By 1782, more than one third of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe consisted of our next featured frock, the lévite. Even further relaxed than its predecessor the robe à la polonaise, the lévite illustrates the ‘decomposition’ of the court fashions from the organ-displacingly rigid structure of the robes à la françaies et anglaises to inevitably that amorphous nightgown of a dress: the chemise. Said chemise came to embody history’s concept of Petit Trianon, perhaps due to the public outrage upon viewing Vigée LeBrun’s oil-on-canvass of their queen in her nightie. But it has a sash! Oh, gimme a break, interior monologue, chemise means nightgown!My multiple dialogue personality aside, the inspiration for the lévite is a bit convoluted. Described as “toga-like,” (?!) the costumes donned by the rabbis in a 1780 production of Racine’s Athalie enchanted M@, not only inspiring the dress but also its name. The word lévite was supposed to ”evoke a ‘Semitic’ exoticism.” No joke! Even funnier is the fact that Athalie was preformed at ‘Toinette’s wedding reception and she found it “boring”. Whimsy or maturity? Huh… Upon closer inspection of the Galerie des modes fashion plates, We have no idea how the descriptions “toga like” or “loose fitting” are used in reference to the lévite. I suppose they could apply to a cassock…but toga like? Like the Victorian revival of the polonaise, We declare these adjectives a swing and a miss. Although the silhouette of the lévite doesn’t appear much more relaxed than its predecessors, the undies most certainly were. The lévite had no whalebone bodice and nix on those panniers as well. If memory serves, the grand corps was replaced with an “easier-going” waist-cincher and as for the panniers–well, who the hell invented those anyway? Today’s musings suggest a woman who was uncomfortable with her narrow hips wanted to make herself appear more child-bearing and invented those double-wide petticoats. Hey, what do you think of my awesome hips? Yeah, I’ve named them Gargantua and Pantagruel. (Heh, I kill me. If you don’t get it, look it up. The important thing is I amuse myself.)
The rumor-mill has it that M@ was especially fond of this dress with its simple ribbon sash when she was preggers with the future Duchesse d’Angoulême. However, it seems likely that she embraced it even more post-partum as it’s low, relaxed neckline made the lévite convenient for breast feeding. The loose, shawl collar marks a stark contrast to the two-halves-of-a-cantaloupe-dawning-from-an-industrial-press décolletage of the robe a la française.
Both the robe à la française and habit du cour had snug elbow-length sleeves, the end of which always culminated in a three-tiered lace border. The lévite had unadorned sleeves that came to the wrist. Were these sleeves an aesthetic or functional choice? Personally, your Blog Hostess has always found those three-quarter sleeves more comfortable and flattering. Then again, such a superfluity of lace seems like something that would eventually end up in the butter or sauce as I reached across the table. Maybe that’s where that dinner-table axiom came from!
What’s the moral of today’s yarn? *snicker* morals! The occasional froth of lace aside, the lévite seems to be mainly about a transition to clean lines. Functionality? Sure. Why not?Along with the change in undergarments, length and silhouette, the hues and the fabrics took a radical change as well. The Queen began to favor “bourgeois” colors like dove grey, beige and subtle pastels over the brightly-colored frocks of the aristocracy. In lieu of rich brocades, Marie Antoinette found natural fabrics like cotton, muslin and linen much more in harmony for her bucolic fiefdom.