Marie Antoinette and Joan of Arc: A (Slightly Francophobic) Dichotomy
BY ADI RAMAN '23
Ah, France. If watching Emily in Paris hasn’t already tainted your perception of it, and you look past the imperialism, excessive smoking, and overall pretentiousness, I suppose it’s a decent country. Despite its obvious flaws, France has been the birthplace of a few iconic baddies who have made lasting global impacts—most notably, Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette. If you’ve been craving a thorough analysis on second-millennium girlbossery (you know, just a common hankering we all get every once in a while), you’ve come to the right place! We’re going to take a look at Joan and Marie’s backgrounds, distinct styles, and the legacies they’ve left behind.
Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) was the original material girl (sorry to burst your bubble, Madonna). She was born the archduchess of Austria before marrying into French royalty. Having obliterated the bourgeoisie a long time ago, Marie lived in the lap of luxury and denied her impoverished people food—a power move, if you ask me. There is still debate over whether she actually said “Let them eat cake” in response to the French people having no food, but there is no question that, for a while, Madame Marie was living the sweet life. Unfortunately, the French people eventually beheaded her, but I suppose all’s fair in love and revolution.
Joan of Arc (?–1431) was just so cool. Imagine being so mysterious that no one knows when you were born. An icon (literally—she was canonized as a saint in 1920). Born into a poor peasant family, Madame Joan claimed she saw visions of saints urging her to fight for France in the Hundred Years’ War. Her contributions to the war effort were essential to France’s victory over England. Although she was tragically burned at the stake when she was nineteen—the French falsely accused her of heresy—Joan impressively slayed her way to prominence during her short lifetime.
Marie opted for a more stereotypically feminine look, donning towering wigs, frills, bows, and elaborate dresses. She quickly adapted to the grandiose lifestyle as a French monarch from her humbler Austrian roots. Her renowned pannier skirts would sometimes reach sixteen feet in diameter, which may not be good for running when you have a bunch of angry French people after you at all times. It’s rumored that she became frustrated with Versailles’ strict dress codes, so she, along with her stylist, came up with unconventional methods to slip past the rules.
Joan of Arc dressed comme des garçons with her short hairstyle and armor. Joan is an early example of a well-known female figure who wore androgynous garments. This armor proved invaluable as she chopped down all the Brits (who are just bad as the French, if we’re being honest) on horseback. Whether it be belittling the common folk or fighting for her country, both Marie and Joan’s fashion speaks to their social standings.
Marie Antoinette’s style is often referenced in high fashion, with the Fall/Winter 2020-2021 Moschino show being one such example. She has an Oscar-winning biopic (out of many), and, to this day, historians still argue over whether she actually said the iconic cake quote.
Now, hear me very well: the majority of historians want you to believe that Benjamin Franklin was the greatest inventor of all time, but I call that censorship and blasphemy. Madame Joan invented geometrical arcs (although mathematicians will deny this truth) and bob cuts, the two most-used creations since the beginning of humanity. She inspired Zendaya’s 2018 Met Gala look, and her story has been made into multiple historical films, too.
So, what can we learn from our two favorite French legends? Well, for starters, we know that girlbossery takes many shapes (including arcs) and forms. Despite having different backgrounds, fashion senses, and social statuses, both Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette were able to carve out their respective places in a tapestry that stands the test of time.