When Elisabeth married her first cousin Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, her trousseau could hardly be considered worthy of her rank. Nevertheless, her trousseau, consisting of 25 trunks, arrived ahead of the bride in Vienna.
Although the jewellery listed was worth at least 100,000 guldens, most of it was gifts from her future husband and mother-in-law. Her wardrobe was estimated at 50,000 guldens, and even in this instance, the most valuable item, a blue velvet cloak with sable trimmings and a sable muff, was a gift from the Emperor. In addition, Elizabeth had four ballgowns (two white, open pink and one blue), 17 Putzkleider (fancy gowns with trains), 14 silk dresses and 19 summer frocks. She also owned three crinolines and four corsets, including three especially for riding.
In addition, she had 12 headdresses and 16 hats. Her underwear was also listed. She had 12 dozen camisoles, three dozen nightgowns, 14 dozen silk stockings, 12 embroidered nightcaps, 24 night neckerchiefs, six dozen petticoats, five dozen pantalettes, 24 combing coats and three bathing shirts.1
The number of shoes was also impressive. She had 113 pairs altogether, but not long after her arrival, new shoes had to be bought as she could only wear a pair of shoes for one day before they were given away. Elisabeth hated giving away her shoes and later abolished the practice. Other objects in her trousseau included fans, umbrellas, combs, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, shoehorns and hairpins.
However, even the Emperor realised it was not up to the standard for an Empress. He wrote, “With the trousseau, it seems to me things are not moving ahead well, and I have difficulty believing that it will be pretty.”2 He needn’t have worried, as Elisabeth became an almost instant star.
Elisabeth loved wearing the finest clothes at first. She particularly enjoyed wearing national costumes, such as the Hungarian one. For her much-beloved hikes, she wore a short loden skirt with a simple blouse, loose jacket, woollen socks, hiking boots and a loden hat with a feather.3
As she grew older and her public appearances became rarer, every outing turned into a sensation. When she attended her brother’s wedding in 1864, her brother-in-law wrote to Vienna that Elisabeth “was stunningly beautiful, also the people here acted insane. I have never seen anyone having such an effect before.”4 Not unlike today, her looks were always completely picked apart. Every flaw was a cause of discussion, and Elisabeth did not enjoy the fact that she always caused a sensation. In addition, she had an unhealthy relationship with food, and this intense interest in her physical appearance only made her more obsessed with maintaining her beauty.
The constant dieting and excessive exercise kept her waist at 50 cm (19.5 inches) and her weight at approximately 50 kilos (110 pounds). She often laced so tightly that she suffered from shortness of breath. The lacing frequently took up to an hour, with a total dressing time of up to three hours. This occasionally took place several times a day. This undoubtedly also added to Elisabeth’s desire to avoid public appearances. In 1870, she gave up wearing petticoats and, from then on, only wore thin pantalettes made of doeskin. She also had herself sewn into dresses.5
From the death of her son, Crown Prince Rudolf, Elizabeth wore only mourning clothes. When the official mourning period ended, she gave away all her light-coloured gowns and accessories to her daughters, Gisela and Marie Valerie. On just one occasion – the christening of Marie Valerie’s first child – she wore a pearl grey dress. She also gave away most of her jewellery, including the famous stars. Most pieces went to her daughters and her granddaughter Elisabeth, but she also gave one piece to her sister-in-law Maria Josepha with the words, “It is a remembrance of the time I was alive.”6
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 31-32
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 32-33
- The Imperial Style: Fashions of the Hapsburg Era: Based on the Exhibition, Fashions of the Hapsburg Era, Austria-Hungary, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art p.141
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 131
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 138
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p. 348-349