How could I do a serious all about style icons without including the Queen of fashion (and France), Marie Antoinette? What a style icon she was. Fashion was ultimately the beginning of her downfall. So what was it about Queen Marie that lands her in the fashion hall of fame? Well, let me tell you.
Marie Antoinette was born in Austria on the 2nd November 1755 as Marie Antonia Josepha Johanna. Her father was Francis I, Holy Roman Emporer, and her mother was Maria Theresa of Austria. Upon her birth, she became an Archduchess of Austria. At the age of fourteen, she married Louis-Auguste, the heir to the French throne, and became Dauphine of France. In 1774 Louis-Auguste was named Louis XVI, King of France, making Marie Queen of France and Navarre! This being the beginning of the end for Marie Antoinette.
As Queen, Marie faced a lot of expectations. As a foreign Queen, these expectations seemed higher than most. It’s safe to say that she wasn’t liked very much by the French people. They considered her promiscuous, her four children as illegitimate, reckless, and extravagant. The French also accused her of sympathising with France’s enemies, including Austria. People said she didn’t support France as much as a monarch should. Marie was not the sort of person to sit around waiting to be told what to do, she was pretty independent, courtiers and French civilians saw this as dangerous. She was expected to support local French silk and other fashion companies, but not too much. She was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.
Ten- years before her death in 1793, Antoinette was famously painted by Élisabeth Louise Vigée in a simple muslin dress, chemise à la Reine. Not only did this shock the whole country but it arguably signed her death warrant. The chemise à la Reine was very similar to what women would’ve worn as undergarments during this time, so to see the Queen portrayed in this way was totally scandalous. The dress is perfectly fine for the privacy of your own home, but formal attire it is not. A huge contrast to the large structures you would’ve seen around this time, a soft and light gown that you just know was delightful to wear. A second portrait was painted, almost identical to the first, of Marie Antoinette in more ‘appropriate’ fashion.
In 1792 the French monarchy fell due to the French revolution. Her husband Louis XVI was tried in December of the same year and found guilty of undermining the First French Republic. He was executed by guillotine on January the 21st, 1793.
Marie Antoinette mourned the death of her husband deeply. Not everyone hated her though, she still had hope that Royalists would somehow save her. She was kept at the Tower Temple until August 1st, where she was transferred to a cell in the Conciergerie where she had absolutely no privacy. The isolated cell was where she spent the remainder of her days. She was likely incredibly scared, but also still mourning the death of her late husband. Once a Queen, now prisoner number 208.
Tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on October the 14th 1793 and found guilty of depletion of the national treasury, conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State, and high treason. She saved one of her most powerful fashion statements until the end, white being the colour worn by mourning French Queens. The day of her execution she slipped on a plain white gown she had hidden from the guards. Her hair was cut short (think the ‘shame’ scene with Cersei on Game of Thrones) and she was bound with a rope, like a dog. Adding salt to the wound, she had to sit in an open-topped cart on her journey to the guillotine, which took over an hour. She sat in silence and did not say anything until she reached the scaffold. Her last words are recorded as ‘pardon me, Sir, I did not do it on purpose’ after stepping on the foot of the executioner.
At 12:15pm Marie Antoinette was decapitated at Place de la Révolution. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave. Twenty-eight years later her and Louis’ bodies were exhumed and buried in the necropolis of French kings at the Basilica of St Denis.
Hated if she did and hated if she didn’t. Marie Antoinette was set up to fail, there’s no way she would’ve been able to win.