Queen of Fashion What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

Caroline Weber




Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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Marie Antoinette was a woman who used clothing to command attention.  Caroline Weber tells the story of Marie Antoinette's "Revolution in Dress," which helped make, and unmake, her reputation, and examines her wardrobe's impact on French history.
 When the fourteen-year-old Austrian arch-duchess first arrived at the Palace of Versailles to become dauphine, rigid tradition governed what she wore, when she wore it, even who put it on her person. Her required wardrobe included twelve-foot-wide hoopskirts and organ-crushing whalebone corsets. But when she became queen, Marie Antoinette established her own royal style to seduce the public and to distract attention from her failure to conceive. Wearing male riding gear, white furs and diamonds, and monumental pouf hairstyles, Marie Antoinette created a national interest in her fashion and style.  By "leaking" news of her clothing preferences to newspapers, she helped create her own finely tuned image. She caused sensations among people unaccustomed to seeing kings' wives dressed untraditionally. But her sensationalist dress eventually crossed the line of tradition.  Inspired by Rousseau and her time in the parklike setting of the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette began to sport provocative, "radical chic" chemises and other outfits that incited rumors and scandals, ultimately fueling the Revolution and bringing down the monarchy. Surprisingly, many of these styles would later be adopted by the same revolutionaries who put the Queen to death.


