Costume Analytics: Marie Antoinette’s Dove Grey Riding Habit

Welcome to “Costume Analytics,” where we take a close look (or as close as possible) at scintillating costume pieces from portraits, movies, and museums, and break down what they’re made of, how they’re made, and how you and I can make them ourselves.

First in this series is the dove grey traveling costume from Marie Antoinette (movie).  This ensemble appears at the very beginning of the film, as Marie Antoinette leaves Austria to travel to France.

Fabric and Trims
The jacket is made of velvet with a low nap, possibly velveteen, and very likely cotton velveteen.  I might go as far to say that a medium-weight upholstery velvet would work well for this jacket.  The lining looks like to be silk, possibly taffeta, and the same material as the skirt.

The trimmings on the jacket are metallic braid, with self-covered velvet buttons down the right front edge.  The metallic braid trims around the high neck, down the front edges, and around the skirt of the jacket.  The cuffs are also trimmed at just the hem, and very likely feature velvet buttons as well.

The skirt is the same color, and quilted from about the knees down, but appears to be a lighter fabric with some sheen, silk or taffeta.  Here is a similar one from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

The jacket is closet to a riding habit, with the high neckline and long sleeves.  The skirt is all of a piece with the bodice panels.  There are no seams at the front of the bodice, and it appears only side-back seams and side seams, from which the inverted box pleats of the skirt emerge, at the waist.  The front does not close with buttons, but with hooks and eyes.    It resembles these extant garments from the V&A and Met:

From the V&A
From the Met
From the Met

Janet Arnold also shows a riding habit very similar to our Dove Grey, and Reconstructing History also has a pattern for a riding habit.

Janet Arnold’s riding habit, from her book Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860
Reconstructing History’s pattern from their website. 

The skirt is worn over panniers and a petticoat, which are conveniently shown as Marie Antoinette dresses for her journey.  The skirt likely ties at the sides with tapes, and is pleated with large-ish knife pleats, although any pleating style would work well for this.  It is a walking-length skirt, and ends about the ankles instead of sweeping the floor.

Our heroine wears a lightweight shirt with a frilly collar, not unlike a jabot, at the neck.  Her hair is loose and tied with a bow (is this historically accurate?).  She wears brocade-covered shoes with a louie heel, and don’t forget her most important accessory: Mops the dog.

Suggestions on Making This Costume:

  • Look for cotton velveteen in a pastel color.
  • The skirt does not need to match the jacket.  Synthetic taffeta or a silk with a dull sheen would be well-suited.
  • For a little puff to the quilting on the skirt, back it with a layer of thin batting, or fleece, and quilt with either machine or by hand.
  • Don’t forget to fit the jacket and the skirt over your full underpinnings -pocket hoops, a petticoat, and stays.
  • Look for metallic braid or trims that are not too shiny.  If you can’t find any, consider spray-painting a trim with silver paint (works wonders).
  • For a different look, overlap the front edges and close with the velvet buttons.
  • For a fuller skirt, double or triple the inverted box pleats at the back.
  • Don’t forget the dog!
  • Don’t forget your references: Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860Marie AntoinetteFashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute


  • American Duchess

    September 28, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    It's going to be hard finding a taffeta and a velvet that match. Hrm….could either be hard core and search and search, or could make the skirt a totally different color. What would you do, Dreamy?

  • Rowenna

    September 28, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    Awesome post! Love the velveteen fabric. And the dog. I've wanted to make a riding habit for the adorable men's inspired details like the pockets and cuffs.

    Re: the hair…no, I don't think it is historically accurate, nor are Kirsten Dunst's layers and highlights. But hey…she looks cute 🙂

  • Anne Elizabeth

    September 28, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Hair like that is definitely inaccurate. I'v never seen it on any period painting or ecthing – even fake shepherdesses, little children, beggars and mythological beings like nymphs and godesses always get portrayed with updos until very late in the century. Even fresh from bed they at least put a cap on. Even when fleeing from a house on fire:

    For anyone who wants a period hairstyle but sucks at that art (like myself), or or those who don't like high poufs and hedgehog curls, for many decades of the 18th century there is a very simple solution: The hairstyle you can glimpse in the mirror in Madame de Pompadour's green portrait.

    Other examples:

  • Unknown

    September 28, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Great post! Love the detail you go into. 😀 Yeah. . . the hair is extremely modern. Personally, that tends to bug me a little in a period film. I find it odd that they would go to such lengths with the gown and not do anything with the hair. But, that's my opinion. Great dress and great study!

  • American Duchess

    September 28, 2010 at 6:54 PM

    Alisa, thanks for the links for the simple hairstyle, that makes me breath a little easier!

    I think the stylists for the film went with this hair because it makes her look like a child, and is so utterly contrasted to how she looks when she pops out the other side of the tent. I guess they wanted her to look plain and undone, so I'll take it as an artistic choice. But yeah, it's always bothered me a little!

