Happy Birthday Marie Antoinette, the Original Fashionista


Marie Antoinette, the child bride of Louis XVI (also a teenager when wed) often gets a bad rap. The oft-taught high school history lessons has left her forever known as the care-less Queen, who scoffed at the starving masses with the original hashtag #LetThemEatCake. As it turns out—according to several researchers—the indulgent sovereign never actually said that, and it was the result of some nasty PR and propaganda by those in favor of a revolt. It didn’t stop there as the Queen was subject to other haters—kind of like current day Kim Kardashian West, people loved to read and see negative images of the former Hapsburg Princess just as they do KKW. You might say Marie Antoinette was template for the type of fame Kris Jenner masterminded for her family–glamour, rich excess with a good helping of bad taste and questionable judgement. They even share a jewelry heist scandal.

When it comes to the world of fashion, we are forever in debt to Marie Antoinette, whose rein was during the 1700s‘ Age of Enlightenment. Prior to the time, the manner of dress was super specific to class; it was obvious to see where one stood in life based on the garments he or she wore. The Queen set the scene for change when she donned a lavender gown embroidered with diamonds and pearls on her wedding day, and after Rose Bertin—France’s first celebrated fashion designer and Marie Antoinette’s own personal couturier—kept her in the latest fashions. One of her most famous garbs was the gaulle, a layered gauze muslin dress that was traditionally worn under more fancy fabric dresses such as silks and brocade. So as much as we like to credit the 1980s “Material Girl” Madonna (and current version Lady Gaga) with the underwear as outerwear trend, we can trace it back to the Marie Antoinette. She also popularized the robe à la polonaise, which was based on traditional Polish costume dress. The Queen’s hairstyles also reached new heights of fashion, quite literally. Bertin was her hairdresser, too, and the resulting “poufs” could be compared to current hair genius Julien d’Ys. She created styles on the Marie Antoinette that were almost three feet in the air, which were almost always accompanied by a spray of panache.

The Queen also loved chocolate, reportedly drinking it hot with whipped cream for breakfast daily. As the cocoa-treat was fairly new and exotic at the time, this extravagance probably didn’t help her reputation for being immune to the issue of the starving masses. But it was also reported that the type of grain used for the royal bread was altered under her command to allow for more to be produced and spread among the people. It’s all about balance, as they say. Ditto was her love for flowers. Marie Antoinette displayed them throughout her private quarters in Petit Trianon, surely to please her many guests that arrived for her parties and card games. Where would fashion today be without the ample supply of bouquets—everywhere from a designers’ showroom to the runways?

So exactly why did the press love to scorn her so? Well the aforementioned pastimes—fashion, beauty and entertaining—seemed callous when people were starving to death daily. But on some level, the ruling bodies of nations to this day seem to be faring much better than a lot of its inhabitants. Still, without a maverick press machine on her side promoting her benevolent acts, she seemed like an asshole to the rest of the country. Then there were her supposed sexual exploits. No doubt she had many, but let’s look at some of the contributing factors. First off Louis XVI was thought to be not sexy at all—but was that the case? New research suggests that the reason the marriage may have taken seven years to produce an heir boiled down to anatomy. It seems Louis was quite well endowed and Marie Antoinette had a condition that well, left little opening. (Makes you wonder where the expression “Fit for a Queen” comes from.)

Ultimately, the Queen met the same fate as her King, losing her head via the guillotine on October 16, 1793 after being sentenced during a somewhat bogus trial full of trumped up charges, including a widely believed false accusation of incest by her son, Louis Charles. Love her, hate her, her impact on fashion and style is more than half-baked, and her life was not always the cakewalk her detractors made it out to be.


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