France: La Belle Époque Parisian bourgeois

Front view

General description: This lady is wearing a fashionable ensemble typical of France’s Beautiful Era (la Belle Époque) at the turn of the 19th to 20th century.

Dimensions 22 x 10 x 6 cm

Date when acquired 2000s

Original Date Unknown

Source Flea market in Cahors, France; present from Sally and Colin Barrow



China doll with moveable arms and legs and life-like modelling of the face with painted features. Her long curly hair has a long roll over the forehead and falls down to her waist.


Back view


She is wearing a complicated off-the-shoulder dress made of silk, brocade and chiffon. The bodice of the dress is in two layers: an under-bodice of maroon brocade with an over-bodice of maroon silk that curves from a point in the middle of the chest above the breasts down to the waist at the back. The top and bottom edges of this has black braid around it. Three long rounded lappets of maroon silk with black braid on their hems are attached to the front of the bodice. The top of the bodice has a piece of maroon chiffon going around it and across the top of the arms, leaving the shoulders free. Underneath the front lappets is an apron-like skirt, which is open at the back leaving the underskirt freely visible. The underskirt is made of old pink chiffon. The front part under the ‘apron’ is smooth and falls to just below the knees. The back part is irregularly pleated horizontally. Around the bottom of the underskirt is a flared pleated piece of chiffon falling from just below the knees to the ground. At the back are two folded pieces of maroon silk, one on top of each other, with the one underneath being longer than the top by about 2 cm. These seem to represent the bustle worn previously in the Belle Époque , but which had disappeared by 1905. The maroon silk parts of the skirt and the ‘bustle’ are decorated with a print of a black scroll/leaf-like pattern.

She is wearing long white cotton pantaloons with white lace around the cuffs. Her high-heeled black shoes are painted on.

Hat decoration

Her wide-brimmed black felt hat is very impressive. It is set off-centre on the right of her head. It has a low crown. On the right of the crown is a decoration made of maroon feathers; a long brown chiffon ribbon tied in a bow, with its lappets falling to the doll’s knees; a small shiny green bow with an interesting maroon silk ribbon flower.




She has a drawstring handbag attached to the wrist of her left hand. It is made of the same printed maroon silk as the overdress. It has a black tassel attached to its base and a black ribbon to form its straps. Two rectangular beads are sewn to where it is gathered at the front.


Side view

Background information

La Bell Époque is considered to be a period of 43 years between two wars: from the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) to the outbreak of World War I (1914). It was a period characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity, the apex of colonial empires and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. During this era, the Parisian bourgeoisie, or the successful industrialists called nouveau-riches (new rich), became increasingly influenced by the habits and fads of the city’s elite social class, known popularly as Tout-Paris (all Paris)

A high-fashion organisation, the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture parisienne, was created in 1868 just before the officially recognised start of the Belle Époque. At the beginning of this era, the haute couture (high fashion) industry was dominated by the House of Worth as Charles Worth was the designer of the French Empress Eugénie’s clothes and he turned high fashion into an industry. By 1900, there were more than twenty houses of haute couture in Paris, led by designers including Blanche Lebouvier, Callot Sœurs, Georges Doeuillet, Margaine-Lacroix, Jeanne Paquin, Paul Poiret, Raudnitz, Redfern, Rouff, and others, including the sons of Charles Worth. Most of these houses had fewer than fifty employees, but the top six or seven firms each had between four hundred and nine hundred employees. Although the first fashion show with models took place in London in 1908; the idea was quickly copied in Paris, so the cat walks of Paris have a history of more than 109 years.


Source(s) of information

(1.6.6 )


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