Glossary – Parfilage (drizzling)

As Rococo taste became ever more fantastic in the late 18th century, the cost of brocaded silks and metallic embellishments became prohibitive. And so it became the fashion in France for wealthy women, equipped with tools including a stiletto, knife, and pair of scissors, to pick the gold and silver from the brocades, laces, galloons (braid) and fringes of their old gowns to reclaim the metal threads. This was not a practice done in shame, suggesting a lack of funds, but an obsessive pastime commonly practiced in the company of friends, like embroidery.


Enamelled case for drizzling pick and scissors, late 18th century

Known as parfilage in France, where it originated and was commonly practised by the 1760s, it grew in popularity and geography. Lady Mary Coke noted an evening she spent at Princess Kevenhuller’s in Austria during the winter of 1770 where “All the Ladys who do not play at cards pick gold: tis the most general fashion I ever saw…”

Madame de Genlis, wrote in her 1782 novel Adèle et Théodore a scene in which a male character describes ten crazed parfileuses “tearing away my coat and packing all my fringes and galloons into their workbags…”

Refugees from the French Revolution may have imported the practise into England in the 1790s where it was called drizzling, but as the fashion for metallic trims and brocades fell from fashion by the early 19th century, so did the practise.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Glossary – Parfilage (drizzling)

  1. Jenny says:

    Now, that is very interesting.

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