Louis Iv's Influence on French Culture and Style

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When Louis XIV began his reign in 1643, France's capital was on the move, undergoing one of the greatest periods of expansion in its history. Louis was a young king with a great sense of style and history, and decided to make both himself and his country legendary. In the sixteenth century, the French were not thought of as the most elegant or sophisticated European nation, but by the end of the early eighteenth century France had a firm hold on culture, style, and luxury living.

Before the mid-seventeenth century, and Louis XIV's influence, fashion was exclusive to only the wealthiest nobles. Only a small portion of the elite had stylist garments and outfits, which they replaced very rarely. Outfits were more a display of wealth and social status than of fashion personality; the vast majority of the population had only simple clothing made from coarse homespun fabrics. As soon as Paris became the world capital of style, fashion began to spread gradually through French society. The lower classes might not have been able to own much, but accessories such as ribbons and stockings began to transform the appearance of the French population. Within decades, the fashion industry convinced its clients to give up the concept of a few outfits rarely changed in favor of multiplicity and rapid turnover.

In the 1670's, a number of developments critical to the transformation of the "fashion industry" came together. First, there was an expanded clientele for high-fashion goods. Second, there was an increasingly sophisticated means of supplying the new demand. And lastly, there became ways of distributing the news of trends widely and quickly (what we refer to now as the "fashion press"). It was then that fashionistas were introduced to what is still today the fundamental tool in the marketing of fashion: in the late 1670's, fashion seasons began. It was also at this time that fashion glimpsed its modern identity, which was the transformation into couture; and industry that came into existence to supply the ever-increasing demand for high fashion to members of Louis XIV's court and also to market the new French fashion to an even broader public outside the court.

In the 1650's, style was arranged in private. Tailors would go to their clients' homes to fit their clothing, which discouraged innovation and change. How many samples of cloth could a tailor possibly lug around? This also meant that each outfit was truly unique and that was no fun because fashion is all about imitation. Otherwise, how could trends develop? The solution? – Shopping!

By the end of the century, shopping was increasingly becoming a public affair. Anyone who dreamed of becoming truly fashionable believed that to make this dream come true, they had to follow the Parisian scene, acquire French goods, and if possible, make the trip to the world's fashion capital. All over Europe, fashion began to be referred to by its French name, la mode, and was considered something inherently and undisputedly French. Before Louis XIV's reign, shops were mere storehouses for merchandise and no attention was paid to their décor. It was during Louis' time that we saw the invention of the modern shop and modern experience of shopping.

Another backbone of the fashion industry came to prominence during this time: the accessory. We began to see flowing neck scarves on men (their equivalent to neck ties today), diamond studded bows, diamond bracelets, fur wraps, gloves, fans, fancy silk stockings, and even the "dog muff" which a woman used to keep her tiny dog warm along with her hands. And you thought Paris Hilton created the small dog accessory craze!

Who could forget one of girl's best friends? Shoes, of course. In his father's day (Louis XIII), men in general covered up their legs with tall boots that rode up well over the knee. However, Louis XIV was a shoe addict and reportedly had great legs, which he loved to show off with elaborate pumps. Louis XIV limited the...
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