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LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FASHION by Anne Higonnet Kirkus Star


The Women Who Styled the French Revolution

by Anne Higonnet

Pub Date: April 16th, 2024
ISBN: 9780393867954
Publisher: Norton

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.