Friday, 15 November 2019

The Palatine Cape

Charlotte Elizabeth of the Palatinate never cared much for the reigning fashions at Versailles. Nevertheless, it was her marriage to Philippe d'Orléans that brought a new item to the French fashion stage. It was a short shoulder cape of lace or fur - it was named a "palatine". There seems to be some doubt as to exactly when it was introduced in France. Some sources claim it was in 1671 while others point to 1676. Nevertheless, it can be established that it was in the 1670's that the fashion emerged.

Some eagerly embraced the cape; the fashions at Louis XIV's court often involved exposed shoulders. Besides the obvious chill, some thought it a bit too daring and were glad to be able to cover a bit more skin and still be fashionable. Undoubtedly, it came in handy in the colder months. In some instances it could be sewn to cover the neck as well. 

There was another, more practical reason for Madame's fondness for the cape. She was an avid hunter and the long cloaks otherwise used were in the way. So, a more feminine version than the typically masculine cloak was needed.

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The predominant fashion at Versailles called for heavy jewellery - especially pearl necklaces. However, these were expensive and not everyone could afford the genuine pearls. In this manner, it became a convenient "cover" if the throat was already covered. As mentioned, lace was often a necessary part of the "palatine". Those who could afford it could have it made entirely out of lace - if this was case, it would have been almost entirely decorative since it could hardly have been very insulating. Others preferred to limit the lace to the lining of the cape. Conveniently, fur could be interchanged in the colder months.

The palatine was not the always same length. Typically, it was longer in the back which corresponds to the use Madame had of it during hunting. It would keep her back warm but leave her arms free to move about in the movements of the hunt. The practicality of the cape meant that it would continue to be somewhat popular throughout the Ancien Regime. 

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