Orientalism is a representation of Eastern culture that is a stereotype from the original form. It is also a concept overlooked in the understanding of modern fashion. Yet twentieth and twenty-first century styles reflect an established conversation between East and West, a phenomenon that is culturally translated as hybridity. Within the concept of hybridity, two standard cultures are combined into a new hybrid version. This process is experimental and creative and drives the trends created to flourish into new accepted customs. Such is the story with the Orientalism movement, originating from the French colonies in North Africa. During a malleable time in their own formation, the colonizing French shrouded themselves in a new hybrid style as they reasserted their identity. This will later be paralleled in North African history during their own revolutionary struggle. Hybrid fashion influenced their own assertion of identity to differentiate Islamic culture from the Western styles of the French colonists. It is important to examine the emergence of hybridity in French and North African fashion, in the context of colonialism, leading to the phenomenon of Orientalism. This Orientalism and hybridity influenced the role of gender in each culture’s interpretation of femininity within the hybrid mix of Eastern and Western styles and textiles. This is evidenced by the role of Napoleon, Josephine, and Rousseau, as well as the role of the veil, North African textiles and traditions within the hybrid styles created. Why does this concept of Orientalism hinge so strongly on fashion? In cultural interaction during the colonial era of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the descriptions were focused around the dress of the foreign people being encountered. These descriptions were interested in the difference in dress and how fashion helped establish boundaries between masculinity and femininity. Fashion communicated gender roles within the foreign society just by observation and helped cultures understand one another when language barriers made communication difficult.
Cultural interaction between France and North Africa began with the establishment of trade in Egypt in 1799, which was extended by the creation of a colony in Algeria in 1830. Further colonial ventures expanded into Tunisia in 1881 and into Morocco in 1912. French interest in North Africa developed as the Ottoman Empire declined in the nineteenth century. France had lost their First Empire in the New World and they sought to reassert their global capital by gaining a foothold in North Africa. This relationship continued into the twentieth century, as France held influence during the formative years of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, before they gained true independence as organized nations. French government and education, as well as social reforms instituted by improved knowledge of health care and a stronger economic system, assisted these North African nations as they moved from the old world to modernity. French political theory served as a catalyst to inspire Morocco, Tunisia, and particularly Algeria to gain independence through revolution and violence. A North African empire was beneficial for French business and trade, in large part to the proximity of the African continent to Europe. Through this empire, a scope of influence on the world’s stage could be gained in an expedited manner. The North African nations were an easy target for the well-established armies of the Second and Third Republics of France, and with this victory the center of trade in the North African empire was secured. The North African region known as Maghreb, meaning west in Arabic, had been organized and utilized by the Ottoman Empire for the trade of textiles and other goods from Algeria, and with the Ottoman Empire waning the French wisely took the Maghreb as their own.
A main commodity of the Maghreb and the Berber communities within Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco, is the production of textiles which are hand-woven and embroidered in specific patterns unique to North African Berber and Islamic cultures. These textiles tell a story, craft the culture and encompass the spirit of Islamic culture present in North Africa. The threads woven together in these textiles are an anchoring point to the lives lived in the Berber communities. The colors are vibrant and rich, while the patterns are energetic and courageous in their intricate construction of threads layered upon each other, tangled and mixed into a new form of being. The textiles crafted in this region are mainly created from spun wool fibers, due to the accessibility of animal fibers from locally raised flocks by Berber tribes, as well as the ease of access to silk. The spinning and weaving of textiles is a cultural event, as the process blesses the fabric for its future use, by song and prayer to Allah. This process is done to either bless the event the fabric will take part in, such as weddings, or to protect the wearer as a textile talisman. Such prayers are administered during the dyeing process, before it is taken to the loom. The blessings are specific to the color the wool will be dyed. If the wool is selected to be black, the women chant:
“May Allah render you black, May Allah render you black,
May Allah guide you on the right way,
He who opens all doors.”4
All the dyes derive from natural elements found in Tunisia and the region of North Africa. Due to the natural origins the color selection is limited to the dyes available: the shades most prevalent are red, yellow, blue, orange, and beige tones. These dyes derive from henna, indigo, cochineal, artemisia, and pomegranate peel. The looms used in this region are simplistic in construction and are run by hand. Some are looms small enough to be held on a woman’s lap, yet the most common is the vertical loom. This style of loom came to North Africa by the Phoenicians and continued to be the weaving standard throughout North African culture. After the textiles are woven the next step is to embroidery the fabric in the designs native to the region.
