How Louis XIV Invented High Fashion

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Hyacinthe Rigaud, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Hyacinthe Rigaud, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Having trouble keeping up with the latest fashion trends? You can blame 17th century French monarch Louis XIV for that. According to The Atlantic, before Louis took the throne in 1643, high fashion was relatively unchanging. The Spanish style of clothing—sober, austere, and predominantly black—was popular amongst the upper classes throughout Europe, and wealthy French aristocrats imported most of their clothing from Spain. The upper classes rarely changed their wardrobes for anything but the weather. Black was in, and that was that.

But Louis had an eye for fashion—and for business. With the help of his finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, he set up an immense clothing and textile industry in France, which created colorful and elaborate outfits and accessories for his wealthier subjects. Not only that, but he outlawed the importation of foreign textiles, ensuring that French subjects spent their money at French businesses. 

At the Palace of Versailles, Louis instated a strict dress code, requiring that visiting nobles appear in only the latest fashions. In order to ensure an ever-changing array of clothing options, Louis and Colbert mandated that new fashions be designed bi-annually, with new textiles—as well as accessories like parasols, fans, furs, and capes—released in summer and winter.

Louis also came up with the idea to advertise each season’s new fashions, commissioning the production of fashion plates engraved with French clothing available for purchase both domestically and abroad. Soon, other countries started copying Louis, recognizing that the planned obsolescence of upper-class clothing was a good economic stimulus.

By the end of Louis’ reign, a third of Parisian workers were employed by the textile and fashion industries, and all of France’s most stylish aristocrats were buying new French threads each season. To this day, France is a major trend-setter in the world of high fashion, and Louis’ legacy is alive and well—it can be seen in everything from fashion magazines to the elaborate, often impractical outfits modeled on runways each season.

[h/t The Atlantic]