MARIE ANTOINETTE, 1755 - 1793.
by Helen America
Fight me: it is my opinion that, if she had survived the Revolution and gone quietly into the night, Marie Antoinette would not be the subject of intense fascination that she has been since the day she set a delicate, silk-slippered foot on French soil. Because, by all accounts, contemporary and posthumous, she seems like she was kind of #basic.
If Marie Antoinette had been alive in 2018, she’d be a lifestyle instablogger with a fondness for farm-to-table cuisine, drinking homemade kombucha out of mason jars, and handmade artisanal soaps. But, unfortunately, she was served the shit sandwich that was life as a French queen succeeding the disastrous reign of Louis XV.
Marie Antoinette, while certainly not a perfect queen, was truly a product of her environment, and doomed to live in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was Viennese at a time when French distrust of Austria was at a high; her Hapsburg profile - pouting lower lip, five-head, aquiline nose - gave her the most raging Resting Bitch Face of all time. (Sometimes I think that my RBF is bad, but at least I didn’t engender the hatred of an entire people and lose my head over it).
Really, a lot of the problem with Marie Antoinette comes from the fact that she simply didn’t conform to a lot of French customs at a time when she really needed to read the room. She bathed regularly and ate mostly fruits and vegetables in moderate amounts, eschewing the rich, 20-course meals that the French court indulged in every night. Most suspiciously to the French people, something about her influence prevented her husband, Louis XVI, from taking a royal mistress. He was the first king of France to not appoint a royal mistress since Charles VII began the practice with our pal Agnès Sorel.
Marie Antoinette, of course, is a woman synonymous with recklessness and luxurious spending. A woman who allegedly powdered her wigs with flour when the Parisian people were dying of famine, she’s endured a reputation as a frivolous, cruel, stupid, weak, domineering, poisonous woman. But there’s multiple reports that, by the standards of aristocracy, she was quite frugal, a rather Austrian trait picked up from her legendary mother, Maria Theresa. In Queen of Fashion, written by my fabulous former professor, Caroline Weber, it’s strongly suggested that, as a young girl with little to no power in a strange place, she used her clothing as a means to influence and exert power. She wisely saw the value in the power of dress early on, refusing to wear the punishing corsets designated exclusively to high-ranking female members of the French aristocracy. It was a double-edged sword. While the concept of gloire, intrinsic to the nation and rulers of France since the era of Louis XIV, was enhanced and embodied in her luxurious jewels and wardrobe during her early reign, her inability to adapt was her downfall. The original tone-deaf cosplay, her adoption of “peasant” dress - she loved its simplicity - was a bad look to the thousands of subjects that were starving. Her practice of wearing the colors of the monarchy (green and purple) after the fall of the Bastille instead of adopting the red, white, and blue of the new tricolore was, in hindsight, stunningly moronic. And her insistence on bringing queenly accessories, garments - and her hairdresser - with her in order to make a grand entrance into Belgium while attempting to flee the Revolution in 1791 all but signed her, and her husband’s, death warrant.
To this day, women who appear to be overly concerned with “window dressing,” that is, their appearance and wardrobes, are seen as frivolous, superficial, or mean, even when clothing is power and clothing is, and always has been, political. It’s my opinion that Marie Antoinette’s legend has been one of the largest contributors to this perception. But the question we should be asking, when it comes to her, is: was Marie Antoinette really poisonous? Yes. But would any woman who’d had the misfortune of marrying Louis XVI been considered poisonous? Probably.
About the Model
I am a pop singer song writer
Memory of the shoot
The shoot was the coolest thing. the entire house was like a dream. i loved the eclectic mix of characters and costume. also cake.
A woman of history you admire
Cher. just that.
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