Date: ca. 1790
Medium: a) silk; b,c) silk, linen
Credit Line: Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 2003
Accession Number: 2003.45a–c
The last quarter of the eighteenth-century was simultaneously one of the most ornamental periods in men's clothing and the dawn of austerity in men's fashion. The French, notorious for overstated luxury in the clothing of their elite classes during this period, employed extensive silk and bead embroidery on men's tailcoats and waistcoats until about 1790. With the official beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, the surface ornamentation on men's and women's clothing alike began to decline. The middle and lower classes took leave of this ostentation earlier, adhering to the English fashions of unornamented wool or cotton clothing. With the lower classes becoming ever stronger in France, and Anglomania becoming increasingly popular all over Europe, men's fashion soon adopted elements of the dress of the Incroyables. Incroyables were typically young members of the emerging French wealthy bourgeois class of the post-revolutionary 1790s who affected a look of carelessness in combination with exaggerated styles, thus renouncing French style. Features are mussed hair, large hats, and more body–conscious clothes than were considered decent. The clothing was considered extreme, but was characterized by both a hint of Classicism and a tailored simplicity that found congruence with English fashions.
This ensemble characterizes the dress of an Incroyable, exhibiting the exaggeratedly high, somewhat tight neckline of the Incroyables tailcoat, and the cutaway coat front and tails that became emblematic of the fashions of the Directoire Period. The fabric of the suit is in pristine condition; the flamboyant coloration, yet unadorned modesty of this luxurious textile represents the reserved elegance of the French Incroyable. This piece contains cultural and political nuances, dating from a period of great social turmoil in Europe, and foreshadows what becomes fashionable dress for the upper classes in the decades to come.