Pandora me this, Pandora me that

Pandora:  a miniature fashion doll wearing an exact replica of the latest haute couture, sent to ladies all over Europe so they could order on-trend fashions.  This term originated in France as Grande Pandore or Petite Pandore to describe evening and day fashions, respectively.

Pandora, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1755-1760

In the days before glossy magazines, pandoras were the primary means of disseminating fashion gospel.   Ladies waited with abated breath for the dolls to arrive because only then could they visit their modiste and order the correct cut, cloth, and style.  The dolls were outfitted head to toe, wearing coiffures, jewerly, hats and shoes, along with their gowns and embellishments.   Some were even dressed with complete underclothes.  

Depending on the occassion, Pandora’s were requested in almost any attire imaginable, but for most ladies, two dolls were sent to their homes, whenever the fashion’s required updating. One was typically arrayed in evening attire, the other in day wear. 

There is some suggestion that Pandoras were in use as early as the 14th century, but they didn’t become part of the veritable fashion trade until the 17th and 18th centuries.  Below is a young girl holding a pandora, as we may safely assume by her expression, supplicating her father for the latest fashions or merely showing them off.  Notice the pouf a la Marie Antoinette topped with feathers and myriad other adornments.  Notice too the girl’s expectant, happy face; the father’s indulgent, if a little annoyed, expression.  Based on how my husband acts in regard to fashion, I imagine that’s how most men felt about the Pandora during that time!

Christopher Anstey with his daughter, by William Hoare.  1776-1778.

National Portrait Gallery, London.

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