Charushila Garat, Lecturer, Govt. Residential Woman’s Polytechnic, Yava

Sarita Raut, Lecturer, Sasmira’s Institute of Man Made Textiles, Mumbai.



More than just a designer whim, fashion is a reflection of the social, political, economic, artistic forces of any given time the changing time that evolve from these forces tell of historical events as poignantly as textbooks, journals or periodicals.

In the seventeenth centuries, people belonged tone of two main classes: the wealthy landowner or the poor laborers and farmers. Because wealth was concentrated in the landowning class, these people were the only ones who could afford to wear fashionable clothes. Royalty, at the top of both the social and economic ladders, set trends while other members of the aristocracy followed their example in order to gain approval.

From history we find out one legend aristocracies and a fashion developer, born at St. Germain-en-Laye, September 16th 1638 i.e.LOUIS XIV, King of France, succeeded his father Louis XIII, in 1643. His mother, Anne of Austria, became regent and Mazarin her minister. During the King’s minority, the discontented nobles, encouraged by Spain, sought to shake off the authority of the Crown, and the civil wars of the Fronde arose.The Fronde was not a singular attack, as the French Wars of Religion had only just ended in 1598. The French wars had lasted for thirty years and been predominantly a civil war. They had shaken the king’s appearance of strength, especially to the rest of Europe. The instability that Louis XIV found the monarchy in led him to turn

to fashion and its historic significance to control the nobility and express his power.

King Louis XIV’s contribution in the fashion development


Louis XIV increased and emphasized fashions importance by making it a part of social edict and increasing rather than belittling its cost. It has been debated whether or not Louis stressed fashion to the extend he did in order to throw the nobles into debt, to distract them from scheming or for an entirely different motive. However, the general consensus places his motivations at least partly on an attempt to send as many nobles as possible into debt. It has also been argued that Louis had to pay for any debt his nobles acquired and therefore would not want to encourage it. Despite these disagreements, it is evident that Louis was attempting to control the nobility and fashion had a hand in it. Unlike many courts in Europe in past and present, Louis required a different code of dress for each formal event. In most countries, one code was set for all occasion in order to keep clothing inexpensive, whereas Louis’s system sent many into bankruptcy. One such festivity, which was extremely expensive, was the carrousel, where various groups of nobles came clad in the most splendid costumes they could design. If bankruptcy was Louis’s intent, he used fashion in events like these to cause it. Debt led to constraints and Louis named the terms of these limitations, thereby making him the most important and most powerful.

Louis would stage elaborate ball after exquisite party after expensive festival and require luxurious attire at each one. The nobility wanted to remain within the higher circles, which were quickly congealing at the court of Versailles, because it was “believed that mere physical proximity to the monarch…would elevate them to a higher social level” and the king spent almost all of his time at court. It was thus necessary to attend all the fashionable balls and festivities and spend outrageous amounts of money on new clothing. Eventually it was almost certain the courtier would fall into debt and should they want to remain within the court they would be required to ask for a loan from the king. The king would only grant them said loan or even hear their request for the loan if they had been spending the proper amount of time at court.[ This endless cycle kept the nobles trapped in Versailles and focused on the wearing the proper and most fashionable clothing, which led them to be both too poor and too preoccupied to revolt against the monarch.

In order to generate competition among his nobles, Louis made his dressing and undressing in the morning and evening the most important times of the day. Only the most powerful courtiers were present. It was at this time they could speak with him. This made the ability to attend his dressing and undressing extremely desirable because finding a time to speak with the king could be difficult and he would only grant an audience if he thought the noble was worthy enough to speak to. Those that were present at his dressing and undressing had already been established as worthy and they had a substantial amount of time every day to make a request. Nobles we real ways competing to become one of these select few.

Louis also designed a blue silk jacket, the justaucorps á brevet, embroidered in silver and gold, which only his most favored courtiers were permitted to wear, after they had been granted permission by the king.[8] Only fifty nobles at a time were approved to wear this highly fashionable piece of clothing, which meant that even among those that should by birth be considered one of the king’s favorite, had to fight for it. As an additional benefit, those with permission to wear the jacket were allowed to “follow the King on his hunt whenever the wearer wanted.” This, again, required the aristocrats to spend much of their time at court as well as appearing socially elevated, which meant they had to wear fashionable clothing.
Louis also extended fashion down to the middle class to increase his power. Any person who was reasonably well dressed was allowed to enter the Versailles gardens. Instead of isolating anyone who was anything less than a noble, Louis extended the exciting prospect of not only being in the king’s gardens but perhaps even seeing the king to what middle class there was. This stressed Louis’s power because it made it clear that the middle class was willing to save their money just to be in his gardens and, thus, obviously admired him. While in the gardens, they might also see such events like the carrousel, which would dazzle and impress them. The image this gave of the king was that he was very powerful and very rich.

Louis continued to accentuate fashion’s importance through more legal means. He created the grand maitre de la garderobe du roi, “the only new office which he created in his own household.”  The office was dedicated to the king’s clothing alone, which were stored across three rooms. In 1668 Louis even passed an edict that required his courtiers to remain fashionable. Louis XIV made fashion important to such an extent that the nobles and even the middle class would be more preoccupied with it than gaining more power or questioning his rule, thus waylaying another attack similar to the fronds.

