(This post originally appeared in the Lawrence Public Library Spotlight.)
From the masculine equestrian outfits that made her Louis XV’s favorite, to the regal counterrevolutionary gowns in green and violet that exposed her as an enemy of the state, Marie Antoinette’s fashion statements were always unfailingly both fabulous and controversial. In Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, Caroline Weber paints a comprehensive portrait of the fashion icon, from Dauphine until death. Weber is not only a brainy Barnard scholar, but also a fashion connoisseur herself, and her fastidiously researched political fashion memoir satisfied both my inner Vogue subscriber and my inner history nerd.
Anyone who’s watched Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette as many times as I have can easily rattle off the basics of her biography: born an Austrian, Marie Antoinette disavowed her native country in a political alliance with France to become its eventual Queen. A newcomer to the highly ritualized and chic court at Versailles, she navigated her tepid political reception as a suspect foreigner in the best way she knew how — in impeccable style. And although it all started out as fun and games, eventually it cost the Autrichienne her head on the guillotine. From her powdered, sky-high hairdos to her divine selection of costly satin footwear, Marie Antoinette won over her adoring public at first, but quickly became a lightning rod for criticism of the French monarchy’s decadence during a national economic recession (… sound familiar?). Continue reading