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Ruling Through Fashion

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Louis XIV roi de France. 1698. Gravure de Masson., Digital ID 1642613, New York Public Library“Fashion is more powerful than any tyrant.” ----Latin saying It took a man like Louis XIV, King of France (1638-1715), to subvert fashion for his own gain. The importance of fashion in royal courts had long been established, but Louis took it to another level. We’d call him a control freak or a micromanager today, but his watchful soul reveled in keeping his nobles—and potential rivals and enemies—close to him. What better way than to hem them in with the tyrannies of keeping up with fashion? Many unwary men lost their fortunes in a desperate attempt to win royal favor by dressing modishly for court engagements. Petty? Yes, but also purposeful. Lost in the maze of court etiquette at Versailles, many a would-be rival found themselves destitute and exiled at the whim of their sovereign. Fashion owes Louis XIV many debts. He’s been credited with establishing the notion of fashion seasons, among other innovations. French elegance and style soared in reputation during his rule. Yet his story ended with a country nearly morally and economically bankrupt from wars and spending excesses. The seeds of the French Revolution lay in the reckless course Louis XIV followed through a long reign.

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