La Modiste and Le Trottin | Valentina Cirasola | Designer

My mom, in her life as a fashion designer/tailor, often used a Modiste (stylist) for her client’s special requests and employed a Trottin (errand girl) the same as the girl on the Champs Élysée painted by Jean Béraud (below). The woman in the painting is as flirtatious as Carlina, the errand girl working in my mom’s tailor shop. Carlina took that time to run errands as her own playful time to flirt and act coquettish with the guys. Often, she returned to the shop out of tune, with her head in the clouds. My mom used to say she had taken too much sun on her head while she was out. Blessed youth!
(Click on each photo to view it larger).


Degas had the deepest admiration for the creative work of young shop girls. In the painting The Millinery Shop (below), Degas is clearly absorbed in the Modiste’s gestures working with colors, textures, silk fabrics combined with straw hats and the gentle touch she puts on each hat decoration. Degas focuses also on the environment in millinery where ribbons, plumes and artificial flowers are laying around in the shop.

(Below: The Shop Girl by James Tissot-French)

In this visit to the Legion of Honor Museum, where Degas, Impressionism and Paris Millinery Trade was showing, I have learned the names of what I wear on my head these days:
Boaters, Boudoir caps, Bowlers, Bonnets, Capots, Peach Basket hats, Gainsborough or Picture hats, Touring hats, Riding hats, Fascinators, are some of the names given to various women’s hat styles in the 1800s. I am not surprised to see many of those hats have passed the test of time and are still being made in our third millennium. Of course, today we wear them for fun and not because they are required to complete an outfit.


(Above: Tall Hat from Musèe des Art Décoratifs, Paris – UFAC Collection)


In the latest works, Degas placed his attention on skilled women working in milliners under difficult or hazardous conditions, their creativity and hard labor, he depicted their working life. Having reached a certain wealth and not having the pressure to paint for a living, Degas painted millinery scenes for his own enjoyment and never sold his latest work, which was found in his studio when he died 1917.

(Above: hat with a dead awl)

Birds of Paradise, Purple Tangaras with black tail, Septicolor with shimmering breasts and ostrich were some of the tropical birds imported to Paris from France’s African colonies. Parisian hat industry supported a massive trade in exotic feathers from South America and Asia as well. Feather, stuffed birds, wings or bird heads were popular ornaments. To stop decomposition, milliners used arsenic, a new toxic substance unknown to be toxic and dangerous for the workers. Mercury, used to soften animal hair and felting of animal fur, was another hazardous material present in millinery work.


At the same time, the artificial flowers became indispensable accessories on chapeau de paille (straw hats) and that industry employed thousands of women. Maison Virot successfully created seasonal hats with intricate flowers even dyed in new colors and hats with velvet fabrics embellished with plumes.

(Above: Capot and Bonnets Hats: Philadelphia Museum of Art – Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George K. Rodgers)

Purple dye color, especially mauve, extracted from mollusks, appealed to the wealthy and soon was established as the color for royals, power and wealth. The use of purple has continued through time. Men’s hats took a small space in this exhibition, even though men, just like women, were not completely dressed without a hat.

The caricatures, just like in any era, makes us laugh and ponder on the futility of our customs.

It is a small exhibition and would have liked to learn more, as the 1800s were a time of novelties, inventions and preparation for modernity. If you have a chance to visit this exhibition, it’s well worth and it includes a few famous impressionists of the era. It will be on until Sept.24, 2017. Ciao,


Copyright © 2017 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is a trained Fashion and Interior Designer, born in Italy in a family of artists. Style surrounded her since the beginning of her life. Her many years of experience led her to offer consultations in both specializations and now she can remodel homes as well as personal images. She is passionate about colors and encourages her clients to express their individual style in their homes and with the clothes they wear. To better help people all over the world she offers consultations online. She is the author of three books. Get your copy of Valentina’s book on colors: ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors on



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