollen cloth replaced velvet, silk and brocade.
Moreover, it became usual to adapt the same outfit for use on different occasions. The Parisian man, once he had stepped out of his dressing gown, wore two outfits in turn: one for the day and one for the evening.

The overall look of men's clothes changed very little. The upper body was tightly fitted into a jacket or frock coat, both invariably in dark colours, sometimes double-breasted, and whose tails varied in length. The short jacket was only worn at holiday resorts. On the other hand, the paletot jacket, a sort of short overcoat, was adopted at this time, the cut requiring no great skill.

James TissotThe Circle of the Rue Royale© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
There was a greater range of fabrics used for trousers, always cut wide, available in a large number of patterns, including stripes, checks and hound's tooth motifs. These were worn with a slight crease, and a break on to short boots with heels that varied in height. A top hat was the headwear of choice, and a cane, umbrella and gloves completed the outfit for the man who was ready to go out. But above all else he was judged by the cleanliness of his cuffs and shirt collar – either straight or winged – and by his tie which had to be of a certain width.

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