18th Century French Women

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The Eighteenth Century: A Period of Change for French Women Due to political upheaval in the eighteenth century, the rights and day-to-day life of the French woman were met with dramatic change. The argument that, “women in France were worse off at the end of the 1700s than they were at the beginning of that century,” is a complex one because though life for them did improve with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution brought about change that somewhat deteriorated these same improvements. Also, the level of improvement depended on which class a woman belonged to. The three classes in eighteenth century France, sans-culotte, Bourgeois, and the nobility, were separated by birth, money, and feudal rights. Out of these three, the positive consequences of the Enlightenment were felt most by the Bourgeois women because only those wealthy enough to afford to dispense of women’s work could afford to partake in the new domesticity. The styles of women’s garments in the eighteenth century reflect the improving status of women in society. While the usual garments of the early eighteenth century were rather simple limp garments composed of two lengths of fabric pinch pleated at the waist with wide soft sleeves sewn in, the dress was gradually stiffened, decorated and expanded with hoops called panniers until, by mid-century, it had been stylized into the Robe de Francaise. This outfit insured that a woman took up three times as much space as a man and always presented an imposing and ultra feminine spectacle (The Costumer’s Manifesto, para. 1). The France of the early 1700s had a population that remained largely illiterate, especially in the rural south, but, among the literate reading had become a fad, accompanying fashions such as shaving and the wearing of wigs by both men and women. It was new ideas that attracted people, works that were sensational by being
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