Marie Antoinette, like many queens before her, was very influential in the world of fashion. She is even credited with creating the empire waist gown that we associate with the late Georgian and Regency periods. She had a little cottage constructed for herself, with a humble country garden surrounding it and she spend her days there, pretending to be a peasant. She would wear a simple shift or petticoat with a ribbon around it, and I have heard it suggested that it was in imitation of this style of dress that the Napoleonic fashion was born. Certainly, the gowns of Jane Austen's time resembled more the dress of peasants than the absurdly ornate courtiers' gowns of the late 18th Century.
When Marie Antoinette was ultimately beheaded with her husband, so powerful was her influence that fashionable ladies began to recreate the image of her, post-guillotine. They cut off all their hair, in a ragged way, as though it had been done by a prison barber, as Queen Marie's would have been. They then wore a red ribbon around their necks to indicate the would-be cut of the blade that was to have severed their head from their body. I am not sure just how common this fashion was. A lady would certainly have to be committed to it, since she had to cut off all her hair in order to sport it. But if you want to see an example, or evidence that I am not making this up, you can watch Wives and Daughters, the mini-series. (Actually, you should watch it anyway. It is lovely.) About half-way through, one of the characters, a very wealthy and fashionable lady, shows up to a ball dressed just as I have described. Gruesome, I know, but true.
And you thought Heroin Chic was too much!
(Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, the novel, comes out October 31, 2013. Until then, I am posting things I learned in the course of my research, and of being a geek. Sharing always welcome. Follow me on twitter @FolliesPast)