Book Review – Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

One thing that never fails to fascinate me about clothes is how very political they are. Just by examining an outfit you can tell a lot about what was going on in the world at the time it was worn, and about the person who wore it. Fashion is influenced by a huge array of world events and social changes, and fashion has the power to influence world events and social changes right back.
Far from superficial this book is a fascinating argument of how fashion played a huge role in the way Marie Antoinette played the game of politics, how she was viewed, and eventually even how it largely contributed to the events of the French revolution. From the way her identity was literally stripped from her on her first day in France, to the way she wielded political power in the face of failing to become a mother, right until her very sad end when she was reduced to nothing, and on her very last day of life the way she painted a picture of everything she had represented, from a vain queen who lived in excess to an immortal martyr with a shattered heart. This book is amazing and will give you a whole new perspective on these things we call clothes. It’s definitely a must-read for anyone interested in fashion, history, politics, and incredibly compelling people.

From Publishers Weekly
At Versailles, where even the daily rouging of the Dauphine’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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