BEFORE ANNA WINTOUR? THE PANDORA DOLL

By Masha Voyles

Just a handy hint: the bits in bold might answer bonus questions on your hunt!  Buy your tickets to the Fashion Hunt at the V&A here.

How on earth was a fashionable lady in the 18th century able to keep up with the latest trends? The answer was the Pandora, or miniature dolls dressed up in the latest modes. Keep in mind, this was long before magazines were invented—and the first ones were incredibly rare and expensive, as they were hand-painted by groups of (probably shockingly underpaid) little girls and young women! Clothing was also far more expensive than it is today, so it was important to know all the details of the cut, colour and fabric that you wanted.  

In 1712, when Britain and France were at war with each other, Pandora dolls were exempt from the ban on enemy imports, and even received a military escort! Marie-Antoinette, when preparing to go over to France from Austria, got sent a host of these dolls in different fabrics and fashions.  

An English 18th –century fashion doll in the Fashion Gallery at the V&A. There are 6 fashion dolls in the same room.  

With the advent of cheaper, ready-to-wear clothes and fashion magazines, fashion dolls seemed like a thing of the past. However, they made a brief return in 1945 in France just after WWII. The French economy—and the haute couture industry—was in tatters. The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris decided to commission designers to dress these knee-high fashionistas in their creations, and to display them against lavish sets. The dolls were sent on tour all around the world and were called the ‘Theatre de la Mode’.  

fashion dolls from the ‘Theatre de la Mode’, now at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington State. 

Are you signed up for the launch of our new Fashion Hunt at the V&A (Kicking off Thanksgiving Week at 2-4:30 Sunday 24 November)? Bonus questions are embedded in your treasure text. You may just have read the answers to some embedded bonus questions in this post! Tickets are limited, but can be bought here & find bonus answers in upcoming posts about Amazing Accessories (fans & their secret language!) and the feisty Fashionista, Josephine Bonaparte (yes, Napoleon’s Empress) the predecessor of our runway sampling, the Pandora Doll!

Paranoid Napoleon banned the Fashion Doll, because he was scared that state secrets could be sewn into the dresses & exported with spies!

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