This portrait of Madame Récamier is all about the influence of guillotine on women’s fashions. Juliette is barefoot in a nightgown-like dress. Most art historians would not venture past the references to the classical attire. Yet I ought to remind my readers that before climbing the scaffolds, clothes and shoes were routinely taken off, and both men and women went up the steps already in their under-garments; as for the hair, it was cut down to its roots already at the Conciergery. After the fall of Robespierre, the above features turned into a powerful allusion to the woman’s political affiliation: the days of Terror were officially over, and now only those who had once been scheduled for guillotine, or have lost a very close relative to it, could be admitted to an exclusive Victims Ball. From that presumably orgiastic event, where young women wore diaphanous robes decorated with seventeen pearl buttons — an allusion to Louis XVII, Louis XVI’s son; and where they wore simple red chokers in reference to the mortal blade cut, the radical new fashions spread into the city. It is right around this time that shawls became popular, for the light muslin dresses failed to keep the fashionistas warm; as for the shawl’s color — red, it served as a reference to Charlotte de Corday, the murderer of Marat, concealing in her scarf her weapon. To summarize my foray into the world of fashions, I have to point toward the work of French linguists, who tell us that at the turn of the XIX century the Parisian dialect was changing, showing a new tendency to swallow r, for the traumatized Victims failed to pronounce the first letter of the word Revolution.
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