The Renaissance period was the age of Italian influence, while the Baroque era which existed between 1600 and 1750 was the century of France. This period witnessed the prominence of France and the French lifestyle in Europe and the rest of the world. The high influence was made possible by the King of France, Louis XIV, who is often referred to as, 'Le Roi Soleil' (The Sun King) or 'Louis Le Grand' (Louis the Great). He was an exceptional ruler who reigned for 72 years and had enormous political, economic and cultural strength that enabled him to position France as a major force of global politics, economy, lifestyle and fashion. He portrayed a sophisticated and refined taste, lifestyle and product choices, ranging from fashion, food, art, theatre and literature. The reign of Louis XIV from 1661 marked the return of opulence and exuberance and his tastes in luxury influenced the royal families and aristocrats of the entire continent.
Although the century began with a high influence of the exuberant tastes of the Italians and Spanish fashion evident from the magnificent opera houses and churches built in this period, the French fashion style fully emerged around the middle of the century.
Louis XIV loved fashion and luxury living and consequently supported the fashion industry through government reforms that provided incentives and financial aid to designers, artisans and craftsmen. As far back as 1665, he introduced policies to increase export of French fashion goods and reduce imports of foreign fashion goods. France therefore emerged as the biggest supplier of luxury fashion goods in the world. Louis XIV also ensured that France had a well-established textile industry, which generated wealth and influenced the culture of the nation and beyond.
In addition, French magazines and newspapers distributed all over Europe increased the influence of France in fashion. Paris' Rue Saint Honoré became established as the treasure land for renowned tailors such as Monsieur Regnault and Monsieur Gautier; similar to London's Savile Row of the 1960s and Jermyn Street of today. Talented women couturiers like Madame Villeneuve and Madame Charpentier also emerged and competed with the male tailors. Although the role of women in the general society remained minimal, the emergence of 'Les salons reunions des grands maison privees' (The meeting rooms of the grand private residences) increased the influence of women in lifestyle. Noblemen of the society were known to make secret visits for advice and opinion exchanges.
As lifestyle and education became linked with fashion and sophistication in France, the country became a reference point for stylishness. This gave way to the birth of the French 'Art e Vivre' and 'Savoir Faire', especially with inventions like the use of the fork and knife and the formal dance. Consequently, throughout Europe, high society either spoke French or had a French undertone. However, several religious frictions in Europe, mainly between the Protestant north and the Catholic south and the 30-year war between 1618 and 1648 stunted the growth of the French fashion influence for a short time.
The societal structure of the Baroque period also gave way to the detachment of clothing from the social class although this was a gradual process that would take centuries to manifest. Members of the middle social class began dressing similarly to the upper class as a result of increased apparel production no longer restricted to made-to-measure. Clothes also lost their stiffness and more emphasis was placed on comfort, movement and fluidity. The unexpected social liberty also materialized in the design of women's clothes through the emergence of the cleavage and clothes cut close to the body. It also brought about the introduction of the nightgown around 1670 and the skirt in 1680.
Simple, elegant and highly expensive jewellery such as diamonds and pearls were in high demand especially with Paris as a prominent supplier.
Pearls were heavily used by women all over the body to advertise their sophisticated tastes and status. The handbag also emerged as an important accessory preceded by the perfume bag. Perfumes and fragrance were also prominent in this period, especially for men who used it to conceal their bad odour as a result of lack of bathing as they paid less attention to personal grooming.
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