Versailles was the center not only of French political power but also of French fashion. Since the reign of Louis XIV, French aristocrats looked to royalty to know what not to wear. The French court had been governed by strict rules that determined the proper type of frocks, fabrics, and accesories to be donned for the season, time of day, and occasion. Louis XIV’s reign in the early 1700s was dominated by the baroque style of art, music, architecture, and haute couture. Ornate decorations, rich, dark fabrics, and elaborate, heavy designs dominated courtier couture under the Sun King.
After Louis XIV’s death in 1715, clothing styles began to evolve. Fashion took a turn to a lighter, more frivolous style, transitioning from baroque to rococo. The latter period was characterized by pastel colors, more revealing frocks, and lots of frills, ruffles, bows, and lace. This look spread from France and was copied by the elite in other European capitals.
Marie-Antoinette was an Austrian princess before she married Louis XVI in 1770. Clothing had always been a powerful signifier of nationality. When the young princess traveled from Austria to France to be married, her entourage stopped at the border between the two countries. There, Marie-Antoinette was stripped of all her Austrian clothes and dressed with clothing made in France. The ritual signified her transformation from Austrian to French.