Orientalism Volume 38.4 Preview

Where East Met West in the Court of Versailles


MADAME D’AGUESSEAU DE FRESNES by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1789. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Samuel H. Kress Collection (1946.7.16). 

"Fashion victim” is a very modern term for a very old phenomenon. In eighteenth-century France, petite-maîtresse—meaning “little mistress”—was the preferred term for someone who followed fashion for its own sake, regardless of how arbitrary, expensive, ugly, or unflattering it might be. Like today’s “fashion victim,” it could be an insult or a compliment, depending on your perspective; after all, you had to be fashionable in order to be called a fashion victim. It was even said that Marie-Antoinette—perhaps the ultimate fashion victim—was “prouder of the title ‘petite-maîtresse’ than ‘Queen of France.’ ” The petite-maîtresse and her male equivalent, the petit-maître, may have been fashion victims, but they were also fashion role models, appearing in fashion magazines and fashion plates...


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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is a fashion historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. This issue she investigates the surprisingly extensive impact of the Orient on European culture... and most importantly, clothes. Though refracted, interpreted, and distorted through the prism of the West, the styles of East Asian and Middle Eastern fashion had an indelible effect on Parisian couture. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette published by Yale University Press this year.