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Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution Paperback – October 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Weber analyzes everything from color to fabric, hair to corsets in this impeccably researched work. She makes the reader conscious of the UNCONSCIOUS messages we send in our clothing, making one rethink the social consequences of an "I'm with Stupid" T-shirt. Making the satorial social and back again, Weber looks at the way in which Marie Antoniette affected her public and the rebellion she was able to mount without saying a word.
Obviously interest in this book will be high due to the Kirsten Dunst movie. However, this book gave me more of a sympathy for the queen who was thrust into the public eye in France and the decisions made by her and for her. It gave me a different picture of a rebellious queen that I couldn't find in the film. A great read for anyone interested in fashion, Marie Antoniette, and the French Revolution.
Weber approaches the queen's life story from a totally unique perspective: what Marie Antoinette chose to wear (and what was chosen for her to wear) at various stages in her life. Weber suggests that her fashion choices reflect her attempts to assert her identity and to gain power in a culture where she was expected to be a passive representative of the throne.
Even before she married the future King of France as a young girl, the Austrian Archduchess was told that her looks and appearance were of the utmost importance. She had to undergo a makeover that included extensive, painful dental work and the powdering of her strawberry blond hair, just for marriage negotiations to continue. As she was handed over by the Austrian entourage to the French, she was stripped naked in a room of strangers and redressed in what was considered to be more appropriate (that is, more French) attire. Right away the young woman knew that fashion was what she was expected to be interested in, and she decided to use it to her advantage. She became a figure that challenged propriety, the roles of women and the nobility in her society through the clothing and hairstyles she wore.
Weber convincingly demonstrates how Marie Antoinette, rendered essentially powerless by social and political norms, managed to assert some influence, through her appearance, that extended beyond France's borders. In the beginning the princess (later queen) was adored. French society was enamored of her, and women especially found her refreshing and relatable. The nobility and other traditionalists were less taken by her. However, by the end of her life she was reviled and demonized, accused of sexual misconduct, irresponsible overspending and other corruptions. And, as France found itself heading toward revolution, her foreign birth and foreign ties were impossible for the nation to ignore.
During every stage of her life in France, Marie Antoinette used dress to express herself --- even when she was hated, she was copied. In fact, after her execution by guillotine, the fashion was for women to wear a thin red ribbon tied around their necks. Her choices in fashion were often overtly political, challenging to the social order and always deeply personal. Weber's examination of Marie Antoinette's life through what she wore is engaging, eye-opening and immensely enjoyable.
QUEEN OF FASHION is a truly enlightening and entertaining exploration of history, fashion, gender and power. Weber manages to balance an academic's eye for detail and research with a storyteller's voice for drama, tension and narrative. Marie Antoinette remains, after all this time, a worthy subject for biographers. Weber's contribution is one of the most unique, well-written and recommendable additions to the canon.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
I am a trained cultural anthropologist who studies 18th century clothing. This book is not always an accurate representation of clothing during the time, which, unfortunately, is kinda sorta its selling point. The scattered inaccuracies made me doubt other facts. The thesis that Marie Antoinette's life was illustrated through clothing is interesting, but I wasn't impressed with the end result. I mean, she was a Queen. Of course she was weighed down with symbolism, political or otherwise, constantly - and if she wasn't, whatever she chose to wear in the era's swiftly evolving fashion landscape became symbolic soon after.
In the book's favor, there were some interesting tidbits about cockades and political affiliation that has stuck with me. It's a quick and well-paced read; the author is skilled in weaving a story.