18th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 18th century Polly / Oliver inspiration

There were an interesting mix of feelings about last week’s tan and red 1870s frock.  Some of you were swept away by the silhouette, and the parasol pocket, others felt that while the period is attractive, this wasn’t the most inspired example of an 1870s frock, and some of you found the colour combination too reminiscent of bleeding flesh for comfort.  Despite a few very low ratings, the frock managed 7 out of 10.  You’ve all been so nice and generous with your ratings lately!

This week you’re going to rate one of the images that I’m using as inspiration for my Polly / Oliver outfit.  Here is Marie Antoinette in hunting attire, one year after her marriage to the Dauphin of France:

I’m using this image as inspiration for Polly / Oliver, so you might assume that I think the ensemble perfection indeed, and  Marie Antoinette is famous for her fashion innovations.  However, I may only be using bits of this portrait for inspiration, and many of ill-fated Queen’s fashion choices were perhaps more whimsical (to put it politely) than truly elegant.  Certainly at 16 her famous sense of style was not fully developed.

What do you think of the riding habit (riding habits and hunting attire are effectively interchangeable in the context of French royal fashion in the 18th century) of red with gold trim, paired with a floral striped waistcoat, black tricorn hat, lace cuffs and cravat (or are we still in stock territory?), and buff gloves.  Does it give a glimpse of Marie Antoinette’s flair for fashion, or does it lack polish and the sartorial poise that makes an outfit both tasteful and memorable?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Marie is imitating that style of 18th c male fashion I have never quite liked; the one where the coat is only buttoned at the very top, leaving the rest to flop open in an ungainly way to reveal the waistcoat underneath. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that showing the waistcoat was part of the point and that by the end of the century, the coats were not meant to button closed; but the “two buttons at or near the top” style just manages to look sloppy.

    Anyway, things I like about Marie’s outfit in the portrait:

    1. The hat. It’s the right size, and the color makes it look serious not frivolous.
    2. The style of the coat. Pity she didn’t just leave the whole thing open
    3. The fact that the skirt matches the coat. Looks more military to me, though I know unmatched looks were common in military fashion at the time..
    4. I’m okay with the lace cravat.

    Things I don’t like:

    1. The color of the ensemble. It’s too pale and orangey to give a proper military feel.
    2. The waistcoat. The flowers I don’t mind, but it tends to get lost in the paleness and orange of the coat.

    Overall, not bad. A 7.

  2. Brenda says

    Very smart! However, the floral striped waistcoat seems a bit off from the rest of the ensemble. Perhaps a solid color or bolder stripes on the waistcoat would have been better. Then again, the flowers do add a touch of femininity to an otherwise masculine outfit. Hard to put my finger on it, but I am giving it an 8.5/10

  3. adore this whole look. Deliberately male and military, totally theatrical, you would definitely notice her on a horse! and yet feminine enough. The mix of fabrics is inspired, rich, luxurious and contradictory. I even like the softness of the rusty red, more forgiving than huntin’ pink or scarlet. I guess I like it. (could lose some of the gold braid- bit of an over statement but then she did want to be seen)


  4. This might be one of my favorite pictures of the Dauphine, so I’m biased about it because I love everything except the lace around her wrists — it looks out of place.

    The waistcoat is unique and mistmatched enough to make it memorable, but not an eyesore. The hat is lovely and practical for riding/hunting and the gold trim on it helps tie the outfit together. Her cravat is just the right size — not too big, not too small. I love the color of her coat: the soft but bright red-ish orange is perfect for a girl of her age. She feminizes the very masculine look in a lovely way.

    My favorite thing, however, it the bit of blue ribbon tied around her right wrist.

    She’s a normal 16-year-old: still growing into her sense of self, having control over her wardrobe (to a certain extent).

    I give this a 10/10.

  5. Zach says

    I positively adore Marie Antoinette, so you can imagine my pleasure at seeing her portrait featured this week. I think I remember hearing somewhere that this was MA’s mother’s favorite portrait of her daughter. Mine is tied between her Chemis a la Rein portrait and one of her as a child in a striking blue dress. Anyhow, while this isn’t my favorite outfit worn by her, I still think it’s pretty cute. The hat is neat, and I don’t mind red-ish color on her, though I think something slightly less orange would look better (or blue; it would look great with her eyes, and wasn’t it France’s color anyway?). I’m a sucker for florals, and I like the combination of the more feminine pattern with a very masculine styled outfit.

    Nine out of ten.

    • Glad you enjoy the MA! I hesitate to feature someone so well known, as for so many their feelings for the personality colour their analysis of an outfit. But then I realised we’re all going to have prior experiences which make us like or dislike something, so this is no different!

      The portrait you are thinking of is not this one, but a lost portrait by Josef Krantzinger, also done in the same year, and showing her actually riding. Her mother thought it the most true to life depiction of her daughter (according to Weber’s ‘Queen of Fashion’), which isn’t quite the same thing as favourite.

  6. karenb says

    To my uneducated eye she looks like a kid dressed up as an odd looking pirate.


  7. I think the dress/outfit is really unflattering, and the portrait itself is somewhat awkward (see left gloved hand). It reduces Marie Antoinette to a pre-pubescent androgynous state that I don’t really like. Sorry!


