Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
During the final decades of the eighteenth century, France saw a massive vogue for women’s clothing styles that, while adhering to the fundamental norms of French dress, were directly influenced by Ottoman clothing. One of the most popular of these was the levite, a dress that was introduced in the late 1770s and continued in popularity through the late 1780s. Inspired by costumes worn in a staging of Racine’s play “Athalie,” which is set in the ancient Biblical era, the levite initially mimicked the lines of Middle Eastern caftans. Over time, the style developed into at least three different variations, connecting and merging with other popular French fashions with their own foreign influences, including the English-inspired robe a l’anglaise and redingote, as well as the Caribbean-derived chemise a la reine. In French fashion of this period, the “Deep Local” was a place where long-established dress forms merged and played with the concepts of “foreign” and “exotic.” Through a myriad of soures, including costume albums, traveller’s accounts, paintings and other artwork, masquerades, and the theater, Paris and Versailles themselves served as cross-cultural contact zones in which French people absorbed and adapted information about the dress of other nations. Drawing on sources including contemporary fashion magazines, personal and published writings, and artwork, this presentation will focus on understanding the levite as a fashion that began as a cultural fusion, then adapted and intertwined with other popular styles with their won foreign references. The levite’s cultural fluidity makes it an excellent lens through which to examine how French people used dress to experiment with and redefine national and cultural identity in the late eighteenth century.