18th c. Court Suits (and more) at the Paris Flea Market

I spent 10 glorious days in Paris this September, exploring, working on embroidery designs, and visiting museums for inspiration. One of the places I was most excited to explore was the Paris flea market. I knew from a previous visit that I might not find many treasures, but I would certainly find inspiration.

Saturday night I happened to dine with a group of friends who had been to the flea market earlier that day. Since I was planning to go on Sunday, I was eager to hear about their experience. I was completely blown away when they mentioned that one of the shops had not one, but several 18th c. court suits on display.

I headed out early Sunday morning to meet some friends, and we headed to the northern market at Clignancourt. This market is huge and sprawling, and to really explore it would take more than one day. I had the address for Marché Dauphine, which narrowed down the field a little bit.

Not really being sure of the layout, we began with some leisurely exploration of the market. Anything you want, you can probably find here. Antique clothes, furniture, silver, trims, fans, dolls, anatomical displays with real human skulls… the list is endless.

One stall held a dizzying array of vintage metallic braids and trims packed onto shelves. Without a specific project in mind, I decided not to buy anything on speculation. However, if I’m ever looking for a special finishing touch for an outfit, this is where I would want to go!

There were also shops that held stacks of antique silk brocades, many of which were the remains of 18th c. gowns. One stall had most of a pink striped silk sack back gown, which had been cut apart long ago. It was fun to think about using it to make a new gown, but the price for the silk was more than 2000 euros, so it was only a daydream.

Eventually we found our way across the street, to a large antique mall of sorts, which was Marché Dauphine. Just a few steps inside the entrance was a shop with at least 4 court suits hanging up in the window. Having never seen a court suit outside a museum, I was incredibly excited.

The men who ran the shop were incredibly nice. I asked politely in French if we could see one of the suits close up, and they simply took one down and handed it to us to inspect inside and out. I really couldn’t believe I was holding such an old garment in my bare hands, and wasn’t really prepared for the experience!

We took a good look at the construction details we could quickly think about. How was it lined, if at all? Where was it interfaced? What did the inside look like? Why were some of the pleats tacked together? Is the waistcoat pieced together at all?

It was clear that these “suits” weren’t really suits, in your typical sense. They were coats and waistcoats that were most likely unrelated, but had been hung on the same hanger for effect. The colors and styles of embroidery on coat and waistcoat were completely different, and none of the suits had breeches. Still, they were pretty impressive to look at, and in remarkably good shape!

As an American with limited access to such treasures, I did wonder briefly why they were hanging in a flea market instead of preserved in a museum. Someone commented on Facebook that the suits have actually been hanging there for decades. I’m not surprised, since the price tag was around 3000 euros, and they really aren’t worth that. In reality, the museums no doubt have dozens of better examples, and these are just orphan pieces that draw tourists into the shop.

Overall, my trip to the flea market was impressive, inspiring, and more than a little overwhelming. There was so much to choose from, but at much too high of a price to actually bring home. It made me wonder how any of the vendors actually stay in business!

There is a smaller flea market south of the city that I hear has better prices. As well, if you head out of Paris, you are much more likely to find a bargain. Next time I’m in Paris I plan to explore those smaller markets, and who knows what treasures I may find.

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