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The Scent of Fashion

A reflection of dress

The dress of the woman depicted in Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergère is an important depiction of dress in the early 1880s. The mirror reflecting the barmaid's pose, although illogical in terms of the spatial organisation of the painting, gives a useful view of female dress from the rear. Rear views of female dress were often only seen in fashion plates of the period, although artists such as Monet and Seurat incorporated poses from fashion plates onto female figures in their work.

The mirror reflects the outline of the construction of the chignon into a plaited and bulky figure-of-eight, typical of later variations on the fashionable hairstyle, and the front hair is worn in a fringe. The bodice jacket and skirt are separate and the shape of the bodice reflects a characteristic style of the early 1880s: a coat-like garment closely fitted to the body and cut in a straight line ending below the hips. The low square-cut neckline and the cuffs are trimmed with lace and Manet's sensual painterly treatment of the fabric indicates the texture of the fashionable rich black velvet. The reflected back view of the dress shows the distinctive shape of the bustle of the 1880s. The spatial dynamics within the painting itself reflect the structure of female fashion in this instance, as the vertical impetus of the painting and sober palette of the image also reflects the shape and colour of fashionable dress.

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