empire style was in full swing. Dresses were usually filmy and/or clingy, made
of gauzy muslin, or clinging silk or satin like Brigittes gown of white satin.
Often, they were virtually transparent; Jane Austen once wrote to her sister,
Mrs. Powlett was at once expensively and nakedly dressd. Women wore thin
fabrics like muslin with only light stays, if any, and only a chemise beneath, which
they sometimes dampened to more closely reveal the body. These lightweight
dresses were referred to as frocks, a term for a lightweight dress that
buttoned down the back. They were high-waisted and a reticule, like the one Brigitte
carries, was necessary in the absence of pockets. Toward the end of the period,
the corset began to make a comeback, but not in order to produce an hourglass
figure, which was a largely late 19th century invention. Instead, corsets were
designed to produce a long, slim line and often extended below the hips. For
the first time, dresses came in one piece, with drawstrings at the "waistline."
They were fastened to the body by tied tapes or cords, or in more expensive models,
buttons or hooks-and-eyes. Sleeves were often puffed at the upper shoulder area
for ease of movement now that sleeves were actually sewn to the dress, while in
long sleeves, the section below the elbow was more tightly fitted. White was a
popular color because of its classical associations and fabrics became more
varied and available as Napoleon started new factories to boost the French
textile trade. He revived the lace industry at Valenciennes which also made
lace and batiste (a material similar to cambric, which was named for its creator
Baptiste of Cambrai both were originally made of tightly woven linen, though
cotton versions of both later emerged). Popular fabrics included chinz,
cambric, merino, batiste, Chinese crepes, nets, and gauzes, in addition to the always
popular silks and satins. In addition, woven patterns began to emerge along
with the printed.
Over her white dress, Brigitte wears a purple velvet canezou, a short,
lace-trimmed jacket that was the precursor of the spencer. This was a short
waist-length jacket (adjustable depending on where the "waist" was located - in
this case, just under the bosom). Legend had it that Lord Spencer had been
thrown while riding and the tails of his riding coat torn off. He vowed that he
would make the look fashionable. The spencer did indeed become popular and by
the 19th century was beginning to become an alternative to the cutaway coat.
For ladies, it could be sleeved or sleeveless. Atop her head is a bonnet in the
English style of purple velvet with velvet pom-poms and she has matching
velvet slippers. The slippers of the time were usually flat heeled with ribbons
that tied up around the ankles. For an outdoors outfit like this, Brigitte would
probably also wear pattens, metal rings on small stilts that strapped to shoes
to keep them and the skirt him an inch or so above the dirt and mud.
Brigitte Belanger Thibodaux (1775 1849)
Brigitte was the second wife of Henry Schuyler Thibodaux, who was at one time
governor of Louisiana. She was a descendant of Jacques Cartier, the explorer
who discovered Canada and a member of a prominent Louisiana family. When she
married Thibodaux in 1800, she brought $1,000 to the marriage while he brought $1,500.
They had five children of their own in addition to three from Thibodauxs
previous marriage. When he died in 1817, Henry left Brigitte the executrix of
his estate with complete control. She managed their plantation, Sainte
Brigitte, so well that she left a small fortune to each of the eight children, providing
an estate of $151,994 when she died in 1849. She was also instrumental in the
founding of the city of Houma.