It is to a Venetian ambassador, an observer of French fashions towards the time of Charles the Ninth's death, that we are indebted for the above interesting details. He adds: "French women have inconceivably slender waists; they swell out their gowns from the waists downwards by stiffened stuffs and vertugadins, the which increases the elegance of their figure. They are very fanciful about their shoes, whether low slippers or escarpins. The cotillon (underskirt), which in Venice we call carpet ta, is always very handsome and elegant, whether worn by a bourgeoise or a lady. As for the upper dress, provided it is made of serge or cescot,' little attention is paid to it, because the women, when they go to church, kneel and even sit on it. Over the chemise they wear a buste or bodice, that they call a f corps pique,' to give them support ; it is fastened behind, which is good for the chest. The shoulders are covered with the finest tissue or network ; the head, neck, and arms are adorned with jewels. The hair is arranged quite differently from the Italian fashion; they use circlets of wire and c tampons,' over which the hair is drawn in order to give greater width to the forehead. For the most part their hair is black, which contrasts with their pale complexions ; for in France, pallor, if not from ill-health, is considered a beauty."
Our Venetian performs his task admirably. There is nothing omitted from his description of the French ladies of the time ; he is gallant, too, in the highest degree. He moved in the best society, among the fine ladies of the town and court.
The " corps piqué " mentioned by him was much like the corset or stays of the present day, and tightly compressed the waist of women who were determined, at any cost, to be slender ; and all the more determined that the men, as we have said before, vied with them in slenderness of waist. They compressed their waists in an incredible and unbecoming manner, quite unworthy of their sex.
On the other hand, women took more than ever to wearing the masculine "caleçon," a special kind of pourpoint made with hose.
We have already mentioned masks ; we must now treat of paint, which was introduced into France, it is said, by Catherine de Medicis.
Many of the court beauties coloured their cheeks in the evening with sublimate, rendering it necessary to counteract its corrosive effects the next morning. They used both pomades and cooling lotions for the face. Perfumers manufactured their cosmetics for the toilet, by pulverizing and blending together the claws and wings of pigeons, Venetian turpentine, lilies, fresh eggs, honey, shells called ff porcelaines," ground mother-o'-pearl, and camphor. All these ingredients were distilled with a small quantity of musk and ambergris.
What a mixture! it is like an invention of Mephistopheles. I am not aware whether perfumers of the present day compound such prescriptions, but I do know that to my mind ladies have resumed the custom of painting the face more than is desirable. But to proceed.
Jean de Caurres, a writer of the sixteenth century, says that the ladies of his time, when masked, wore a mirror on the breast, and that the fashion was becoming general; fC so that in course of time," he adds, "there will be neither bourgeoise nor serving-maid without one."
This curious fashion did not last long; that of wearing mirrors at the girdle, in order that women might see whether their headdress was in order, was of longer duration. The mirrors in question were round, with a more or less handsome handle, by which they were hung alongside the aumoniere.
Catherine de Medicis, whose shoulders were remarkable for beauty, had her dresses cut as low in the bosom as at the back. Her court imitated her, and many ill-made women dared not dress otherwise than their sovereign, to whom also is to be attributed the spread of the fashion of whaleboned bodices, so fraught with evil to numberless generations of women. Opposition does not exist among good courtiers.
u Catherine de Medicis," says Brantome, " was the first who rode on a side-saddle."
Court dresses were made with immense trains; at balls these were held up by a metal clasp or ivory button. Notwithstanding their weight, lined as they were with ermine or miniver, no lady would appear without one, even at the risk of suffocation.
Let us, however, do justice to the women of the time of Charles IX., and while criticizing certain details of their attire, admit that it was of enchanting grace, and extremely harmonious in design.
Can there be any costume in better taste than one in white brocade ? What can be more elegant than borderings in coloured stones or glass beads ? Then there was the fur mantle that a fine lady threw over her shoulders, when a cool air made her tremble for her delicate health ; and the white kid gloves, so common now, so rare at that time, and the lace ruffs; and those pretty white hoods, whence fell a long white veil half concealing the figure, and the cc arcelets," or wire circlets, by which the hair was raised from the temples. And what better finish could there be to a costume of a grave style than those deep red linings, that starched gorgerette, that simple, yet graceful, black hat ?
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