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The Scent of Fashion

Above the dress

Toulouse Lautrec's Jane Avril in the Entrance of the Moulin Rouge shows some of the fashionable outdoors wear of the early 1890s. The wide brimmed hat worn by Jane Avril would have been outmoded by 1892 but flowers remained a popular decoration: "hats continue to look like flower-gardens,” stated the periodical Woman at Home in 1896. The full length coat would have been worn for both evening and day wear and Jane Avril's coat retains the plain fitted form with the high shoulder and sleeve line which was representative of the early part of the decade. In 1898 The Queen magazine stated: "Boas are much worn in the evening, either made of sable or the fur of a Siberian cat."

As a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, Jane Avril would have been aware that a cheap imitation fur boa worn around the neck and down the front of her long coat could create an illusion of a fashionable outfit, although the poor quality of her boa would instantly correlate with her humble social status. In literature as well as painting, the boa became an item of female dress signifying modern femininity; the boa worn by Henry James' heroine, Charlotte Stant, in The Golden Bowl becomes a visual signifier of Charlotte's modern values. Literature of the period, as well as the Courtauld’s paintings, demonstrates a growing awareness of the equation of modernity with feminine fashion. In capturing the essence of fashionable trends in all elements of female dress, late nineteenth century French painting truly enveloped its sitters in “the scent of fashion” of the period.

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