Praise for Queen of Fashion

"In Queen of Fashion, her suspenseful, remarkably well-documented and surprisingly humanizing account of the role style played in Marie Antoinette's fate and legacy, Caroline Weber, who teaches at Barnard College and is an expert on the Terror, adds texture, shimmer and depth to an icon most of us thought we knew already."—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
"Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion examines Marie Antoinette from an arresting angle—her theatrical persona as a fashion innovator. Forced to jockey for position, French courtiers were slaves of fashion, while queens tended to be more modest and reserved. Fashion flash was practiced instead by the kings' semi-official mistresses—a role that Weber demonstrates was borrowed by Marie Antoinette (whose husband had no mistress) and that eventually compromised her reputation and made it easier for scurrilous pamphleteers to caricature her as a whore."—Camille Paglia, The Chronicle of Higher Education
"It is always gratifying to discover how much a fashion statement can mean, and Weber's account of the transition from ancient regime to the Republic from a sartorial point of view is a perceptive work of scholarship that helps to explain the transcendent importance of fashion to French culture."—The New Yorker
"Entertaining and thought-provoking . . . Caroline Weber's book is absorbing, fascinating, a wonderful display of grace and expertise, full of telling details."—Hilary Mantel, The New York Review of Books
"As Caroline Weber demonstrates with dazzling detail in Queen of Fashion, when it came to Marie's wardrobe, more was better and too much was never enough: Her pearl bracelets, jewel-flecked gowns, ruffled skirts, and fur-trimmed headdresses launched a thousand imitators hoping to borrow even a little of her awe-inspiring glamour. Weber's book is an ode to the art of dressmaking at its most fantastic, a heady, gorgeous glimpse into the past . . . Queen of Fashion is as richly imagined as the gowns it describes . . . It's nothing short of stunning"—Suzanne D'Amato, The Washington Post
"A delightful revelation. The delight is due to author Caroline Weber's intelligence and insight—as if a keen scholar was writing for Vanity Fair. The revelation results from the way the writer imbues a much-reviled and seemingly well-known figure with great empathy . . . Weber dishes up titillating intricacies of French court life (the palace at Versailles was dirty; many nobles had poor hygiene) . . . Readers who fancy excellent writing, power plays and prodigious research will enjoy Queen of Fashion. In humanizing Marie Antoinette, Weber recasts history—a splendid accomplishment. This trek in Marie Antoinette's bejeweled slippers turns the callous and frivolous 'cake queen' into a figure of sympathy."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A serious work of social history. Marie Antoinette may not have invented the politics of costume, but she understood, although she often miscalculated, the importance of manipulating her public image."—The Boston Globe
"A work of careful scholarship . . . In many ways, though, Weber improves upon [Antonia] Fraser . . . Queen of Fashion tells a better story . . . you keep turning the pages even when you know how it ends."—Chicago Sun-Times
“In a fresh, totally spellbinding manner Weber does a masterful job in 289 pages tracing Marie Antoinette’s fashions from Austrian archduchess through marriage and ascension as queen of France.”—R . V. A. Gomez, Anne Arundel Community College, Choice
"Weber is a serious historian, and nearly every sentence of her account is footnoted to one of her many sources, some not tapped before . . . but what's most welcome is her use of her own feeling for clothes and their importance. This popular subject has been trivially belabored by numerous cultural-studies academics with no personal stake in dress history or in actual garments. It's refreshing to find solid interpretive work and historical responsibility in an impassioned book on clothing's power over perception and self-perception."—Slate
"Caroline Weber weaves her portrait of Marie Antoinette—and pre-revolutionary France—from the very fabric of the Queen's wardrobe. Here is fashion at its most cut-throat and history at its most sumptuous; an original, arresting tale, of high stakes all around."—Stacy Schiff, author of A Great Improvisation
"Queen of Fashion is a marvelous read.  Fascinating in its rich detail yet also deeply moving, no other book about the tragic Marie Antoinette so captures her fatal flair for fashion. Caroline Weber not only combines fresh insights with new material, she also has a dazzling style of writing that most authors would kill for.  This is a book to be read and reread and then passed among friends."—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana 
"Caroline Weber deftly details the volatile interplay of fashion and politics during Marie Antoinette’s reign as a sartorial trend-setter. A witty account of fashion as dynastic high stakes, this rereading of the lead-up to the French Revolution sees the queen’s vestimentary caprices as politically motivated, an ill-fated approach to her personal disenfranchisement. An original look at a turning point in European history."—Carolyn Burke, author of Lee Miller: A Life
"As Caroline Weber demonstrates with dazzling detail in Queen of Fashion, when it came to Marie's wardrobe, more was better and too much was never enough: Weber's book is an ode to the art of dressmaking at its most fantastic, a heady, gorgeous glimpse into the past . . . Queen of Fashion is as richly imagined as the gowns it describes . . .   As sociology . . . it's nothing short of stunning."—Suzanne D’Amato, Orlando Sentinel
"Caroline Weber's historical imagination and zest for fashion make for a sparkling take on the tragic, trendy Queen. Scholarly and entertaining—a brilliant, wholly original book."—Kennedy Fraser, author of The Power of Style
"[Caroline Weber's] comprehensive, entertaining latest work suggests that she has studied just about every other important history—academic and popular—covering the reign of Louis XVI and his controversial consort . . . [T]he fashion segments are fun to read and researched with consummate attention to detail, as 80 pages of endnotes certify. When the royal couple is finally imprisoned, the author does a splendid job of explaining how their political fall was mirrored in their dress. Her account of the queen's final appearance—all in glorious white—on the ride to the guillotine carries enormous poignancy."—Kirkus Reviews
"Tales of intrigue dot every page . . . as do the foibles of commoners and royalty. Bold and engaging"—Booklist
"As this prodigiously researched, deliciously detailed study of the doomed royal's fashion statements demonstrates, her masculine equestrian garb, ostentatious costumes for masked balls, high Parisian hairdos and faux country-girl gear were bold bids for political power and personal freedom in a suffocating realm where a queen was merely a breeder and living symbol of her spouse's glorious reign . . . The generously illustrated history by Weber posits that the queen's fashion obsession wasn't about narcissism and frivolity but self-assertion; even at the guillotine she controlled her image with a radiantly white ensemble."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Read an Excerpt

Caroline Weber is an associate professor of French and Comparative Literature at Barnard College, Columbia University. A specialist in eighteenth-century French culture, she has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. She has published two other books on the French Revolution, as well articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bookforum, and Vogue. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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  • Caroline Weber

  • Caroline Weber is associate professor of French at Barnard College, Columbia University. A specialist of eighteenth-century French literature, culture, and history, she has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.  She lives with her husband in New York City.
  • Caroline Weber Sarah Shatz