Perhaps Cleopatra dressed for Caesar (in 48 BCE) and then Marc Antony (in 42 BCE), but overall, she dressed to impress her court and the people she ruled. Especially the women, even if simply by inspiring them to wear similar fabrics, designs, and styles. Cleo was a Queen to be followed and imitated. Her influence has lasted the centuries.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, who possibly is the first person to have been given the name Eleanor, influenced people in France and England in the High Middle Ages. Born about 1122 CE, she used her social position to gain power and actually accompanied her first husband on the Second Crusade. However, she took with her 300 or so ladies in waiting, which therefore had to include clothes and sundry items. The result was a baggage train rumored to be over a mile long.
Her representations in paintings show how much she enjoyed fine dressings and influenced the courts to follow her lead. While she may have had an affair or two, she obviously didn’t need to dress to attract men to her side. We can be sure she dressed to set the fashions and to be copied by her ladies.
Anne Boleyn may never have expected that her time in Henry the XIII’s court would lead to her great promotion and then to her death. While a young woman at the court, she attracted many admirers. Henry the king didn’t seem to notice her until the subject of her marriage to someone else came up. As he hadn’t made up his mind about her, he denied her that husband.
More importantly, she was an icon of fashion, unrivaled for gracefulness, creating new patterns of dress, and being imitated by ladies at court. She thought of them as a looking glass in which she saw her own importance and influence.
Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth the First, became the ruler that her father sought in a male heir. But nonetheless, she was a woman and fashion revolved around her. As was the custom with rich women, her old dresses were handed down to the favored ladies in waiting, and when they wore them out, to their servants. Thus all the court wore what Elizabeth wore, literally. Far more paintings exist of Good Queen Bess than of her father or her successor. She kept a fine wardrobe and lavish jewels, as befits a Virgin Goddess Queen.
For just a moment, as we have arrived at the Regency era in my chronology, skipping lots of other fashion icons, I want to mention Beau Brummell. He created the modern male style. He may have been the first non-royal person to care about what he wore. Thankfully, he also started the fashion of bathing daily for men. He innovated many styles and was copied widely. The Beau was known for his wit as well as his style, but he had little tact when it came to being slighted and snapping back.
My favorite socialite of the early Regency or Georgian era is Emma, Lady Hamilton, whose story appealed to me from the movie That Hamilton Woman. While the story of her love of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson appeals to many, the fact that she brought the Greek fashion trend to England is a huge monument to fashion influences. What would the Regency be without light fabrics, high waists, and lots of ribbons?
I will bring more of this to the blog next week as we look at more influential ladies who dressed to impress other women. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.