The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830

The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830

The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830

The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830

Synopsis

For many years, I have wanted to create a narrative about stage costumes and street wear, including a discussion of the various social, artistic, and, political influences that shaped the design of clothing and costume and, specifically, how they affected French ballet in the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. I wondered why dancers wore skirts that were in some cases full and bouncy and at other times narrow and lithe, short, long, or heavy. Why were they asked to wear a low, décolleté bodice or a wig, or to apply thick globs of makeup? Of course, they wore tutus with layers of tulle that floated about their bodies, but why was the traditional tutu such a rigid and corseted structure? And what is our understanding of the evolution of dancing shoes that were often tortuous to wear, whether character shoes for peasant roles or toe shoes for the ballet?

Excerpt

The Baroque period began with the era of Louis XIV's reign (1661-1715) and extended beyond his death to the French Revolution in 1789. The period evoked images of great opulence, panoply, and sensuousness in which fashion and ballet followed a carefully coded vocabulary. The Baroque aesthetic had to change in order to yield to newer ways of conceiving women's clothing.

For more than four hundred years, the chief purpose of decorative clothing in Western Europe and colonial countries had been the differentiation and division of people according to birth and wealth, which the nobility between the fourteenth and the eighteenth centuries had secured by numerous sumptuary laws and edicts. Fashion rules the world, but who rules fashion? At every age there have been a few men and women who have stood out as the dictators in manners of fashion, and occasionally these were not the most outstanding leaders in other phases of life. Sumptuary laws, or codes that regulated how people dressed, created a fashion system assuring that only rulers, clergy, and court lieges could dress in certain kinds of clothing. It is important to realize that although the aristocracy represented a tiny portion of the population, this privileged group reigned supreme over taste and manners.

In the late eighteenth century, the aristocracy fancied itself at the center of the world, reviving the image of Louis XIV's Sun King, around whose glaring radiance everything revolved. The concept of the Sun King came from Louis XIV's early foray into ballet, when he danced the role of the sun in Le Ballet de la Nuit (1653). After all, from the king's bright light came

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