Louis chose boisterous fashion to express his power both to his nobles and the rest of the world because it made him appear strong. The proper dress alone was supposed “to encourage loyalty, satisfy vanity, [and] impress the outside world.” With this notion already in place, Louis made sure both himself and his courtiers wore expensive cloths. His choice of such extravagance and bright colors has three particularly strong reasons. Firstly, Louis chose to dress in bright colors instead of sober blacks because although black cloth was extremely expensive and represented sobriety and piety, Louis was neither particularly restrained nor conservative in terms of religion until later in his reign. He held large parties, stayed up late gambling,

and ate extravagant amounts of food. It was for this reason that he chose color to express his powerful reign rather than black. For example, he used the design of red heels to both draw attention to the feet and as a symbol for “the elevation of his court above the rest of humanity.” The red heel eventually became one of the most popular and widespread trends in Europe. Even William III of Orange, who had become one of Louis’s most devoted enemies, after Louis attacked the Dutch Republic, wore red heels.

It was not long before the fashions of France began to appear all across Europe. Although it was not fashion that made France powerful, fashion did make France appear powerful, especially in terms of its court, which expressed its power to the outside world by appearing magnificent. The court in France was the grandest in Europe, “Paris tailors were considered the best [and]…dolls wearing the latest style extended French fashions” even to hostile and distance capitals such as London and Russia. Fashion also provided a sense of national identity and patriotism to the wearer. Accepting another country’s fashion was, to an extent, accepting that national identity and wearing French clothes while in England or Germany or somewhere else outside of France showed respect to France. Fashionable and expensive clothing was already a sign of power and the spread of French fashion across Europe and the pride nobles took in wearing it both in and out of France, was Louis’s way of proving France and its monarch were powerful.

Fashion was also important for a more practical reason; the employment of the lower class. Louis XIV banned foreign cloth, lace, and trimmings, which meant fabric had to be made in France by the French.  This led to an increase in velvet and silk in France, while in other countries like England, wool became more popular.  Of the possible accessories and cloth, lace was among the most difficult and time consuming to make; a narrow strip of lace alone could take months. Making lace was not usually considered an enjoyable task, but it was better than having no employment at all and since lace was such a commodity, a good deal of people had to be making it. The rest of the outfit was just as expensive and time consuming.A court gown alone was put together by three people, the tailor, couturier and marchand de modes.  It took several days per gown. French fashion employed roughly “a third of wage-earners in Paris…It employed 969,863 individuals compared to only 38,000 in the iron and steel industry.” Periods of court morning were said to be so drawn out and to encompass so many people that those making clothing, which were a substantial amount of the population, struggled to survive because no new, expensive clothing was bought for the duration. Clothing also, to an extent, aided in the circulation of wealth. Although it was certainly not his main motivation or even necessarily something Louis often kept in mind, the extravagant fashion did keep many people employed and the greater employment rate empowered France.


Louis XIV chose fashion because it had historically been important, often because of its expense and impracticality. Although not all clothing was uncomfortable, as some of it was designed specifically to be comfortable, much of it was painful or difficult to wear. Shoes were narrow, sitting down in some gowns could be a major feat, most hats were either ridiculously wide or tall, and the lace, ribbons, feathers, and mountains of cloth that accompanied every fashionable outfit could make avoiding collisions and, especially, dining a near impossibility. For certain occasions noble women were required to wear the grand habit de cour, a type of dress with a long train. The longer the train, the more elite the wearer and the more difficult the train was to manage. Despite the fact that the dress was impractical in the case of both the train and the sleeves, which required the wearer to have bare shoulders in all sorts of weather, it was the height of fashion. Similarly, the higher ranking ladies wore the tightest and most restrictive of corset. The extremes of these outfits meant that to appear elegant, nobles had to put hours and hours of time into practicing such simple things as walking and sitting. Were a lady to drop her fan or handkerchief, though it would not have been appropriate for her to pick it up anyway, she would actually be unable to pick it up and would have “relied on a servant or gentleman to pick it up.” This emphasized both her delicacy, which meant she never had to work for herself, and that she had enough money and power for someone to do her work for her.

It was believed across France and the world that expensive, impractical, spotless, and often uncomfortable clothing was the absolute symbol of status. It had been believed for centuries and would continue to be so after Louis XIV died. Louis, who took an unstable throne in a divided country, used many techniques to unite France and make it stronger. He chose fashion to control nobles by using it to consume their time and money and give them something to flaunt and be proud of. He himself was a great admirer of fashion and how it could make the body appear elegant and powerful, both symbolically and physically. Through his use propaganda and competition, Louis proved France was a strong country with a strong monarchy both to his courtiers and the rest of the European monarchies.

The king Louis makes great work in the development of the France with the fashion enhancement not only in the France but also in the all over the world. The outcome of the king Louis fashion development in the 17th century is, ‘France is the center of fashion’ and till 21st century it is to be continue. So king Louis XIV’s contribution in the fashion development is the mile stone for the fashion industry.

References :

  1. Fashion – from concept to consumer. Author- Gini Stephens Frings .

2.      The Grandeur of Louis XIV on Film | Fiction and Film for French         

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3.      Louis XIV’s Use of Fashion to Control and Express Power’s+Use+of+Fashion+to+Cont.

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4.      The State Hermitage Museum: Exhibitions

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5.      Louis XIV and the French Influence    

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6.      Louis XIII of France – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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7.      How Louis XIV of France Came to Build His Opulent Versailles …… – United States

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8.      Creating French Culture (Library of Congress Exhibition)

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9.      18th-Century France: The Rococo and Watteau

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10.  The Reign of Louis XIV– CDA’s World History Wiki