Author: Caroline Weber
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Summary: I loved all the little details of fashion in daily life that were included in this book, as well as the thorough citations supporting them.
I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair to call this a microhistory, since it does cover the fairly large topic of the French Revolution. However, it does so through the narrow, but informative lens of Marie Antoinette’s fashion choices. That topic is narrow enough that I was skeptical about how interesting it would be. While a lot of people in the goodreads group I read this with did find it too dense, I’m happy to say that my concerns were unfounded. I thought this was a fascinating way to look at this time period. The author included delightful details of daily life, backed up by thorough citations of primary sources. She also made a convincing argument that Marie Antoinette’s fashion was influential enough that it was a worthwhile frame through which to analyze this time period.
The little details were what really made this book for me. Information about what people wore, what their clothes meant, and how court life and pop culture functioned at the time, drawn from primary sources, was fascinating. Actually, the secondary sources were great too. It was amazing to hear about the very specific, adjacent topics that had already been researched! I also loved learning about the weight the French put on fashion to specify class. The author did a great job of contextualizing Marie Antoinette’s fashion. It clearly had a huge influence on how people viewed the aristocracy. The author does, in endnotes, carefully reference other factors that drove the revolution. I don’t think she overstates the role of fashion. She’s just very clear about where her focus is.
I also enjoyed reading about Marie Antoinette. It’s clear that she was totally disconnected from the famine her subjects experienced. The amount of money she spent on fashion was unforgivable, even in the context of ‘normal’ for royalty. Still, she was dropped into a foreign court as a young woman alone. She had many ready made enemies. She had to adjust to much stricter protocol and less privacy then she was used to in Austria. It was hard not to root for her at least a little as she used fashion to carve out a space for herself. It also was clear that while she made some enemies, after a certain point, nothing she wore was going to escape condemnation. I’d be interested to read more about her.