Winter Thoughts on the Little White Dress & the “Queen of Fashion” Marie Antoinette

by Ramona on January 27, 2012

I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Carolyn Weber of Columbia University. The subject was Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate queen of eighteenth century France. The lecture was based on Dr. Weber’s fascinating book “Queen of Fashion, What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution”. It painted a picture of a dauphine (princess) obsessed with clothes and fashion. When she became queen that obsession contributed not only to her rise as a fashion icon of her time, but also to her violent demise.

Marie Antoinette wearing a "gaulle"

She became a trendsetter whose attire was widely copied by all European women. It is also fair to say that some of the fashions she started pretty much rolled over into women’s fashions for hundreds of years. I found specially interesting the reference to a white muslin dress which Marie Antoinette and her contemporaries called the gaulle. The Queen and her female entourage  wore the gaulle at the Petite Trianon, a retreat where she wanted to relax, away from the formalities of Versailles. It was a white muslin tunic with a ruffled neckline, tied at the waist and the sleeves with pretty ribbons, and caught on like wildfire in 18th century France and the rest of Europe.

You can see various versions of the gaulle in paintings of women in subsequent years. Depictions and photographs of the all-American Gibson girl show another heyday of the white muslin dress in the western world. Do you have pictures of your ancestors from this era wearing pretty white clothing?

And, who can forget the white Travilla halter dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the iconic grate photograph!

Dear readers, please feel free to comment on your quintessential piece of white clothing! Do you live in white dresses in the summer? Have you sewn any white garments which are now your favorites? I did!


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Heather January 27, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I just love the crisp clean look of white but I can never seem to keep it clean… any tips on keeping it looking fresh?

Sue S January 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

The LWD was big in the history of fashion, but these days women who’ve had their colors done know that not everyone looks good in pure white. Maybe your LWD should be ecru, or very pale peach or blue! My mom always put a bit of a laundry additive called blueing into the rinse water of our white laundry to keep it looking fresh. Even the Chlorox people know that dingy whites are out of fashion! I buy a new white shirt or tee when the old ones start getting tacky, and new white slacks every spring whether I need them or not!

Samina January 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Heather, thanks for the comment. It can be hard to keep the crisp look consistently. That is why I just cut up my formerly white linen blouse into handkerchiefs! Yes, I am now preferring handkerchiefs to Kleenex.

Samina January 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Agree, Sue! White clothing has such a short life span.
I now have a “collection” of white fabric which are LWD wannabees.

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