In 1789, the French Revolution promoted a profound change in the aesthetics of fashion, and the favored fabric shifted from refined silk to simple cotton. It was a revolution with many causes: the failure of the national economy, increased conflict between the aristocracy and chose with royal prerogative, the discontent of a majority of citizens toward the more privileged classes, and and extended, severe food shortage.
The Revolution adopted fashion for the purposes of ideological propaganda in the new age, and revolutionaries declared their rebellious spirit by appropriating the clothing of the lower classes. Those who still wore extravagant and brightly colored silk clothing were considered anti-revolutionary. Instead of knee breeches and silk stockings that symbolized the nobility, revolutionaries wore long pants called sans-culottes (non-breeches). Besides his long pants, the revolutionary sympathizer dressed in a jacket called a carmagnole, a phrygian cap, a tricolor cockade, and clogs. Derived from simple English tastes, this fashion evolved into a style of frock coat and trousers, which was afterward worn by the modern citizen in the nineteenth century.
But not everything changed in 1789. During the Revolution, new fashion styles emerged in quick sucession, reflecting the changing political situation, but conventional clothing, such as the habit à la française, was still worn as the official court costume.
New and old fashions intermingled during the Revolutionary period. In some case the chaotic social climate created eccentric fashions. In particular, the youth of France embraced unusual, frivolous, and radical styles. During the Terror, the Muscadins, a group of young counter-revolutionaries, protested against the new order, and dresses in eccentric black coats with larg lapels and wide cravats. In a similarly eccentric vein, fops (Petits Maîtres), called Incroyables, appeared during the Directory period. Extremely high collars characterized their fashions, with large lapels folded back, gaudy waistcoats. wide cravats, breeches, cropped hairstyles, and bicorne instead of tricorne hats. Their female counterparts who were known as the Merveilleuses (the marvelous ones), wore extremely thin and diaphanous dresses which neither corset not pannier. Illustrations of round gowns, dresses with waistlines starting just below the bust, and a bodice and skirt made of one piece, can often be seen in the fashion plates of Nicolans von Heideloff’s Gallery of fashion (1794–1802, London). The round gown later transformed into the chemise dress, the most popular cotton dress of the early nineteenth century.
Whereas in England modernization was brought about by the industrial Revolution. French society received new impulses in late rococo period through political revolution. Set against the backdrop of such social unrest, European fashion moved toward a new modernity.