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Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution    by Caroline Weber order for
Queen of Fashion
by Caroline Weber
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lisa Respers France

Marie Antoinette - formerly known as Josephe Jeanne Marie Antoinette von Habsburg-Lorraine - was not only the Queen of France and Archduchess of Austria. She was also one of the most controversial and maligned figures in history. Portrayals of her have ranged from the cold hearted monarch who allegedly uncaringly uttered 'Let them eat cake' when told that the poor were starving without bread to an air headed heiress who cared only about her powdered up dos and pretty dresses. Recently, more sympathetic portrayals of her have appeared in works of fiction as the fascination continues with the elegant, attractive 18th century vixen who came to power as a teenager and met a tragic end on the guillotine.

Now, fresh on the publicity heels of an anticipated blockbuster biopic about Marie Antoinette, Caroline Weber has written an extremely well researched tome on the doomed queen. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution is a fresh take on the icon, weaving her fashions into the threads of what would become an incredible life. A specialist in 18th century French literature, history and culture, Weber has painstakingly reconstructed the life of the woman - from tragedies such as being paraded naked before the Austrian delegation upon her arrival to marry Louis XVI, to the triumphs of having every bow and crease of her outfits copied by the public.

Where in the hands of others such a book might be a study of the silly and shallow, Weber shows how the Queen's fashion sense may have been an attempt to assert herself within a political arena which ordinarily left women powerless. Like a pre-modern day Madonna (the pop star, not the virgin) Marie Antoinette took a stand for her artistic freedom and individuality through her sense of style. And also like the aforementioned singer, she suffered from criticism both abroad and at home, with comparisons to prostitutes and courtesans abounding. Even her own mother was critical of her look, and innocent episodes such as when which she stayed up all night with friends to watch the sun rise in the gardens were transformed into gossipy tales of her and a 'slew of paramours copulating feverishly in the bushes.' Politics, relationships, love, sex and fashion all collide in this book and Weber seems to possess a depth of understanding for her subject which moves the characterization of the queen beyond the superficial.

In the 21st century, when entire magazines are devoted to trends, Queen of Fashion is a fascinating look back at a woman who may have been ahead of her time in her desire for independence and her fashion sense. It is also a testament to the fact that clothes do make the woman.

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