April 4, 2008

Research Programme: Dressing at court

Dressing at court in France and in other European Courts.
Use, consumption, circulation (1650-1800)

Durée : 2009-2011

Dress remains a relatively neglected field of early modern court studies. Yet, the history of material culture and consumption is a rapidly expanding area of current scholarship on the period : much attention in particular has recently been paid to the luxury market while the history of sartorial appearances has been profoundly renewed in the last few decades. Paradoxically enough, French research has remained somewhat behind in this area of scholarship compared to the research carried out on the subject in Britain and America.
The Veticour project aims to start exploring the vast and partly uncharted territory of dress at court while steering clear of the issue that has tended to dominate studies focusing on elite clothing, that of the relationship between dress and power. A clear departure from a prince-centred approach of court dress, the program aims to study clothing worn at court from the point of view of the courtiers to focus on the sartorial practices involved by the microcosm of the court from the second half of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century — that is in the context of the increasing domination of French fashion in Europe.
Research will concentrate on the sartorial system of Versailles which has never been studied as such, as well as on dress in three great European courts which have been the subject of little research (London, Madrid and Vienna), as well as on more moderately-sized courts in Italy and Scandinavia. The international, pluri-disciplinary research group will focus on three main questions while research workshops will enable to confront and discuss results and lead to a publication at the end of the three-year project (2009-2011). The first question is that of practices — whether they be subject to written or unwritten regulations — and usages of court dress (the types of clothing worn, the specific system of bodily adornment involved by the court, and the factors that determined both the former and the latter). The project will also tackle the question of how these were perceived by contemporaries. The second aspect on which the project will concentrate concerns the contents of princely and courtly wardrobes as well as their management. This will allow the study of dress consumption at court. It will also lead to gauge the importance of the luxury markets around courts. The last question, which in fact intersects with the two previous ones, is that of the driving force behind court dress and how practices circulate between various courts or between the court and the town (social and trade networks).