Embroidery styles vary depending upon the country, with Morocco maintaining a distinctly Islamic style, while Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria acquired Turkish techniques and Middle Eastern influence. Within North Africa, Morocco maintains a unique voice. Since it was not touched by Turkish designs, it remains steeped in an older style, and it is particularly evident within the Fez style. Fez embroidery has a limited, but effective technique based upon established principles of Islamic art and architecture, of pattern, repetition, and abstraction of natural images. Used in Morocco (and Cairo), the fleur de lys, a symbol of Bourbon royalty in France, is also a symbol of fertility in Islamic culture. The eight pointed star, used in classic Islamic art used as a reference to Solomon’s seal, is featured in Fez prevalently on garments such as belts. In addition, another classic motif from Islamic culture is the Hand of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet. An important aspect of Fez embroidery is the concept of the talisman, incorporated into garments: these symbols protect and bless the wearer through the power of Mohammed. These are also used as amulets to protect shops and homes. The embroidery of fabric carries a greater importance within the culture of Morocco than just to adorn – it enriches their lives through the prayers and powers believed to be woven into the textile. Other Moroccan styles such as Terz-d-es-Sqalli, Meknes, and Rabat, employ a more refined style of art with grand floral designs and golden motifs. Terz-d-es-Sqalli is a polished style of grandeur with gold and silken fabrics, used for both clothing, sacred coverings called Kiswa, and horse trappings. Meknes is heavily Berber influenced, with a color palate of warm hues reminiscent of the Sahara landscape and is usually lent to veils. Rabat embroidery is delicate, featuring a color story of pastels to convey the splendor of flowers in nature, in order to enhance the beauty of the wedding ceremony. This pattern caught the eye of French traders, as the pastel hues and floral motifs attracted French couturiers. Some embroidery styles within Fez declined through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as the Aleuj and Menkes varieties. These styles were lifted back into Moroccan thought by French influence. After World War I, the French made an effort to revive the cultural art of Morocco to restore the textile styles of their older heritage.
Algerian embroidery is far simpler than the Moroccan style, possessing only two variations, bniqa and tanchifa, with a heavy handed Turkish flair. This is due in part to the Ottoman Empire, which spread textile weaving patterns and embroidery throughout their empirical boundaries of influence, including the importation of Middle Eastern motifs for embroidery and weaving into Algeria.7 In the pre-French era, red and blue comprised the color story of Algerian textile motifs with the pomegranate and artichoke patterns favored above other designs, due to the prevalence of this pattern in Turkish fabrics. After 1830, purple began to infiltrate Algerian works, and with an addition of gold embroidery in the nineteenth century, the presence of France changed the style. The woven images became delicate with more negative space present within the bands and organic patterns. In the decades since French colonization, these patterns have shifted to an abstract and geometric design, closely reflecting motifs from Europe.
Like Algeria, Tunisia was also influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Tunisia, especially compared to Algeria, was able to maintain its regional heritage of embroidery, which is characterized by symbolism from images found in nature. Tunisian embroidery has also been influenced by Spanish Andalusian styles of dress, which consist of long flowing skirts and loose fitting blouses. Together with symbolism and draped style of dress, Tunisian fashion developed into a bridge between Europe and North Africa. Through the slave trade the first wave of hybridity was created, as the caftan was joined by the blouse, chemise, skirts, and jackets that were imported into Tunisian culture. Another unique feature of Tunisian embroidery that is unique is the use of concrete images. The most significant of these are seven symbols: birds, camels, eyes, fish, hands, trees, and women.
Birds, in the form doves, are embroidered into garments used in marriage and drafted into an image of a pair, symbolizing the union. They flank a vase which is suggested to be the water of life, with foliage sprouting out of the vase that could suggest the tree of life. The birds are an urban motif, while the camel is a rural image signifying wealth and abundance that is wished for in their future marriage. Tree motifs, as well as floral and plant designs, are common in both rural and urban areas, since Islamic art bans the portrayal of the human form and
Tunisian life depends so heavily on the land for prosperity, because they are not industrialized. An eye motif is an important image in Tunisian culture for its fearsome qualities. It is a symbol of envy, yet it can be used as a counter amulet on bridal garments and baby clothing to protect the wearer from envy malice. Combined with the horn, this image puts out the evil eye, and two horns create the crescent moon, a symbol of crossed fingers for good luck. A fish is the most recognizable symbol in Tunisian culture, due to the large fishing community, and so it is a significant symbol of good luck within embroidery. This classic motif is important to marriage clothes and ceremonial blessings, it appears on mosaics as well as textiles, and is portrayed in a green shade to convey great auspiciousness. Another classic symbol is the hand of Fatima, representing prayer and the protection of the prophet, against the evil eye in particular. The five fingers represent good luck as well as the five pillars of Islam and five times of prayer. Designs within textiles are important to the fabric culture because they allude to the Prophet or they are for protection and prosperity. The textile goes beyond a garment for warmth, modesty or style, and it is an extension of the wearer and their beliefs. It conveys the identity of the individual in the purest way, by crafting it into the threads and materials of the fabric before it is even cut and shaped into stylized garments. The textile tells a story, more than the cut of the clothing.
The most controversial of Tunisia’s embroidered symbol is the image of a woman, which appears in Tunisian textiles even though there is a ban on the human form in art within Islamic society. This image only appears in textiles created by women. There is speculation as to what these images mean – some believe these images represent historic female figures, while others believe that this image represents an ancient fertility goddess of Tanit. Where the female image appears the most is on the veil of brides on their wedding day. This is significant for the development of gender within Islamic textiles and North African fashion, as it demonstrates that women in the Islamic world have a voice. They are not silent partners. Instead this risk in embroidery shows that women are in control of fashion within their world, unlike the perceptions westerners have based upon Orientalism. It is important to understand the cultural context of the embroidery, the symbolism and motifs, to appreciate why these textiles matter in North Africa within Islamic society. It is also important in order to recognize how Orientalism misunderstood some images, and how hybridity adapts these concepts within the textiles into a new kind of fashion.
