Saturday, January 24, 2009

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

Title: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
Author: Caroline Weber
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2007
Category: Non-fiction, history
Price: US $17, Canada $17.75 paperback

What it is about:
In Queen of Fashion, the author examines how the Marie Antoinette's choices of clothing and accessories became instruments of politics and power during the 18th century. In a frock by frock analysis, the author argues that the sartorial choices of the Queen of France played an instrumental part in determining her fate and the sequence of events that led to the revolution.

Favourite Passage:
"Among the nobility and moneyed bourgeoisie, even those women who found such innovations shocking in the King's wife could not resist following her lead. "By one of those contradictions that are more common in France than anywhere else," wrote a contemporary observer, "even as the people were criticizing the Queen for her outfits, they continued frenetically to imitate her. Every woman wanted to have the same deshabille, the same bonnet, that they had seen her wear." Propelled to notoriety by the ingenuity of designers to who the public came to refer as her "ministry of fashion," Marie Antoinette established herself as a force to be reckoned with -- as a queen who commanded as much attention as the most dazzling king or mistress, and whose imposing stature had nothing to do with her maternal prospects." (page 5)

Why I Chose this Book:
In the fall of 2008, the Royal Ontario Museum showcased a gown that may have been worn by Marie Antoinette (see my fashion blog: postings for October 2008 to see photos of the gown). As well, the ROM invited Carolyn Weber to give a talk about this book and in anticipation of that, I read it. And am I ever glad that I did! This book led me into deeper research into Marie Antoinette, 18th century fashion and the history of the French revolution and also inspired my artwork relating to that era.

Even though I previously reviewed this book on my fashion blog, I decided to include it here as well because this brilliant book is a must read for both fashion and history buffs.

Rating: A plus

Carolyn Weber is a skillful writer and weaves a thoughtful and well-researched argument about the interplay of fashion and politics. Even though Ms. Weber is an academic (associate professor of French and Comparative Literature at Barnard College), her prose is elegant, engaging and to the point. I even read the footnotes which contain a wealth of information. This book is an absolute delight to read.