Submission to the Graces: Neoclassicism, Gender, and the Fashion Press in Revolutionary France

Kam, Miranda
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During the French Revolution, dress became an indicator of a person’s loyalty to the Revolution. Due to the increased controversy surrounding the political implications of dress, the National Convention declared freedom of dress for all citizens and citizenesses in 1793. Some historians have contended that Revolutionary legislators granted women freedom in fashion largely as a substitute for genuine political power in the emerging public sphere. This paper argues that although revolutionary processes may have granted women freedom of fashion, the male-dominated fashion press attempted to undermine women’s authority and assert men’s control in an area in which it claimed women possessed legitimate power. Through the close analysis of fashion periodicals published during the Directory period (1795-99) of the French Revolution, this paper determines that while fashion periodicals claimed to venerate women and their talents in the realm of fashion, they employed concepts like the relationship between dress and behaviors to dictate women’s dress. By regulating women’s consumptive and sartorial habits, the fashion press helped to alleviate contemporaries’ concerns regarding women’s participation in the public sphere.
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