In addition, it is also vital to understand the customs linked to the textiles, and how the fabrics are used in their traditional context in order to have knowledge of how Orientalism and hybridity altered how the textiles are used in a modern context. Traditionally in North Africa, for instance, embroidery, particularly gold embroidery, is culturally linked to marriage. Raf-Raf and Moknine are gold embroidery styles used in Tunisian marriage garments, with two images used to symbolize the bride within the textile – ladies and lions. This is an interesting dichotomy for the portrayal of the bride, as both a pious lady in prayer and a regal lion of power; this is not the image most westerners associate with an Islamic woman. Women who weave textiles also hold a higher status within the community. They provide the bridge from fabric to style, thread to embroidery of amulets, and so are culture makers for the North African community. By the feminine sphere the patterns of life are crafted through the art of textiles and provide a way to gain status.
Another mode of asserting status within North African society is through the act of marriage. It is the pinnacle of a girl’s life, since marriage is viewed as the ideal form of adulthood. Only through marriage can a woman fully be involved within society and religious practice. Since this event is such a transition, a change in dress is necessary for the female involved. This is paralleled for males within the circumcision ceremony, as through this event they truly become men. In the period before the circumcision the male assumes the veil of a female as an amulet against the evil eye; in parallel the bride before the marriage consummation assumes the dress of a male for protection from the evil eye in this vulnerable state. In addition to the use of protection, dress is also used to convey modesty, yet must display beauty in order to attract a marriage partner. This interesting parallel characterizes the expression of gender, as Islamic fashion is viewed as a mode of communication. In one sense femininity is seen as weak, a gender that needs protection. Yet femininity is also seen as a threat to male honor by means of temptation. The most pivotal time for this parallel structure is during the time from puberty to marriage, when there is the most pressure on young women to maintain an acceptable appearance in the public sphere.
The actual wedding customs have unique practices as well. The bride on her wedding day will wear seven garments, in addition to henna, jewelry, and gold embroidered marriage tunics. A marriage provides the bride with many dresses, caftans, and garments for her new life with her husband, provided by her family, her groom, or the community. On her wedding day the bride wears seven of these marriage garments and unveils herself to her guests, the families, and finally her groom. This act demonstrates the dichotomy of Islamic femininity of modesty and display, the lady and the lion. This symbolism is continued in the belts and knots worn by the bride, which the groom is to untie as a symbol of the bride’s loss of virginity, which she in ceremony attempts to resist to retain her honor. As shown, textiles have a pivotal role in the marriage, with even the bedding of the newlyweds woven with amulets to bring fertility.
They are a significant participant within the marriage ceremony, and so they hold great value. These textiles define the woman more than other garments within her lifetime. The dresses, caftans, belts, and veils of married womanhood define her status and tasks, as well as maintain honor, yet the marriage textiles begin the process. They establish femininity for the bride, and craft a foundation she will work to maintain, but it will not change.
The draped garments and veil worn by women of marrying age provide identity for Islamic women in the traditional sense. Interestingly though the veil also plays a role in crafting a feminine identity from the time of puberty to married womanhood; the veil can be manipulated to portray both modesty and seductiveness.14 It provides identity for the Islamic woman to communicate what kind of femininity she chooses. It is a presence of feminine power to be the modest delicate woman of honor or to be a seductive temptress of mystique.
This garment does what accessories and makeup do for the western woman – they enhance the beauty of the feminine gender by subtle draping differences. This is contrary to the western ideal of the veiled Muslim woman, who appears caged and imprisoned under the layers of fabric. The Western woman sees this style as oppressive not modest. The Muslim woman, as perceived through a Western lens is seen to need to be undressed and freed from the layers of the burqa. This is because, in the West, modesty as a virtue has been turned on its head. For modern Western women, the way to gain power and influence is through undress and skin exposure. Being covered up by a veil or flowing garments does not provide a Western woman with any sense of virtue or status, as the virtue scale has been changed. The Western ideal of beauty has changed, while the Eastern ideal of beauty remains rooted in an older ideal of feminine beauty.
Western femininity did not always follow these rules of femininity as a means to display and expose the feminine form. Western female dress before the Romanticism era of the nineteenth century and the influence of Marie Antoinette in the eighteenth century reflected a more modest ideal of Western femininity. Western fashion, as understood in the modern sense, was established in the French courts of Paris, where new styles were dictated by these elites. The most famous of these was Marie Antoinette, whose outlandish taste and spending brought controversy to the fashion industry during her lifetime. Marie Antoinette was also a catalyst for change, as female fashions had changed slightly from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century. The general design principles remained the same, large circumference skirts, embroidered stomachers and long or loose sleeves, with grandeur and ostentatious attitude. Within French fashion, the cut of clothing compared to the actual textile and embroidery is considered with more importance and intention.
Embroidery is also component of Western fashion, just as it as an important element to North African embroidery in the East. Therefore needlework was present within the eras of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the aristocracy, with a decline during the French
Revolution that resurged into prominence during the time of Napoleon by rising Orientalism. Yet compared to North African textile communication through drapery and embroidery patterns, the construction of garments as prescribed to style lines of the female body characterize and craft Western femininity. By the enhancement of the feminine silhouette through close fitting clothing and experiments with bodily proportion, the expression of gender is communicated. Enhancement by construction, cut, and accessorizing is the key principle by which western fashion is anchored. The fabric is just an addition, and the female form is the silent partner of fashion and style. With the coronation of Marie Antoinette, came an elite woman who would explore the possibilities of fashion based singularly on the feminine form and push the boundaries of taste, exposure, and the prescribed aristocratic decorum of clothing.
Two distinct changes were instituted through the style decisions of Marie Antoinette; a lower cut and bustier silhouette, and a relaxed and somewhat risqué trend of a chemise style dress called the gaulle. Although Marie Antoinette is credited to desire grand luxury to the detriment of the French purse, the real point of controversy was her interpretation of femininity. The French court composed and sustained the environment of luxury and overspending for fashion, turning women into slaves of la mode. Marie Antoinette participated in overspending but did not instigate this custom. However, Marie Antoinette did instigate the first means of undress within high fashion, and was the first to start the debate of skin exposure, and the choice to reveal the female form as a matter of taste. The social climate however was not in a place to accept such challenges to virtuous and modest femininity at the time. Instead those who upheld the ideal of traditionally modest taste and skin exposure enacted tremendous backlash against the Queen for her immodest choices. The lower cut and accentuated curves of Marie Antoinette’s style were a result of her post-pregnancy body. After being pregnant multiple times, Marie Antoinette’s bust remained enlarged, changing the way the bodice fit on her body. Her motherly figure needed help to maintain the feminine line of the body, and so she brought a return to the corset in order to control the ample bust which needed shaping and control. The second way she changed French fashion was her use of the chemise dress, which was present within French fashion in an informal manner. Yet Marie Antoinette brought it to the forefront of fashion as she wore it for a portrait by Vigee-Lebrun. In this portrait Marie Antoinette was dressed in a simple chemise dress labelled the gaulle: this garment sent several messages to the public. The first was the image of sexuality, as the garment evokes a sense of boudoir and sensuality, since the gaulle style dress paralleled the style of the chemise, which were undergarments of women during this time period. The dress in the portrait also evoked a resemblance to maid’s garb. This was a breach of decorum for a royal portrait to be displayed in Versailles: it was unbecoming for the Queen to appear as a servant to her subjects, the aristocracy were to keep a steady line in the social hierarchy. The social and political structure of France was already in question during this pre-Revolutionary period. The Bourbon line was in question, and Marie Antoinette’s portrait in the garb of a maid angered the aristocracy for its message. The third point of controversy, which had lasting consequences, was the interpretation of the chemise dress to muslin and white dresses from Austria, Marie Antoinette’s homeland. Critics of the Queen had sufficient ammunition to discredit her from public opinion. Through this portrait the Queen had given the appearance of promiscuity, a lack of decorum, and a lack of patriotism for her country. By wearing a garment that appeared Austrian, the Queen brought her loyalties in question and suspicion that she was not truly French royalty but an imposter who was a threat to France. She made enemies within all levels of French society by this choice of dress.
The French Revolution brought many changes to French society including the realm of fashion. Through the French Revolution, fashion was changed by a move to purge French fashion from Marie Antoinette’s misguided influence, in a reaction of patriotic colors and modest dress, to recreate virtuous citizens. Virtue was turned back to simplicity, modesty, and a Greco-Roman influence of draping. The culture of la mode was updated and re-evaluated through the efforts of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Napoleon Bonaparte, who both redefined the French fashion culture in the new era of the French Republic.
Rousseau, through social philosophy, reasoned through the essence of female gender and why women felt the need to adorn themselves with fashionable clothes. He sought to explain why French women had become slaves to la mode, as evidenced by transcribed expensive and extravagant clothing orders, to French tailors. A singular garment like a dress could require a seven or eight part order, with each item costing a separate price. The periodicity of the orders, occurred either once a season or once a year, as fashion was updated once or twice a year. This established the fashion calendar of seasons in the modern sense we have today – spring/summer and fall/winter. The amount of clothing orders resulted in a trend within French households of women spending the bulk of their family’s income on new fashionable garments. This did not correspond with the French Republican ideal of a virtuous citizen; instead this seemed to be reminiscent of the frivolous French aristocracy the Republic overthrew. As a result, fashion came under harsh criticism by French society, and clothing orders lessened as la mode were seen as unpatriotic, and the budding fashion industry and press was threatened with extinction.
By Rousseau’s redefinition of femininity for the New Republic, la mode was preserved. Rousseau considered women and their natural roles; he claimed that women are naturally predisposed to please. It is their natural state, and so fashion helps them reach this natural state. He claimed that fashion is not vanity, but a means of survival. Rousseau states as his premise, “at the core of women’s being stood the need to make themselves pleasing to men in order to secure a man’s protection, and the core of men’s nature was the need to appear as strong as possible in order to attract women.” The French ideal of cultivating beauty was built upon this notion of femininity, as fashion became a feminine sphere, and a feminine targeted industry. Fashion within the Western realm, from this time until the era, has been defined as an expression of femininity, and now defines the gender of women. It also has become a class neutral idea, as fashion applies to all women, not just the court or aristocracy.
Instead fashion has become woven into the fabric of womanhood. Women are now provided with many options, and the concept of clothing is directed towards a woman’s sphere of life, such as an outfit for every event of her day. This also accelerated the fashion clock, as trends changed at an even faster rate after the lifting of the fashion ban. The fashion clock accelerated because of the influence Rousseau’s philosophy, which created females as fashionable beings, and compensated for the fashion vacuum created by the French Revolution, that halted garment production. Paris was in the position to lose its hold as a fashion originator and innovator; the kingdom of fashion was slipping into the hands of the British due to their budding empire in India and China. Great Britain had the advantage of textiles, silks and cashmere from China and India, in addition to exotic colors of dye and embroidery patterns. Fashion in its essence is new, avant-garde, and innovative. If designers are limited as the French were by their Revolutionary clipping of style from society, they cannot sustain their creative ability. In order for France to stay current and maintain their fashion kingdom they had to find creative inspiration through imperialism. A contextual understanding of the history of North African textiles, as well as a framework of Western textiles and styles, are necessary to understand why Orientalism is an important event in the evolution of fashion in the modern era. Fashion needed a direction after its new opportunity for life, and its new framework was crafted by Napoleon and Josephine. After the chaos of the French Revolution, Napoleon sought to create order once again, a new order that would make virtuous citizens out of the revolutionary republicans. In following the resolve to undo the frivolous nature of the aristocracy and monarchy, particularly to remove any influence of Marie Antoinette left behind on French society and fashion, a revision was necessary. Orientalism breathed new life into French fashion as well as the plethora of textiles and garments from North African Islamic culture. The North African colonies provided the perfect muse to bring about a change for France, in cooperation with Rousseau’s idea of femininity; the exotic silhouettes of shawls, veils, caftans, and harem pants sparked the interest for a new beginning. The French Bohemians were also overwhelmed by the plethora of colors and styles worn by the North
“summer coats, winter coats, small vests sprayed with gold embroidery, with enormous buttons of gold or silver; caftans of linen or silk, negligé pantaloons, casual and ceremonial, from simple Indian cotton or muslin to heavy brocade thick with silk and gold; then an assortment of fouta (sarong) to encircle the body, light wimples to complement a turban, headscarves, and sashes, all of it called names
it would be useless to now say and of the most striking colours.”24
The new styles, so free from the corseted and controlled cuts of French Western dress, as well as the Eastern flowing caftans and harem pants interested the Bohemians, who saw these fashions as a textile expression of their beliefs and lifestyle. Artists and intellectuals adapted this dress, as it was an outward expression of the free-thinking and independent values they associated with Orientalism. Couturiers saw potential for creative expression, and through a hybrid mixture of east and west they began to imagine clothing never seen before, more akin to wearable art than dress. Bohemians and women were also presented with an escape from the tradition to express new things, and for women to find innovative routes to adorn themselves. Style was beginning to be interpreted by taste rather than dictated rules of la mode. This led to a development of fashionable judgment, as French Bohemian travelers to North African critiqued the Islamic dress as having a lack of style compared to a difference. This was the zeitgeist of fashion in the nineteenth century, as Chinese silks and Cashmere shawls had become popularized by the British Empire. London was encroaching on French influence of la mode. Napoleon facilitated Orientalism in French fashion in two manners, through colonization and an appeal to antiquity by the Greco-Roman style. By seizing the opportune moment, Napoleon created a trade network with Egypt during his reign, as the Ottoman Empire declined and retracted from North Africa. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia would be annexed later by France in the nineteenth century, but the ability to colonize these lands was initiated by the foothold of Egyptian trade. In Egypt, Napoleon and his troops found embroidered cashmere shawls which he brought back for his wife, Josephine, and in exchange for the sale of cashmere shawls, Parisian fashion was imported into Egypt. This was the first contact of French and Islamic fashion, and the beginning of Orientalism in France. From this interaction of trade, North African Embroidery was brought to France and adapted into both men and women’s garments. The shawl also was adapted into French femininity, as it brought a modest note to nineteenth century dresses, counteracting the scandalous effect of the gaulle dress and plunging necklines that developed in the 18th century. By Josephine’s introduction of the veil, its popularity spread throughout Paris and France, establishing the groundwork for Orientalism in nineteenth century dress. Drawing upon this older style, Napoleon was modeling the ideal he sought for his Republic, to keep France to a standard he believed he deserved, as the New Republic and Empire were the measures of human rights in the French mindset. Greco-Roman Orientalism embodied in statues, in combination with North African Orientalism that was adopted into military dress, helped Napoleon create a unique identity that was different from the Bourbon monarchs.
Napoleon’s appeal to Greco-Roman grandeur also translated to fashion, in a draped and flowing silhouette was introduced by tailors and couturiers inspired by the Orientalism growing in the artistic mindset. Artists of the time period, filled with a Romantic spirit to return to beauty and nature, seized upon both Greco-Roman and later North African Islamic exoticism to express the spirit of individualism and innovative interpretation of gender. Draping was the connecting thread between the Greco-Roman artistic influence and the North African Orientalist influence. In North African Islamic fashion, draping was the foundation of dress, sewing construction and corsets were not a part of North African fashion at all. Textiles were draped and cut to allow a flowing drape of the fabric away from the body. This too is the basis for Greco-Roman style, the garments are based upon flowing sewn garments and draped textiles across the body. Within the art culture of Paris, a return to Greek and Roman motifs became the muse of artists to channel the celebration of the human form within the paintings. In a more concise expression, the choice of dress within the paintings communicated the growing a Greco-Roman orientalism of fashion. Women were adorned with simple and romantically draped garments, reminiscent of togas and garments from antiquity, complete with cashmere shawls from Egypt. This evoked a sense of femininity that was akin to femininity from Greco-Roman times, a femininity that remained in the private sphere, focused around domesticity and motherhood. This was the natural state discussed by Rousseau captured in fashion and art during the movement of Romanticism, which pushed the boundaries past the exoticism found in North African Orientalism and the Greco-Roman Orientalism of painting and sculptures from the Renaissance and Antiquity.
Jacques-Louis David was a strong proponent of Greco-Roman muses, incorporating the ideal into the paintings of Paris and Helen and The Parting of Telemachus and Eucharis, which both portray traditional Greco-Roman settings. Within these paintings both men and women are in forms of undress. In the case of Helen she is clothed in a sheer chemise that displays her torso and chest giving her body a natural line, compared to corseted silhouettes of the previous era, including the portraits of Marie Antoinette. This was a trend that infiltrated other artists’ work, such as the self portrait of Robert Fagan, who portrays himself in the dress of a gentlemen, while his wife is in a state of undress, as her bodice has slid off her chest, and he breasts are fully on display. This is a curious statement, as it can be interpreted in two manners – either this painting evokes sensuality which interprets femininity in a sexual essence, or it evokes a natural femininity in a Romantic sense. This dichotomy has shaped the modern ideal of femininity in the Western context as these two interpretations of skin exposure are a point of conflict. Uniquely within the expression of femininity, skin exposure plays a significant role in how gender is perceived, and how much power the expression of femininity possesses. It is all about perception. For a man, skin exposure is a noncontroversial decision, whether to bear arms, ankles, legs, or chest. It does not determine power or define gender, because the perception of masculinity goes deeper than fashion. In contrast, the decision to bear arms, legs, or to wear a lower neckline provides a woman with power within the western context. It also facilitates the adaption of masculine clothes to a female form by changing the amount of skin displayed, which makes the garment feminine and sometimes sensual. This was seen within the Oriental styles of North Africa, and which sparked the interest of the Bohemian culture sect growing within France during the nineteenth century. They were shocked and fascinated by the iridescent clothing of some North African women adorned with henna tattoos, since iridescent fashion and exposure were popular points of innovation during the Romanticism movement within French fashion at the time. Fashion began to be critiqued in a subjective manner based upon the individual, just like an artist’s individual pieces of art. This is precedent which has lasted into the current era as fashion has transformed from a mode of fitting in with societal standards to a way to standout from others in an expression of personal identity. Rousseau was one the first to do this, before Orientalism became a popular way of artistic and Bohemian expression, Rousseau chose to wear a caftan, a North African garment, instead of prescribed Western dress.
The modern era has ushered in its own forms of Orientalism first as artistic expression, and next as a revolutionary statement. Orientalism as an artistic expression was explored by the first couture designers of France in the early 20th century. The couture designers were the offspring of the la mode tailors and couturiers of Rousseau’s time that were preserved by the influx of orientalism through the French colony in North Africa. This maintained Paris’ status as a fashion capital, to build the modern fashion industry. Designers such as Paul Poiret were important to the creation of hybridity, they translated the orientalist dress to orientalism inspired fashion. The translation transported the garments from a costume to wearable art. Fashion is a fluid entity able to be adapted and reimagined and has its own vocabulary for critique has become a vital way of classifying and distinguishing orientalism from costume. There is an abstraction of typological time within the fashion world, dictated by seasons and symbolic boundaries, which can make an understanding of this system complex and subjective. The crucial boundary to understand in the role of fashion history is the symbolic boundary of costume and modern interpretation of the past. The most successful of these designs is when a designer reaches a balance where fashion history is used “as a repository of inspiration on which designers can draw, as long as they mould historical styles to such an extent that these become expressive of the present.” This is the essence of Orientalism in the French context, and the building block of hybridity into the modern era.
Fashion has been used beyond artistic expression in the modern era, fashion influenced by Orientalism has also been used as a tool in political struggles. This was seen early in the modern context within the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century, as previously mentioned Marie Antoinette came under suspicion because of her Austrian dress. French
Revolutionaries were politically identified by their patriotic dress of the French tri-colors – red, blue, and white. This color motif was incorporated into suits, women’s dresses, and florets on shoes. In contrast political dissidence was signified by dress and color, Marie Antoinette and those who supported the crown wore colors of purple, green or black. Purple and green represented loyalty to the Bourbon and Austrian monarchies, while black signified mourning of the crown. Even if color and dress were not intentionally used as political statements, wearing the wrong dress or color brought citizens under suspicion and accusation of being a traitor. In the Algerian Revolution, Orientalism and fashion were important to the Algerian rebels of the
National Liberation Front (FLN) as they disguise and Orientalist perceptions to hide within the French population to carry out acts of terror.
The French and native Algerians lived within two separate cultures, the French living in a more organized part of the city of Tangier modeled after Paris. The Algerian’s instead lived in the Casbah, a section of Tangier containing Eastern Islamic architecture. The sections had a stark contrast as the French section sought to transport Western life to North Africa without any kind of adaption, while the Casbah was untouched by French influence of architecture and very little influence on female dress, the Eastern character remained strong. Each saw the other only through the Eastern and Western divide of Orientalism, without possibility of hybridity. This was an advantage for the FLN because they were Islamic and had a population who dressed in a North African style. To the French, looking through an Orientalist lens, the Casbah’s population of Islamic Algerians all looked the same. They only perceived the Algerians by their Eastern dress, therefore their identities were not paid attention to, which allowed the FLN to commit terrorist acts without the need for additional disguise, because of Orientalism. Female members of the FLN were utilized because of their dress.
The burqa obscured the females of the Casbah from French authorities by the style and culture usage. Burquas veil both the female form and the female face, making the identity of the female hard to identify, in addition French authorities were not legally allowed under Islamic culture to search or touch the Algerian women in the burqua. Therefore Algerian women were useful foot soldiers for the FLN to transport weapons for the Algerian men who would be searched without discretion, while the Algerian women could carry weapons under the burqua and loose fitting clothing without detection. The FLN also used the ambiguity of the females to transform them, through Orientalism into perceived French women that could freely go between the Casbah and the French section. By taking off the veil of the burqua and putting on the western skirts and blouses of the French, as well as cutting their hair to match the shorter length of western women’s hairstyles of the 1950s, the female FLN members appeared French to the French officers. Instead of being racially profiled by the French officers like authorities might do in the present era, the officers profiled through Orientalism – by eastern and western perception. This choice to profile by Orientalism allowed the female FLN members to transport bombs in their purses into French sections of Tangiers. This was also a profile of gender, since the understanding of femininity within the western understanding did not see females in a role of revolution. Instead the Rousseau model of femininity did not include active participation in the public sphere, like Revolution. The Rousseau model came after the French Revolution, where females had participated, yet with the influence of Rousseau and Napoleon the virtuous model of a woman prescribed femininity to remain within the private sphere of life – the natural state of woman.
In the Western side of fashion, Orientalism was an inspiration to the Bohemian lifestyle of protest in the 1960s and 1970s. This was prompted by the wave of revolutions earlier in the twentieth century, struggles in India and student protests in China and wars in the Middle East brought a revival of Orientalism in fashion. Paisleys, floral, feathered fabric and embroidery made a return to fashion trends, as a statement against western powers they saw as being corrupt. This was the climax of orientalism as both bohemian expression of a new femininity and a statement of rebellion and aggressive dissension from normal standards. In a Harper’s Bazaar article from 1984 the writers describe the style pioneers of the era as, “beautiful and damned…where the curtain of the past seemed to lift before an extraordinary future.” Eastern dress brought the same comfort of hope that it brought to the French Bohemians of the nineteenth century to find an alternative to the war and violence of the culture around them, they sought the possibilities of Eastern religion and culture to change the society by changing the expression of feminism and social injustice. This is the last modern expression of Orientalism, into the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century Orientalism has transcended to hybridity within fashion. Orientalism equated a costume sensibility, with the rise of couture and fashion houses into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, oriental textiles were incorporated into new synthesized fashions. This is hybridity – it is the synthesis of Eastern and Western culture to create something new.
Hybridity has good and bad connotations for the cultures they exist within. For fashion in artistic appreciation hybridity has opened a whole new scope of possibilities. Modern couturiers in both Western and Eastern fashion have embraced the crossover of Eastern and western textiles and styles to create avant-garde garments, worthy of runways and street styles. The most striking of these is the use of the hijab or veil with Western pants, tops, and brands. These hijabs are a modern hybrid version of the traditional veil and burqua, with many variations available for the modern Islamic woman in her daily activities. The hijab has gone through a similar transformation, as Western fashion did in Paris in the nineteenth century – fashion was marketed to women in a different manner. Instead of a woman needing a staple dress to update her wardrobe to the latest trend, women were now being marketed to need a dress for every occasion. Hijabs are also being marketed to Islamic women in the same manner, there are one piece sporty hijabs, ornate silk hijabs worn with designer sunglasses and garments, as well as simple hijabs worn with cardigans, Abercrombie shirts, twenty-first century dresses, khakis and jeans. The two styles of dress are blended seamlessly together to accommodate the globalization of the modern culture. In the West caftans, paisley, North Africa embroidery, and gold accents have been seamlessly blended into mood boards and designed collections as an established Bohemian aesthetic.
Just as North African inspiration has been a driving force of Western fashion in the twentieth century, the globalization of the established fashion industry has prompted the growth of Islamic couturiers and fashion weeks in Turkey and Morocco. The fashion industry in North Africa and Turkey have elevated the Islamic burqua to an art form of covering up the body in a beautiful manner. By covering up in these tekbir style, clothing modern muslims feel more comfortable to be able to express themselves without the trouble of physical seduction. These garments can be so expensive that Islamic women will turn to Western brands because of their cheaper prices, as long as the hijab is worn these women are not breaking any religious or culture codes of dress. Tekbir clothing and the hijab represent an important sentiment to Islamic women as they consider fashion, the hijab and tekbir clothing empower them and allow them to express their femininity the way they desire. It is an extension of their personality and is as important to them as fashion is to Western women.
