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Queen of Fashion

What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

By Caroline Weber
12-minute read
Audio available
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution  by Caroline Weber

Queen of Fashion (2006) reveals the untold ways in which Marie Antoinette, with her iconoclastic sense of fashion and her rebellious behavior, challenged the status quo of the eighteenth-century French court. Her daring originality was a way for her to share her voice and personality, and her story tells us a great deal about the revolutionary politics that can be found in the history of both fashion and France.

  • Fashionistas wanting to know more about the link between power and clothing
  • Francophiles obsessed with Marie Antoinette
  • History students interested in the French Revolution

Caroline Weber is a specialist on eighteenth-century French culture. Before she became an associate professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University’s Barnard College, she taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, Bookforum, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

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Queen of Fashion

What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

By Caroline Weber
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution  by Caroline Weber
Synopsis

Queen of Fashion (2006) reveals the untold ways in which Marie Antoinette, with her iconoclastic sense of fashion and her rebellious behavior, challenged the status quo of the eighteenth-century French court. Her daring originality was a way for her to share her voice and personality, and her story tells us a great deal about the revolutionary politics that can be found in the history of both fashion and France.

Key idea 1 of 7

As a teenager, Marie Antoinette was taught the political importance of fashion and appearances.

As a child in eighteenth-century Vienna, Marie Antoinette lived a rather carefree life. She was allowed to play and dress as she wished and, aside from being required to attend and dress up for formal occasions, the young Austrian princess was mostly left to herself.

This all changed in 1770, when a marriage was arranged between Marie, then 15 years old, and Louis-Auguste, the heir to the French throne who would soon be known as Louis XVI.

Once this arrangement was made, Marie Antoinette underwent a preparatory makeover; the rules of the French court at the Palace of Versailles were completely different from those of Vienna, and, as a Bourbon princess, she would be expected to dress and act accordingly, both day and night.

The makeover was demanding: Marie’s teeth were straightened and she was trained to perform the Versailles-glide, the graceful walk of the French royalty. This meant learning to take tiny steps, with both feet always touching the floor.

Needless to say, Marie could no longer wear Austrian clothing, so her mother spent what in today’s money would equate to between two and three million dollars to buy her a new wardrobe in all the best French styles.

Through it all, Marie was also being taught how politically important her marriage was and that her appearance played an essential part in its success.

After all, this was not a marriage of love. Rather, it was a union to help ensure there would be peace between France and Austria, two nations with centuries of feuding that had recently reached an agreement with the 1756 Treaty of Paris.

While the treaty was brokered by Marie’s new grandfather-in-law, Louis XV, others in her new family opposed the marriage: Louis XV’s mistress, Madame Du Barry, as well as his sisters, Mesdames Adélaïde, Sophie and Victoire, remained distrustful of the Austrian empire and unhappy with the idea of a foreigner like Marie Antoinette becoming queen.

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