“By the reign of Louis XV [lace] had achieved an elegant balance between the splendid architectural style of the reign of Louis XIV…and the slightly over-pretty frivolity of certain types of lace made during the reign of Louis XVI (Delpierre 48).”
In 18th century France, lace embellished many elements of formal dress and décor. From handkerchiefs and streamers to hems and shirt ruffles, lace trim enhanced dress while flaunting social status. Art scholars Takeda and Spilker describe the role of trim by pointing out that, “although…perceived as mere icing on the cake, such finishing touches often represented the largest financial investment of an ensemble (123).” Lace was also a unisex fabric that adorned both men and women’s clothing, often permitting social interaction by representing one’s noble rank. These aspects of lace are evident in the prints “J’en accepte l’heureux Présage” and “La Petite Toilette” in Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s Monument du Costume. (Figure 1)
Starting in the late 1500s, handmade lace was an increasingly popular feature in European dress. Lace was made of embroidered linen by one of two processes. The first type, needle-made lace, involves individually stitching strands of linen into a parchment pattern with a pre-sketched shape. Then, the parchment pattern is either pinned to a pillow made especially for sewing or simply held by the lace maker. The second type, bobbin-made lace, is quite similar to needle-made lace, except that the parchment pattern contains holes instead of a sketch, which help secure each stitch in place (Levey 1-20).
With the 18th century came major changes for the lace industry. The ornate embroidered patterns of the previous centuries were exchanged for simpler, lighter fabrics. This emerging trend boosted the popularity of muslin and gauze, thus causing a decline in lace sales. Especially in French fashion, the popularity of the needle-made and bobbin-made laces was no match for the new machine-based trade (Levey 77-87). As a result, machine-made lace transformed the fabric industry by producing fashions that were cheaper and identical to the handcrafted versions of lace, meaning anyone could afford to wear it—even the poorly paid women and children who operated the machines (Figure 4).
The prints “J’en accepte l’heureux Présage” and “La Petite Toilette” depict scenes whose subjects are utilizing lace to flaunt their socioeconomic status. The decorated dresses of the women, for example, show lace trim all around the hems (Figure 1) with intricately patterned ruffles caressing the ends of their sleeves (Figure 5) and the necklines of men (Figure 2). Even the baby crib (Figure 6) and maids in “J’en accepte l’heureux Présage” contain lacy features, suggesting that lace is an important material possession because the wealthy that wore lace adorned the objects and people around them with it as well. This aspect of lace is important as it demonstrates the exclusive role lace played in the lives of the elite in 18th century France.
Sophie G. Bandurski
Delpierre, Madeleine. Dress in France in the Eighteenth Century. N.p.: Yale University, 1997. Print.
Levey, Santina M. Lace: A History. N.p.: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1983. Print.
Takeda, Sharon Sadako, and Kaye Durland Spilker. Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail 1700-1915. N.p.: DelMonico, 2010. Print.
Moreau (Le Jeune), Jean-Michel. J’en accepte l’heureux Présage. 1789. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts.
Moreau (Le Jeune), Jean-Michel. La Petite Toilette. 1789. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts.