Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Importance of Fashion in Perrault's Fairy Tales

I found this article, Wikispaces: Louis XIV's Use of Fashion to Control and Express Power, and it has a great section on the importance of fasion in Perrault's fairy tales:


“One of the earliest surviving French luxe mules, just the kind of slipper Cinderella wore to the ball, is a study in green and white. Made of white leather with a green leather welt and green embroider, it features the curvy Louis heel” (85). DeJean, Joan. The Essence of Style.
"Louis XIV similarly used propaganda to encourage the nobilities’ dependence on and obsession with fashion. At the time the belief was already in place that one’s outside appearance reflected not only one’s personality but who one was in terms of social status. The more expensive and fashionable, the more important one was.[15] As can be seen in fairy tales of the time, such as Cinderella and Puss in Boots, wearing a gorgeous gown or fashionable boots meant the wearer was important and heroic. [16] Two French Cinderella stories were published in 1697, one written by Charles Perrault and the other by Marie-Catherine de Barneville, Comtesse d’Aulnoy.[17] D’Aulnoy’s story had an especially strong emphasis on the importance of fashion; the dress and shoes were the main characters and Cinderella was only there to carry the clothing. In the story, when Cinderella comes to the ball, she never even meets the prince, but simply shows off her glamorous gown and “red velvet mules completely encrusted with pearls;” a pair of glamorous shoes she would never intended to lose.[18] On the other hand, in Perrault’s story, Cinderella slips out of her shoe in an attempt to lure the prince after her as she knows its beauty will attract him.[19] In D’Aulnoy’s story, she extends the obsession of fashion to men as well, as Prince Charming finds Cinderella’s lost slipper and becomes entranced by its petit size and exquisite craft.[20] He becomes devoted to and enamored by the shoe, not eating or leaving his room for weeks. The doctors his desperate parents send for declare him in love – Prince Charming himself states that it is the shoe with which he is in love.[21] D’Aulnoy’s story centerpieces clothing and the Parisian fashion industry, making it magical and desirable by its fairytale setting.

"Charles Perrault wrote the story of Puss in Boots around the same time. In the story, the youngest son of a miller is presented, as his inheritance, a cat. Puss is not particularly extraordinary until, upon his request, the son presents Puss with a pair of boots and a pouch.[22] Once Puss has these, he is able to perform heroic deeds and impress the king with many gifts. When the king is riding in the woods, the cat tricks him into believing the miller’s son is a Marquis, whereupon the king gives the miller’s son a set of expensive clothes because Puss has told him that the Marquis’s were stolen. Eventually the miller’s son marries the king’s daughter and the cat becomes a grand seigneur.[23] Just as Cinderella transforms into a high-born lady when she wears a gorgeous gown, Puss is transformed into a witty and courageous cat that is able to procure many great privileges for his master when given a pair of boots. The son’s relationship with the king is even firmly established by the king presenting him with the clothes of a courtier to wear. These clothes seem to transform the peasant to a courtier just as Cinderella’s did. Perrault’s story emphasizes “the virtues of dress, countenance, and youth to win the heart of a princess.” [24] Perrault also mentions, briefly, that the truly noble need not strain themselves. When Puss jumps up onto the ogre’s roof in fear, he finds it difficult because his boots are not suited for walking on tiles. Therefore the emphasis is especially strong on how, while wearing such fancy boots, he cannot do hard work because of course Puss’s boots would never be designed for labor because the nobility has no need to work. 

"Perrault wrote many other stories, including Sleeping Beauty, Little Tom Thumb, and Ricky of the Tuft. All of his stories include similar messages. He calls on women to be beautiful, fashionable, and to properly maintain her attire. Any woman of importance or good qualities in Perrault’s story posses beauty or, in the case of Cinderella, are able to swath themselves in beauty.[25] Men in his stories are ambitious and clever, always climbing the social ladder.[26] Puss especially embodies the perfect bourgeois, “who serves his master with complete devotion and diligence” and is ultimately rewarded.[27] Perrault encourages men to be loyal to the king and serve him well in order to gain his favor, just as Louis did through competition. Through his stories, Perrault hoped to portray, either by example or counter-example, the correct mannerisms and personalities of courtiers as well as what material items they required to achieve this.[28] D’Aulnoy’s Finette Cendron and Perrault’s Le Maistre Chat, ou Le Chat Bott√© loudly proclaim fashion as the most influential and important industry and almost all one needs to become rich and powerful."

(emphasis mine)

It's true that fashion is a huge theme in Perrault's fairy tales, as the topic was so important for his time and culture. However I find it interesting that the author (I can't find the author on the site...?) interpreted all of Perrault's writing on fashion literally. Fairy tale scholars generally see Perrault's writing as being highly satirical. I'll admit I have a difficult time wrapping my head around his writing being actually feminist, since his morals come across as so offensive to us today. But as you readers have pointed out, his morals are just so over the top and ridiculous, and at the time you couldn't outright criticize the King, you had to do it subtley. 

Still, even to me it seems that when Perrault talks about the importance of clothing it seems like he's poking fun of the royal circles and their slavish devotion to fashion. Like this passage when Sleeping Beauty has just awakened after her hundred years' nap: 

"The princess was already fully dressed, and in most magnificent style. As he helped her to rise, the prince refrained from telling her that her clothes, with the straight collar which she wore, were like those to which his grandmother had been accustomed. And in truth, they in no way detracted from her beauty.

"They passed into an apartment hung with mirrors, and were there served with supper by the stewards of the household, while the fiddles and oboes played some old music and played it remarkably well, considering they had not played at all for just upon a hundred years."

Either way, the conclusion is the same, that fashion was incredibly important in France at the time, and this is reflected in French fairy tales.

Cinderella-Charles Folkard
Puss in Boots-Gustav Dore
Sleeping Beauty-Harry Clarke

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