By Lucy Hall Hartley (Guest Contributor)
In the late 1670s, a fashion trend emerged amongst Hommes de Qualité in France. Men of stature began wearing a bouquet of ribbons over one shoulder. The Mercure galant, the premiere publication delivering fashion news to trendy 17th-century readers, and other sources of fashion prints, illustrated men wearing the stylish ribbon bouquets from the late 1670s into the 1680sThis accessory was just one of many in the long list of must-have items for the fashionable Frenchman of the 17th century, though not as iconic or long-lasting as high-heeled shoes and cravats.
Louis XIV, King of France, was at the forefront of many men’s fashion trends but interestingly did not wear shoulder ribbons. Jean Donneau de Visé, fashion journalist for the Mercure galant, wrote in 1682 that Louis did not wear the shoulder ribbons because they got caught in his long hair (Thépaut-Cabasset 135).
This did not stop artists who produced fashion prints fromportraying the king with bouquets of ribbons, however. Kathryn Norberg writes in the book Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV that “expediency—that is to say, the need to create new prints and sell them quickly—probably motivated the printer” (154). This expediency trumped accuracy and fashion printers, often far from the court, would improvise the clothing of the king in the interest of time. The fashion prints below portray Louis XIV dressed quite elegantly with bouquets of ribbons hanging from his shoulders.
If before the Sun King shunned ribbons, he championed them in later years. 1689 likely marks the year the king began wearing ribbons, not as a means to conform to a dying trend, but in order to revive it for economic purposes. Louis wanted to give the French ribbon makers work. In the August edition of the 1689 Mercure galant, Donneau writes:
The reign of ribbons started again two months ago, and since it’s at Versailles that the first ones appeared, each person has made it [his personal] law to wear them. Luxury has almost always invented fashions, but charity has caused the rebirth of this one. The workers needed us to reprise it, and the King who abandoned this trend long before others, because he does not have the taste for the superfluous, much wished wear the first [ribbons] to give an example.
Le règne des rubans a recommencé depuis deux mois, & comme c’est à Versailles que les premiers ont paru, chacun s’est fait une loy d’en porter. Le luxe a presque toujours fait inventer les Modes ; mais la charité a fait renaistre celle-cy. Les Ouvriers avoient besoin que l’on en reprist, & le Roy qui avoit abandonné cette mode longtemps avant les autres, parce qu’il ne gouste pas ce qui est superflu, a bien voulu emporter le premier pour donner l’exemple. (312)
The history of the shoulder ribbon bouquet incorporates many elements of the complications of a fashion trend in 17th-century France. Oddly, the trend was able to take hold without the blessing of the most fashionable man in Europe. Only when it became relevant to the economy did Louis XIV begin wearing shoulder ribbons.
Arnault, Nicolas. Portrait de Louis XIV, en pied. Digital image. Gallica. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84082949.r=louis%20xiv%20estampe%20portrait?rk=944210;4
Donneau De Visé, Jean. Mercure Galant Aug. 1689: 311-13. Gallica. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k62280459?rk=64378;0
Norberg, Kathryn. “Louis XIV: King of Fashion?” Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Interpreting the Art of Elegance. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech UP, 2014. 135-65.
Portrait de Louis XIV, en buste, de 3/4 dirigé à droite dans une bordure ovale. Digital Image. Gallica. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8408258f/f1.item.r=louis%20xiv%20estampe%20portrait
Thépaut-Cabasset, Corinne. L’ Esprit Des Modes Au Grand Siècle. Paris: Editions Du CTHS, 2010.
Lucy Hall Hartley is a Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt University majoring in French and Neuroscience. She enjoys fashion and clothing from multiple standpoints, as an observer, wearer, and maker.