  • Anonymous

    September 29, 2010 at 3:01 AM

    Actually, according to more than one biography of Marie Antoinette, as a young teenager in Austria, she DID wear her hair in a very simple style with just a band to hold it back. It was quite unflattering–and apparently was making her hair fall out at the front–and so they made her change it before her portrait was painted to show her future royal in-laws what she looked like. According to the biographies, life in Austria was MUCH more relaxed than in France, and she had trouble adapting to the constant formality required of her there. I don't recall offhand whether she actually wore her hair like this for the journey to France–if I had to guess I'd say they made her dress up a little nicer for the trip–but surprisingly, the hairstyle itself is not a modern contrivance.

  • American Duchess

    September 29, 2010 at 4:21 AM

    Orianna, fascinating! Who would have guessed! thank you for setting the record straight. It's kindof cool to realize that the stylists and costumers on a film know more than we do, lol

  • Tony

    September 29, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Duchie, i'm new to sewing and costuming entirely, can you machine sew historical garments? I was told by a friend that silks and taffetta could not be machine sewed, is this true?

  • Unknown

    September 29, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    I'd love to see more of those posts.
    I won't argue about the accuracy of the movie, but the movie did not want to be accurate to begin with. (I mean… there's a scene showing converse!)

    Stunning knowledge @ Orianna! 🙂

    greets, mae

  • American Duchess

    September 29, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Tony – well, for hard-core historical costumers, hand-sewing everything of the period before about 1845-50 is historically accurate. However, for the rest of us who focus more on the overall design, color, material, shape, etc., there is absolutely no reason why you cannot sew historical costumes with a sewing machine, to include silk and taffeta. Often it's the properties of a fabric that make it difficult to sew on the machine – for instance, very thin fabrics may pucker if the tension on the machine isn't set just so – and a machine stitch can always be identified as such. More often than not, and particularly for bodices, the properties of a fabric will be altered by interlining and lining thin materials such as taffetas, giving them more weight and less ability to wrinkle and crease. it's all about solidity in historical garments.

    I believe it is a personal choice whether to hand-sew historical garments or to use the machine. Many people use a combination of machine for the interior (invisible) seams, and hand-sewing for everything that may be visible. This is my method – on the most recent pair of stays, for instance, I sewed all the channels by machine, but all the binding by hand.

  • Anne Elizabeth

    September 30, 2010 at 9:51 AM

    @American Duchess: I think you're totally right with the way you explain their artistic choices. And their creative choices are fine – the movie never claimed to be 100%a accurate, after all, and makes quite clear that it takes a creative path. I like it!

    @orianna2000: I have to disagree. Having your hair tied back with a ribbon and having it down completely like in the movie are two very different things. IMHO it's got nothing to do with being more or less relaxed. Having your hair up wasn't considered a strict, formal court thing. It meant being neat, fully dressed, even in Austria. While they were more relaxed in terms of etiquette, the fashion wasn't that entirely different – otherwise we'd see MA's siblings or Maria Theresia in different hairstyles as well. If anything, Austrian fashion of the time looks a little less up-to-date and more conservative to me.

    When they wrote that she had a simple, natural or wild hairstyle, they would probably have had something entirely different in their minds from what a modern person would. Maybe something like what Maria Theresia had in her youth:

    Considering that Sophia Coppola emphasized that she didn't want to do a fully accurate film but rather a modern twist, AmericanDuchess's explanation seems more likely to me.

    But please don't be offended, that's just my two cents and I might be wrong.

  • Anonymous

    October 3, 2010 at 2:38 AM


    You're right that it probably isn't exactly like in the movie. Kirsten Dunst's style has definitely been modernized! I decided to look up the information in the biography, just to be sure of what it said, and I found that the description is contradictory, and therefore hard to envision. On the one hand, it seems to imply an Alice-style headband, with the hair tightly pulled back and then falling loose. On the other hand–and I'd forgotten this–it describes a pile of curls on her head. I can't quite picture how both would work.

    Allow me to quote: "Marie Antoinette's unruly mess of reddish-blond curls was habitually worn pulled back off her forehead with a woolen band that ripped at her scalp. The band, however, was beginning to cause unsightly bald patches along the Archduchess's hairline; what was more, because it created a 'towering mountain of curls' atop the girl's head, the style accentuated what French officials viewed as an unacceptably high forehead."

    I cannot find a quote about the Austrian court's costumes, but it does say that Marie's wardrobe was woefully inadequate and her mother had to buy her a complete French trousseau, costing an unprecedented amount of money, just for her betrothal. As I recall, the biography later said that her brother was disdainful of the extravagant costumes of the French court and wouldn't let them dress so formally in Austria. I could be remembering wrong, though.

    The biography is called "Queen of Fashion" by Caroline Weber. It's a very intriguing look at the pivotal role fashion played in Marie Antoinette's life, from her childhood to her death. If you're interested at all in the life of Marie Antoinette, or the changes in fashion through her life, I highly recommend it.

  • Anonymous

    July 19, 2017 at 9:27 AM

    Sorry, I know this post is several years old, but I just wanted to say I always imagined young Marie Antoinette wore her hair something like the girl in the portrait linked below – a kind of 18th century high ponytail. It matches Weber's description of curls pulled off the forehead with a band into a "towering mountain of curls." Regular wear of modern high ponytails is also known to hair loss, especially around the forehead.

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