From Publishers Weekly
At Versailles, where even the daily rouging of the Dauphin's cheeks was a highly ritualized and politicized affair, and where obedience to protocol could brook no infringement, 14-year-old Marie Antoinette's refusal to wear her whalebone corset threatened the Bourbon-Hapsburg alliance. As this prodigiously researched, deliciously detailed study (perfectly timed for the fall release of Sofia Coppola's movie) of the doomed royal's fashion statements demonstrates, her masculine equestrian garb, ostentatious costumes for masked balls, high Parisian hairdos and faux country-girl gear were bold bids for political power and personal freedom in a suffocating realm where a queen was merely a breeder and living symbol of her spouse's glorious reign. An iconic trendsetter whose styles were copied by prostitutes and aristocrats alike, Marie Antoinette was blamed for France's moral decay and financial bankruptcy, the blurring of class lines and callousness toward the poor. When many of her aristocratic contemporaries donned tricolor ribbons and jewelry set with stones from the Bastille's demolished walls as pro-revolutionary emblems, a defiant Marie Antoinette reintroduced her most opulent jewels into her daily costume. The generously illustrated history by Weber (Terror and Its Discontents
) posits that the queen's fashion obsession wasn't about narcissism and frivolity but self-assertion; even at the guillotine she controlled her image with a radiantly white ensemble. (Oct. 1)
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Plenty of proof here, from an associate professor of French at Barnard (and author of Terror and its Discontents,
2003), that clothes did indeed make the woman. Weber's thesis, made clear at the outset, is that the dauphine-soon-turned-queen's costumes became an accurate symbol of her individuality and personality versus political unrest. No minutiae is left unnoticed; for example, Marie Antoinette's struggles with the strictly mandated whalebone corset was the epitome of her initial lack of acceptance by the French court, whereas her creation of the three-foot-high pouffed hair-dress was emblematic of her preoccupation with fashion. One revolution in women's accoutrements, unfortunately, was swapped for another more deadly revolution in politics and freedom. Tales of intrigue dot every page (for instance, the long-standing feud with Louis XV's mistress, Comtesse du Barry), as do the foibles of commoners and royalty. Using bold and engaging prose, the author has created a whole new appreciation for academic writings. Barbara JacobsCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved