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The Ceaseless Century: Three Hundred Years of Eighteenth-Century Costume

The Ceaseless Century: Three Hundred Years of Eighteenth-Century Costume

Martin, Richard
80 pages
84 illustrations
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The shapes and silhouettes, the corseted waists and deep décolletage, the incredibly wide and flat skirts—in a word, the majesty—of eighteenth-century style have provided lasting inspiration for fashion even to the present. Consider, for example, the images on the cover of this book. On the front a Gianni Versace evening ensemble with denim blouse of 1992 is juxtaposed with a mantua and petticoat of 1690–95. The back cover shows a 1998 natural vintage recycled linen evening dress by Olivier Theyskens, a young designer in his twenties. These three images bracket the subject scrutinized in The Ceaseless Century, a volume aptly named for a century whose ramifications are still felt in historicist fashions, for example in the Versace ensemble, a creation that exemplifies that designer's penchant for what Richard Martin has called "a kind of Elton John ancien régime," and in the Theyskens piece, which reconsiders both the style and the material of eighteenth-century dress and incorporates miniskirt contemporaneity as well. In this fascinating volume, which accompanies a fall 1998 exhibition of the same name at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Richard Martin, Curator of The Costume Institute there, discusses and analyzes fashions of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, using the eighteenth century as a touchstone to discuss the complex navigation that characterizes revivalism. In the Introduction, he explains the history of The Costume Institute's involvement with dress of the eighteenth century and notes that "eighteenth-century fashion is unceasing because its principles in silhouette as artifice and in textile and surface as opulence are abidingly recalled in the history of fashion." Martin postulates that The Ceaseless Century fulfills two goals: it not only shows outstanding examples of eighteenth-century dress in the collection of The Costume Institute but also sets forth recurrent patterns of revival that have occurred over the past two hundred years. Those goals are well accomplished in three chapters, one treating each century involved and each including an introductory text and individual paragraphs on the costumes, all reproduced in color.

The full-page details and multiple views of costumes that appear throughout this elegantly designed volume truly highlight the luxuriousness, charm, and craftsmanship of the fashions in The Ceaseless Century. They also complement the history as told in the text of the ongoing and important influence of the eighteenth century on fashion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries up to the present moment. In the words of Richard Martin, "Without the possibility of an eighteenth-century persistence, we would be immersed headlong in an ordinary world of minimalism, austerity, and unmitigated reason in dress." At the end of the twentieth century, when scruffy can hold sway over swagger, this tour through the past three hundred years declares an opulent option in taste that provides a pleasurable experience for both the historicist and the futurist.

Met Art in Publication

Court dress, silk, metallic thread, British
ca. 1750
Robe à la française, linen, silk, French
Robe à l'anglaise, silk, French
Robe à la française, silk, British
ca. 1760
Mantua, wool, metal thread, British
late 17th century
Robe à la Polonaise, silk, American
Robe à la française, silk, French
Robe à la française, silk, pigment, linen, British
Dress, silk, British
ca. 1725
Round gown, silk, linen, Italian
ca. 1795
Ensemble, cotton, silk, probably European
ca. 1798
Round gown, cotton, wool, British
ca. 1798
Robe à l'anglaise, cotton, metal, silk, French
Robe à la française, silk, French
Dress, silk, flax, French
Habit à la disposition, silk, Italian
Ensemble, silk, American
ca. 1775
Dress, cotton, British
Wedding dress, Mme. Fréderique, silk, American
Mme. Fréderique
ca. 1872
Ensemble, silk, American
ca. 1869
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View Citations

———. 1998b. The Ceaseless Century: 300 Years of Eighteenth-Century Costume. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.