Marie Antoinette was a fashionable socialite long before the term existed. Her love of excess and the time she spent on an actual chopping block make her our obvious first choice guest for hypothetical dinner parties and seances. After interviewing Clare Crowston, an author and professor of history at the University of Illinois, Vice dubbed her the “first fashion martyr.”
In her book Credit, Fashion, Sex: Economies of Regard in Old Regime France, Crowston claims that Antoinette’s love of fashion was partially to blame for her imminent beheading. If poor Marie Antoinette were alive today, she would be chilling at Paris Fashion Week and serving as some designer’s muse, but alas that is not how things panned out for her.
Her life was actually pretty miserable. She was from Austria, a country that France hated. That had to be a little awkward. As a teenager, she was married off to a husband who couldn’t get it up — talk about a terrible losing-your-virginity story. In hindsight, who can really blame her for indulging in a little retail therapy?
The onetime Queen of France was a revolutionary because she realized early on that fashion can give you the appearance of having credit, or rather, credibility. She knew that you needed to dress for the job you wanted, not the one you had. As Crowston tells Vice,
“She was paying much more attention to fashion than previous queens ever had — they stayed closer to the traditional court dress codes — and she was trying to lead fashion and use her ability to create new styles and dominate fashion as a way to gain attention and to claim some kind of prestige in the eyes of the court.”
Antoinette also knew the importance of a good stylist, because honestly, when you are royalty, it takes a village.
“She had a fascinating relationship with a woman named Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin, who was one of the official fashion merchants to the queen. Bertin sold her these fabulous three-foot-tall hats. She was sort of the original Coco Chanel—the first really famous celebrity stylist. Antoinette relied on her to craft the appearance she was looking for; theirs was a very close relationship.”
Head to Vice to read more about the trend-setting Marie Antoinette for a historical #TBT.
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