When we think about Marie Antoinette a woman of great style usually comes to mind. She was known for her elaborate hairstyles, her innovative fashion choices, and her love of jewels. But, part of the reason why we think of her like this is due to her long and complex morning beauty and dressing routines. These were essentially daily shows put on for the court. She was surrounded by servants, ladies in waiting, family members, and members of the court circle from the moment she awoke. Large numbers of people witnessed her morning rituals and this was in part because her husband, King Louis XVI, had liked her so much when she arrived from Bavaria that he gave her an exalted place at court- something past queens had not “enjoyed”. Her morning routines, like those of the king, were a matter semi-public interest. This show was known as the levée (meaning “the rising”). Here is the morning routine of Marie Antoinette after she became queen of France.
The queen is awoken and presented with chemises, robes, towels, and handkerchiefs to don after her bath. Some sources claim she woke up at 9am.
She was then presented with a book of fabric swatches which corresponded to various items of clothing. She had dozens to choose from and the season dictated the clothing items for her to select. She would mark the ones she wanted with a pin through the fabrics. In all the queen had to choose 3 looks for the day: a morning dress, and afternoon “undress”, and a more formal evening look for dinner and nighttime events.
Royal bathers were then admitted to the room and a rolling bathtub wheeled in. Marie Antoinette bathed nearly every day.
The queen returned to bed swathed in a white taffeta lounging gown to do some reading or embroidery. Breakfast was served on a small table (or on a tray that went over the bath if she was still bathing by breakfast time). The meal consisted of chocolate or coffee and was not elaborate.
Her court intimates were admitted to watch her have her breakfast.
The queen briefly visited her husband’s aunts – and the king as well since he was often visiting his female relatives in the mornings. His 3 unmarried aunts were collectively known as the “Mesdames de France”. They refused to marry and lose their titles of princesses and so lived at Versailles.
Marie’s elaborate hairstyles, which she sometimes designed herself, were started upon by the royal hairdressers an hour before noon. Her brothers-in-law were in attendance to observe the proceedings.
The great toilet commences which is a public spectacle of the queen’s makeup. Her beauty products include face creams, a lightening cream, a pale face powder, some beauty marks, and blush for her cheeks. Her look is finished off with a glossy pomade applied to her eyelids and lips. Her perfume of choice was orange flower water.
Each item the queen required had to be handed to her from her first lady in waiting or from the lady of honor (or a higher court member) and not from the servant who brought the item in. Likewise Marie curtsied to her court audience after having her hair done. At every stage of the day royal etiquette required that she perform for various court members in this way- an aspect of French royal life she found tiresome and inauthentic.
It seems odd to us today to think about dozens of people being involved in one’s morning routine, but there was at least one thing that was worse. During the birth of her first child, Marie-Therese, members of the court stormed into her private bedroom to watch the child coming into the world.
It is said she passed out from the all the commotion. Courtiers shouted down the hall when the baby was coming so that people could pack in, with some people standing on furniture to get a look at what was going on.
During this era it was normal for members of many of the courts of Europe to watch royal births, but privacy was not high on the list for members of the royal family.