Microhistory Review: Queen of Fashion

February 17, 2021 Uncategorized 9 ★★★★

Microhistory Review: Queen of FashionTitle: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
Author: Caroline Weber
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

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.

9 Responses to “Microhistory Review: Queen of Fashion”

  1. Helen Murdoch

    I think it’s funny that we’ve cared what our celebrities wear for hundreds of years! I am guilty of this even though I know it shouldn’t matter, but we common folk like to see what they are wearing, judge it, think about wearing it ourselves and more.

  2. Rennie

    I wouldn’t consider myself particularly interested in fashion or fashion history, but the way you describe this one just sounds so good. I would love to hear more about the influence of pop culture on what was going on at the time! Marie Antoinette does seem really fascinating. I remember seeing some of the stuff from her childhood in Vienna, like family portraits, at the palace where she grew up that’s now a museum. I’m not sure I even had realized that she was Austrian, I think I just assumed for so long she was actually French! And I absolutely love any history book that branches into really interesting adjacent topics like you mention here. That makes it an automatic must-read for me 🙂
    Rennie recently posted…Two New Looks at the Holocaust, Through a Photograph and “Memory Work”My Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I’m not particularly interested in fashion either, but this book connected fashion to so many big picture topics, it really won me over! How awesome that you got to see some of her things. After reading this, I’d be very excited to get to do that 🙂

  3. Julie @ Julzreads

    Huh, who would have thought to use fashion as a lens to look at that period in history! I know very little about revolutionary France and I’m not a fashionista by any means, but it seems like the latter might be a good introduction to the former.
    Julie @ Julzreads recently posted…Cross Stitch ExtravaganzaMy Profile

  4. Angela

    What an intriguing angle! I think I would love all the little details, too – those are often the things that stick with me the most when reading a nonfiction book.

    • DoingDewey

      It really made for interesting introduction to the time period. I love books that look at details of daily life in historical time period and the focus on fashion meant that this book included a lot of that.

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