    • Elise says

      I feel similarly. It looks sloppy (someone else said so), and for someone I always imagined was a girlie girl, she looks boyish. Who was it that disparaged 18th-century riding dress saying that except for the train, you couldn’t tell a woman from a man?

      Then someone else said that she was 16 and doing what all 16-year-olds do: Wear clothes that grown ups don’t approve of. And as someone guilty of that…I give her a 6 out of my own nostalgia.

      • I’ve always questioned the reading that this was an outfit that grown-ups wouldn’t approve of. At 16, MA was newly married, hadn’t actually slept with her husband, was pretty unsure of herself, and lacked any sort of political capitol. On the flip side, she was still petted and feted as the new dauphine, and her actions were seen as a relief compared to the excesses of Du Barry.

        Her portraits of this period were nods to accepted court traditions. Hunting attire was eminently respectable, and could, in the right colours, make a statement about allegiance and status – a savvy move at a court obsessed with the two. Even the far more daring Brun portrait, depicting her in breeches astride a horse, and painted a decade later was such an obvious nod to a portrait of the Sun King from a century earlier that it might have been accepted were there not so much political turmoil in France. It wasn’t until a few years later that MA’s fondness for being painted in riding attire were used against her, to fuel rumors about her sexuality. And this portrait didn’t really make the cut for scandal mongering – not nearly rebellious enough, if at all.

        • Elise says

          Wow. Knowing that makes all the difference. Thanks!

      • I’m not sure who said that about 18th century riding clothes, but I found a very similar quote from the 17th century.

        “Walking at the galleries at White Hall, I find the Ladies of Honour dressed in their riding garbs, with coats and doublets with deep skirts, just, for all the world, like mine; and buttoned their doublets up the breast, with perriwigs under their hats; so that, only for a long petticoat dragging under their men’s coats, nobody could take them for women in any point whatever; which was an odde sight, and a sight did not please me.”

        -Samuel Pepys, Diary, June 11th, 1667

        (I found it in the Quotations from Contemporary Sources section in The Cut Of Women’s Clothes)

  8. I have lusted over this outfit for ages – my dream is to one day make my own copy!

    The feminine touches on the waistcoat and the lace cuffs balance out the military style of the jacket. The tricorn hat ground the outfit, and the gold braiding is just sumptuous.

    Having the jacket only buttoned at the top means that it would hang beautifully when she was mounted, and would catch the breeze as she was riding. Oh lawdy it would look lovely!

    It’s already been recreated by somebody and used in a french movie called “The Brotherhood of the Wolf” – some stills are here http://ridingaside.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/movie-time.html

    10/10. And one day it shall be mine.

  9. Beatrx says

    This is my favorite portrait of MA too.
    I think the red is just muted enough not to overpower her delicate complexion- is that jacket silk velvet?
    I especially like the previously mentioned juxtaposition of masculine & feminine dress.
    Kind of almost a bit ‘Ralph Lauren’ don’t you think?
    (Oh dear, I am showing my age- you can take the girl out of the 80’s BUT you can’t take the 80’s out of the girl, I suppose.)
    I do wonder how the jacket with the casually buttoned/unbuttoned thing going on would work on a more mature woman with actual bosoms though. (Certainly would look a bit awkward on my DD’s.)
    I give it a 10/10 for being tasteful & adorable.

  10. Elizabeth says

    Much as I like the jacket, that vest brings it well down and overall the outfit is a bit boring. 5/10

  11. Belinda says

    Wowee, the colours, the simplicity, the lines… I think she’s put this together very carefully to best draw attention to the real stars of this sartorial show: her gorgeous baby blues. I love 18th Century riding and hunting gear anyway, but this is great.
    10 from me. I would totally wear this if I could.

  12. I love the dash of a military style riding coat, especially when contrasted with softer elements, although if I had my druthers (and an appropriately youthful figure) I would have it in bottle-green velvet.


  13. I like the trim, the buttons and the hat. But the cut of her coat and waistcoat look a bit odd on her, almost as if she were wearing a man’s clothes over her stays. The colour is a bit too orange.

    Also, how is the top of the jacket held together? The button isn’t actually buttoned up, it just looks like the two jacket edges are magically stuck together.


  14. I have to admit a weakness for the riding habits of that era. This one isn’t my favorite. It’s a lovely lush fabric and color, and I like the trim and the bits of lace. I find the fit to be a bit unflattering and the whole effect to be a bit monotone. I just don’t think it has that certain “pop” that it needs to be really stylish.

  15. Lynne says

    It is a charming portait of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. The costume is modest and practical, the touches of floral and lace soften it beautifully, the rust colour is most becoming – and I just love military jackets with miles of braid!

    9 out of 10.

  16. I rationally know this is quite pretty, and a clever play with menswear, but it doesn’t do anything for me… 5/10

  17. I’m not crazy about the waistcoat, but I do like the rest of the outfit. I’ve always had a soft spot for Marie Antoinette’s menswear inspired styles. 9/10

  18. Daniel says

    Late to this, but don’t want to let this one pass sans vote. I’ll give her a 5/10 as I’m afraid she didn’t really inspire any strong feelings from me either way.

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