Garments of the Russian Empresses
on Display in Moscow

Portrait of Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Alexeyevna by M.L.-E. Vigee Le Brun.

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Empress Maria Alexandrovna by Sergey L. Levitsky.

In 2013 Russia celebrates 400 years of the Romanov dynasty. To celebrate this anniversary the organizers of the exhibition “Russian Empresses: Fashion and Style. Late XVIII – early XX centuries” prepared an unusual show. Garments that used to adorn Russian royalty are exhibited in the Federal Archive exhibition hall in Moscow.

Russian empresses, the wives and mothers of the Russian emperors, were first and foremost women who loved luxurious garments. They not only followed the fashion trends, but also often set the fashion themselves. Their garments, accessories, jewelry impressed the viewers by their refinement and luxuriousness and were a part of the image of the Russian empire.

Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna’s parlour, 1858 by Edward P. Gau.

The objects presented at the exhibition that include the garments from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum and the Gatchina Memorial Estate, as well as archive documents, paintings and graphic art, porcelain and jewelry, attract a lot of viewers. These are the living witnesses of Russian history, for example, the decree signed by Peter the Great (1672-1725) dated January 4, 1700 regarding “wearing the clothing in Hungarian manner”, which in fact started a new era in the life of a huge country. For the first time in history the decree of 1718 “About the assembly” or “About the order of gathering in private homes and about persons taking part in such gatherings” bearing the real signature of the emperor, is exhibited.

Very interesting documents are also presented at the exhibition, which point at the fact that Russian empresses occasionally took part in creating garments themselves. In 1781 Catherine II (1729-1796) wrote a letter to one of the nobles in which she included a description and a drawing of a garment for her grandson Alexander.

Empress Maria Fyodorovna by Unknown photographer, 1908. © State Archives of the Russian Federation.

An interesting fact is that Russian empresses wore their gala dresses for a long time. The exhibition presents a luxurious dress that belonged to Alexandra Fedorovna (1872-1918) that has a four-meter train. That dress obviously served for several years: the empress's figure changed, which is revealed by the side darts.

The exhibition also tells about the personal tastes of the empresses. Elizabeth (1779-1826) who was the wife of Alexander I (1777-1825) could not stand the rose color and always refused to wear garments, which had the slightest element of that color. Alexandra Fedorovna preferred a straight and austere silhouette and often refused to wear frills and flounces. Maria Fedorovna (1759-1828), the wife of Pavel I (1754-1801), despite her title of an empress behaved like a classic mother-in-law by banning the future empress Elizabeth from wearing live flowers on her dress. To be fair, Elizabeth was remarkably modest: she preferred simple white dresses, and according to her contemporaries, her favorite jewelry was pearls.

Dress of cowberry-coloured velvet and lilac satin. Decorated with lace and coloured silk embroidery with metal thread.France, Paris, the 1890s.
Ch. Worth’s firm. © State Hermitage.

Gala dresses and frivolous hats, albums of Parisian fashion and fine jewelry exhibited at the exposition, make history surprisingly close and give us a unique opportunity to touch the lives of Russia's rulers.

Source & Copyright: The Voice of Russia
11 April, 2013