Liberty equality fashion The women who styled the French Revolution

Anne Higonnet, 1959-

Book - 2024

"Three women led a fashion revolution and turned themselves into international style celebrities. Joséphine Bonaparte, future Empress of France; Térézia Tallien, the most beautiful woman in Europe; and Juliette Récamier, muse of intellectuals, had nothing left to lose. After surviving incarceration and forced incestuous marriage during the worst violence of the French Revolution of 1789, they dared sartorial revolt. Together, Joséphine and Térézia shed the underwear cages and massive, rigid garments that women had been obliged to wear for centuries. They slipped into light, mobile dresses, cropped their hair short, wrapped themselves in shawls, and championed the handbag. Juliette made the new style stand for individual liberty.... The erotic audacity of these fashion revolutionaries conquered Europe, starting with Napoleon. Everywhere a fashion magazine could reach, women imitated the news coming from Paris. It was the fastest and most total change in clothing history. Two centuries ahead of its time, it was rolled back after only a decade by misogynist rumors of obscene extravagance. New evidence allows the real fashion revolution to be told. This is a story for our time: of a revolution that demanded universal human rights, of self-creation, of women empowering each other, and of transcendent glamor"--

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor New Shelf 746.9209044/Higonnet (NEW SHELF) Due Jun 1, 2024
New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company [2024]
Main Author
Anne Higonnet, 1959- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xvii, 286 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 257-268) and index.
  • Cast of Characters
  • An Approximate Guide to Money
  • French Revolution Timeline
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Three Paris Shopping Trips
  • 1. Sumptuary Dictates (Joséphine)
  • 2. Style Enterprise (Térézia)
  • 3. Strained Seams (Juliette)
  • Part II. During the Revolution, 1789-1804
  • 4. Off with Their Silks, 1789-1793
  • 5. Cut to Nothing, 1794
  • 6. Desperate Measures (Térézia & Joséphine), 1794-1796
  • 7. At Ease (Térézia) 1794-1799
  • 8. Altered Fortune (Joséphine & Napoléon), 1794-1796
  • 9. Minimalist Principles (Juliette), 1794-1799
  • 10. A Directory of Accessories, 1794-1804
  • 11. Freedom from Clothes (Térézia), 1797-1804
  • 12. Dressed for Success (Joséphine), 1797-1804
  • 13. Opposition Patterns (Juliette), 1799-1804
  • Part III. After the Revolution
  • 14. Order in the Wardrobe
  • 15. Epilogues
  • 16. Conclusion
  • How This Book Happened-By Way of Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Image Credits
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Three women who "decapitate aristocratic style" in revolutionary France take center stage in this impressive account from Barnard art history professor Higonnet (Berthe Morisot). Tracing how from 1789 to 1804 these "three graces" (so-called at the time for their stylishness) eschewed restrictive, elaborate garments in favor of simple, straight, unstructured dresses, Higonnet contends that this style shift was a bold expression of revolutionary freedom. The most well-known "grace," Marie Joséphine Rose Tascher de La Pagerie (later Joséphine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon), drew fashion inspiration from women of color in Martinique, where she grew up, and broke "barriers in women's clothing history" that were "five hundred years old" by wearing one-piece dresses in lieu of the two-piece combo of skirt and bodice. Also profiled are Térézia Tallien, who used the seductive power of clothing to ensnare powerful men and finagle for herself "unprecedented celebrity" and power in the Directory era (she was a key architect behind the overthrow of Robespierre), and Juliette Récamier, who "trademarked absolute whiteness" as a symbol of virginity after a marriage to her rumored biological father made it necessary for her to prove they weren't actually sleeping together. As rigorous as it is fun, Higonnet's narrative takes many insightful detours, from close readings of the era's paintings to an overview of how colonial trade transformed France's economy. It's a captivating case study of fashion's provocative role in politics. (Apr.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

How three women made indelible marks on fashion and feminism during the French Revolution. Higonnet, a professor of art history at Barnard, crafts a comprehensive profile of the Three Graces, Frenchwomen who changed the face of fashion throughout the late 18th century. Frustrated with the constraints of the age, each of these women defied previously set European sumptuary laws and dress codes and embraced shopping and self-made fashion trends accentuating the female form. Joséphine Bonaparte, future empress of France and a woman with Creole roots, combined the Black cultural flare of Martinique with Indian style to create a "fairy-tale wardrobe" of diaphanous dresses awash in color and flare and redingotes that trod the tabooed edges of androgyny. Higonnet also shares the provocative story of European beauty Térézia Tallien, confined to a family-arranged marriage at 14 to achieve French nobility and jailed for a month after being arrested in an "edifice of conical bone stays, layered petticoats, and a three-piece silken gown." Juliette Récamier was also relocated to urban France "to be restyled" and eventually became a socialite and intellectual muse enamored with transforming the landscape of Parisian fashion. The women's collective attires exuded power, sexual seduction, social superiority, and counterrevolutionary defiance. Higonnet generously illustrates the book with polychromatic line drawings and full-color oil paintings of the trio, their striking taste in textiles and accessories, and the evolution of their lavish apparel throughout a period in history when much of Europe became seduced with "beauty leveraged by courage and style." In this ideal text for fashion course curriculums and students of fashion history, Higonnet demonstrates her meticulous research in energetic prose that vibrantly captures the lives of these three revolutionary champions of chic European finery and women's liberation. A passionately rendered history of three "style mavericks" who ushered in a defining fashion revolution. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.