The Court and the Courtesan

If 2024 already has a theme it would be encouraging us to examine and reexamine the past–and fashion is at the forefront of this reflection. Earlier this month I went to the Chloé exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan and was immersed in Chloé’s philosophy of creating ready-to-wear for women that blend comfortable outfits with craftsmanship. For example reinventing gauzy cotton garden dresses a la chemise a la reine first made popular hundreds of years prior by Marie Antoinette and her ladies in waiting. Chloé modernizes what it means to be wearing feminine clothing, while reminding us what was considered feminine throughout time. 

During Paris Couture Week, Maison Margiela’s Spring 2024 Couture collection took influence from the underbelly of 19th century Paris, and saw John Galliano dressing his models in dramatic and provocative silhouettes, tulle, satin, and porcelain skin. The glory of the Belle Epoque and the fame of Moulin Rouge have persisted for well over a century.

The modernization of 18th and 19th century fashion is all over the place from museums to the runway, and the question is why? Is it important to keep reimagining what it was – and is – to feel like both queen and coquette? Perhaps best in small doses to reconnect with the power of feminine dressing after seasons of minimalism, normcore, and athleisure? I think the answer is yes. 

Below are two trends to think about incorporating – balloon sleeves and tulle everything. Though if you’re inspired to add a corset to either it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong! 

Balloon-like sleeves were common in 19th century women’s fashion, and statement sleeves have been on trend for many seasons. If you are looking for a trend that has and will continue to have longevity, this is one to invest in. These sleeves can add an element of lightness to a structured silhouette, when paired back to a trouser or enhance the effortless flow of more delicate construction when part of a dress.

While lace usually comes to mind when thinking of women’s fashion in these eras, tulle was just as important. Tulle has been used to reference fashion of the past not only in materiality, but in construction as well. Think of the collars women used to wear on their dresses, or embellishments on the cuff of the sleeves translated and deconstructed on the modern pieces below. Lend some drama to your day to night looks for the season! 

Women of the 18th and 19th century would perhaps be envious of our freedom to wear hemlengths of all kinds – not to mention pants! – and yet the best statement skirts this spring resemble skirts of their eras. Why not experiment with volume, tulle, and tiers? If you have the height go for the full length, if you are more petite make sure they stop below the ankle or pair with wedges or platforms for maximum impact.