Monday, March 16, 2015

Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell Review

"By the end of Louis XVI's reign, fashion's passive role became an active one; it did not simply record events, but provoked and influenced them. Every fashion was a statement." 
--Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

In Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell delves into the aesthetics, evolution and multifaceted meanings of fashion in France from the 1770s through the revolution and its aftermath.

The book is separated into four distinct parts (Court and City, New and Novel, Fashion and Fantasy, Revolution and Recovery) and each part is further distinguished by chapters covering different aspects of fashion that fit under each part's theme. All four parts of the book are also supplemented by a short introduction that introduces the themes of each section.

In "Court and City," for example, Chrisman-Campbell discusses Marie Antoinette's penchant for fashion as well as her influence on the burgeoning fashion industry; the part also discusses the rise of "petite-maitresses," a term designated for women who were devoted to keeping up with the latest fashions, however rapidly changing or ridiculous they might be; and finally the role of the marchande de modes, such as the famous Rose Bertin, without whom the evolution of late 18th century fashion may not have been possible.

My favorite aspect of the book is Chrisman-Campbell's abundant use of various contemporary sources in her text. She quotes and analyzes material from fashion magazines, newspapers, memoirs, letters, revolutionary pamphlets and other sources; these sources give great insight into how fashion was viewed on a commercial, social and even personal level by the people who were directly impacted by it. I also greatly appreciated Chrisman-Campbell's insights into subjects that are not typically discussed in books about this period, such as chemise gowns and the chemise a la reine, the status of fashion for French emigres who fled during the revolution, extensive details about mourning fashion and its social customs, and the wave of "Anglomania" that crept into French fashions in the 1780s.

Fashion Victims is filled with gorgeous contemporary paintings, engravings,and illustrations as well as photographs of existing 18th century garments. The image reproductions are high quality and provide an excellent companion to Chrisman-Campbell's text. More important than the images, however, is the text itself. Fashion Victims is not just a pretty book: it is filled with interesting, insightful and in-depth scholarship by Chrisman-Campbell, who discusses everything from the details of elaborate court dresses to the scandal and acceptance of chemise a la reines to elaborate mourning customs to some of the strangest coiffures, like those made to celebrate smallpox vaccinations.

I highly recommend Fashion Victims, Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell to anyone interested in fashion history, 18th century fashion, Marie Antoinette, or the French Revolution.  The book is currently in-print from Yale University Press.

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher upon my request.]

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