Pandora’s Closet 35


18th century “Pandora” doll

paintingIn 1760, Marie Antoinette’s sister painted a delightful portrait of her Imperial family celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas where we see 8-year-old Marie standing behind her mother, Empress Marie Therese, excitedly holding up a French fashion doll. By this time, France had established itself as the unrivaled fashion center of the world and fashion dolls, dressed in exquisitely made miniature versions of the latest styles, had become one of its chief exports. Though the purpose of these dolls was to provide detailed models for dressmakers and not as playthings, their dainty features and miniature wardrobes couldn’t help but captivate the hearts and imaginations of the little girls who were lucky enough to get their hands on one. Fashion trends had become such an important means of social and political expression that these dolls were granted diplomatic immunity, and even during times of war, they were declared exempt from embargoes on enemy imports and often given cavalry escorts to their destinations. Marie Antoinette was born destined to marry Louis XVI, so her childhood was spent grooming her appearance and manners to suit the high standards of the French court. The Austrian court of Marie Therese didn’t care much for fashion, but as part of her preparation, the empress regularly ordered French fashion dolls from Paris to keep young Marie Antoinette dressed in the latest French styles. In so doing, the empress may not have realized that the avant-garde fashions from Paris were vastly different from the fashions worn at the palace of Versailles that followed strict rules of court etiquette. Free spirited Marie loved her dolls and developed a strong taste for Parisian fashion that would eventually lead to her undoing. When Marie turned 13, the final arrangements for her marriage to Louis XVI were made and Hofburg palace was filled to the brim with fashion dolls to help her pick out her wedding trousseau. Dressed in an array of the latest Parisian ball gowns, afternoon dresses, robes, and petticoats in delicate colors, embroidered with floral designs or silk ribbon applique, trimmed with serpentine garlands of silver and gold lace, artificial flowers, feathers, tassels, and silk ribbon bows, one can only imagine the pleasure she must have found amongst all those beautiful dolls! Shortly after arriving in Versailles, Marie was introduced to Rose Bertin, an accomplished milliner and dressmaker. Marie had developed an insatiable appetite for a fine wardrobe and was passionate about each and every detail. Throughout her reign, she and Rose met twice a week to work on designs for new gowns, and together they redefined French fashion and firmly established the worldwide reputation of French couture. To display her latest designs, Rose had special fashion dolls made of wax over jointed wood armatures that she called “Pandoras.” Eager to share the designs for her specially-crafted gowns, Marie had many of these dolls sent as gifts to her sisters and her mother.  I’m feeling a little eager to share today as well… if you like the dress featured on our Marie Antoinette Zone-Front Gown cover, we have a limited number of kits available in our Etsy Shop.  Leave a comment below by November 23rd to be entered in a drawing for one of them.  I will announce the winner on Facebook on November 24th!


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35 thoughts on “Pandora’s Closet

  • Deborah Brooks

    Very interesting! I didn’t know dolls were used to advertise a dressmaker’s expertise. Wonder how many of these dolls still exist?

  • Jessica

    I never knew about Marie Antoinette and these fashion dolls! Such an interesting story. The blue lawn dress is just beautiful!

  • Carol Warnock

    To be honest — it’s not one of my favorites (this pattern) but that might change if I saw it in person! Your work is really fabulous too!!

  • linda king

    I and my daughter have made several of the Marie Antoinette dresses as costumes, we even made one for a wedding dress for a customer. My daughter has designed and sold many pocket hoops or paniers… I can never remember which is the correct name, she’s the fashion historian not me 🙂
    We love your patterns and get excited when new ones come out, I’ve collected pretty much all of them for when my granddaughter is big enough for an American girl.

  • Sarah

    I can’t wait to get this pattern! And I’ve always wanted to carve a doll and make a wardrobe. Some day!

  • Jacque

    “Hofburg palace was filled to the brim with fashion dolls to help her pick out her wedding trousseau.” This sounds like it could be fun. Beautiful gowns, your new patterns are tempting me toward the Georgian girl for all time.

  • Rebecca

    I love your articles! It’s a history lesson that I really enjoy! You are not only talented in sewing and pattern design, but in writing as well. Thank you for sharing your talents with others.

  • Kate

    I absolutely adore your designs, your attention to detail and exquisite construction inspires me to use the same level of attention in my own designs. I only own one of your patterns (so far!) and intend to make many more purchases in the future!

  • Janis Pepper

    I love your all your patterns. And I especially love the stories you tell. Marie Antoinette was my favorite historical woman. Her life stories are very interesting. I would treasure this pattern and love to make it up. Thanks for all your stories and the sewing items that are offered in your shop.

  • Duana

    I love this design. I do 18th century reenacting and have done outfits for other dolls so I am very excited about this in the AG size.

  • Mary H.

    Please enter me in your drawing. I am sure that my American Girl dolls would like to take a fling at French fashion.

  • Michele J

    Love all the history lessons! An appropriate name for the dolls as they were a bit of a Pandora’s box for Marie Antoinette! Beautiful pattern and kit. Would make a wonderful Christmas gift.

  • Rachel Koppleberger

    This is a very interesting post, and I really enjoyed reading it. What fun young Marie must have had with all those dolls, whether they were made for play or not.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for the mini history lesson! I had no idea about the connection between Marie Antoinette and the fashion dolls. I’ve always felt a little bit sympathetic towards her, though not completely.

    Love the bouffant hair stylings in the cover image!

  • Megan Lacey

    Exquisite! Looks more like the dress from the 2006 film than some of the full-sized replicas I’ve seen.

  • Sophie T

    This is a wonderful article! I learned a lot. I know part of the history of Marie-Antoinette, but I didn’t know about her fashion dolls! Fascinating! I love your new desing. As always, the details are really true to the time period. I’m a big fan of yours and I’m eager to start working on another of your patterns… I just need to install my sewing spot again (it was stored away for renovations!)… and find some time!

  • Joan

    The patterns looks great!!! and I am so glad that you continue to make a size for A girl for all time which also happens to fit the BFC doll.

  • janet S

    I love this pattern and this era of clothing. My AG doll wants a new gown for the holidays, so I am trying to decide what to do next. This would be a great addition to her wardrobe! I really enjoy the Thimbles and Acorns pattern attention to details and clear instructions!

  • Elsje

    Amazing and fascinating article. I knew nothing about ‘Pandora’ dolls. I wonder how many of these have survived to today. Fully intend to sew this gown and have purchases the buckle slide and the straw hat already.

  • Carol M

    This story about Marie Antoinette is just fascinating, and her love of French coutoure! I would love to be able to recreate a gown like she may worn; hope to be the winner of your giveaway! Thanks!

  • Carol M

    Thank you so much for letting me know my name was drawn for the Marie Antoinette kit! I’m very honored and looking forward to making this gorgeous dress for my Matilda. Thanks again! Carol M.