The Personal Gets Political

As the wife of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette was watched constantly – meals, dressing time, and even time with her husband were all public affairs.  However, what Marie lacked in privacy, she exceeded in indulgence and mirth.  The queen would frequently dance and gamble late into the night, surrounded by other French nobles.  Elaborate hair poufs and gowns were the norm amongst ladies in 18th century France, and as Queen, Marie was expected to outdo everyone.  Her waist was shrunk with a whalebone stay, and her hair was wrapped around a wire pouf enhanced with wool and flour and decorated to reflect any whatever the wearer desired.  Marie had been known to dress her hair to reflect history, emotions, even political opinion, and whatever her pouf looked like, many other women would replicate it soon after.  For many, she was the epitome of French extravagance, an icon of fashion and luxury.  Being seen as an icon, however, often means not being seen as a person, which Adjmi’s play explores well.

(Image courtesy: Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Panniers were hoops worn around the waist and slipped beneath undergarments to give the elaborate hip shape seen here.

(Image courtesy of the National Gallery)

Oddly enough the Chemise de la Reine is one of Marie’s most iconic trends, and it wildly departs from the haute couture of the era. She wore the chemise to accessorize her pastoral ambitions.

ladies pouf as shuttlecock
(Image courtesy of Soodie Beasley)

The caption reads, “Miss Shuttle-Cock.” Even shrunken to this scale, actual poufs were way too heavy for any sort of flight.

(Image courtesy of Galerie de Modes)

The caption translates to “Young woman of quality in a large dress wearing a bonnet or elegant pouf speaks victory.”

the preposterous head dress yale univ
(Image courtesy of Soodie Beasley and Yale University Library)

It would take hours to prepare a pouf, and lots of dedicated, specialized hairdressers.

John Collet, “Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease.”

A comical depiction of the process of fitting a woman into her stays. Although the art itself is an exaggeration, the woman’s expression of discomfort is not.

lady all top
(Image courtesy of Soodie Beasley/ Yale Library)

Cartoon of the Duchess of Devonshire. Marie’s couture quickly spread to England, despite political tensions.

(Image courtesy of Soodie Beasley / La Mesure de l’Excellence)

It was not uncommon to have feathers or all kinds of plants in her hair. Marie had a penchant for adorning her poufs with vegetables.

ship coiffure
(Image courtesy of the Franco-American Museum at the Chateau de Blérancourt)

The text translates to, “Pouf of Independence, or the Triumph of Liberty.” Specifically, it relates to a 1778 victory of a French ship over and English one. Again, the personal gets political.

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