Although hybridity has allowed the East and West to crossover in modernity to adapt to the globalization of the present era, hybridity also has negative consequences for the cultures involved. This usually is a consequence for the previously colonized society, as the compensation involved in hybridity can create a cultural amnesia. The problems of colonization can be swiftly forgotten in order to claim benefits offered by the West, and the wounds inflicted during colonization are left to fester. Hybridity can leave a culture in a misfit placement where the individuals involved can feel displaced, in a phenomenon called cultural schizophrenia. Two possibilities are left to resolve this dilemma, the culture can either reform by looking to the past or can commit completely to the hybrid future. Fashion and the expression of gender will be altered through this process and, by the change of culture, a change in the character of the people will happen. Fashion has synthesized the clash of East and West in Orientalism by the creation of hybrid styles through avant-garde, couture, and street styles. The cultural amnesia and schizophrenia can find their antidote in fashion because there cannot be amnesia not can there be schizophrenia. Fashion is cyclical, styles are repeated and referenced, reworked and crafted into beings. Nothing truly new can be created to erase the memories of the colonized past. Designers can only be inspired by the cultural climate around them, and so they must interact with the social and political context of the era. Orientalism was the context for many decades, and now hybridity is the zeitgeist driving the styles created in the twenty-first century. Hybridity is now forming the identities of the women wearing these styles and it is changing how they express femininity. It is a cathartic exercise for both the designers, as they pour their beliefs and emotions into their wearable art, and the women who dress themselves in the garments. They are expressing their identity by the fabrics they choose to adorn their bodies with, just as they express their devotion to eastern femininity by defense of the veil by wearing the hijab. By the choice to expose skin and their heads, western women are also expressing their commitment and beliefs to their Greco-Roman heritage of femininity. Although hybridity has synthesized Eastern and Western culture in a manner that was not possible by Orientalism, the perceptions between the two remain. They are rooted in the past, just as fashion is, yet the two cultures will continue to reinvent themselves just as fashion continues to reinvent itself.
Balch, Thomas Willing. “French Colonization in North Africa.” The American Political Science Review 3, no. 4 (1909): 539-51. Accessed November 6, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1944685.Bibliography
This article discusses the establishment and history of the French colonies in North Africa, in the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. It also provides context for the empire within North Africa.
Bourhis, Katell, and N.Y. York. The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art:, 1989.
This book contains evidence of Napoleon’s involvement in North Africa, which influenced French dress during his reign. By Josephine importing North African shawls, a new oriental style emerged in France to replace coquettish styles of Marie Antoinette with virtuous fashions. Embroidery was also imported into the dress of female and male dress, placing France in the forefront of fashion once again, something that had declined during the French Revolution. Many photographed examples of these 19th century fashions are contained in this book.
Dueck, Jennifer M. “The Middle East And North Africa In The Imperial And Post-Colonial Historiography Of France.” The Historical Journal 50, no. 4 (2007): 935-49. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20175134.
In this article the author discusses the absence of education and discourse on the colonial and postcolonial influence of France in North Africa, as there has been a cultural amnesia about this era. The author suggests several options as to how to assimilate the discussion of France’s empire and North Africa into the French mindset, to bring light to this important subject.
Geczy, Adam. Fashion and Orientalism: Dress, Textiles and Culture from the 17th to the 21st Century. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
This book gives a deeper understanding of western fashion and orientalism, and how orientalism during the 19th century provided a new foundation for fashion to be built upon. The author also develops an understanding how of romanticism and art, which influenced fashion during this time, found a muse within oriental fashions. This was particularly focused within the Islamic fashions of North Africa within France.
“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Paul Poiret (1879–1944). Accessed October 29, 2014.
This site contains a timeline and photographed examples of the Orientalist fashions of French designer Paul Poiret from the late 19th century and early 20th century. All the examples are contained in the Met Fashion Collection in New York City.
Hollander, Anne. Sex and Suits. New York: Knopf, 1994.
In this book the author demonstrates evidence of male fashion being the driving force of fashion, with female styles being an echo of male trends. The idea of gender being established through a parallel development of styles, as femininity is created as an evolution of the masculinity. This premise surrounds the iconic garment of the suit throughout the centuries, as it changes by cultural interaction.
Jones, Jennifer M. “Repackaging Rousseau: Femininity and Fashion in Old Regime France.” French Historical Studies 18, no. 4 (1994): 939-67. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/286724.
This article provides evidence that fashion became an expression of gender through the French Revolution and the writings of Rousseau. Before fashion was equally marketed to both males and females, through a reimagining of femininity in the late 18th century, fashion was tied to the understanding of femininity as a natural phenomenon of women based upon their need to please.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture, the Great Designers. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1985.
This text is a photographic anthology of the high points and pioneering moments of the iconic designers of western fashion that comprise the history of couture. In the section sited, Oriental designers are chronicled with the hybridity of western and eastern styles are fashioned into their couture collections.
“Paris – St.Petersburg Three Centuries of European Fashion..” Sabanci Universitesi Sakip Sabanci Muzesi. July 1, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.sakipsabancimuzesi.org/en/node/191.
This website presents a textile exhibit from the Turkish academic museum, Sabanci Universitesi Sakip Sabanci Muzesi, showcasing oriental influenced fashion from the late 19th century and early 19th century, which was influenced by Turkish Islamic textiles. These textiles are similar to textiles found in North Africa, due to influence from the Ottoman Empire in North Africa.
Reswick, Irmtraud. Traditional Textiles of Tunisia and Related North African Weavings. Los Angeles: Craft & Folk Art Museum, 1985.
Examples of traditional weaving styles and embroidery trends within the countries of Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, are showcased in this book. Diagrams of weaving patterns, color choices, and embroidery patterns are displayed within, as well as detailed explanations for material choices, customs associated with weaving rituals, and loom differences.
Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750 to 1820. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
This text examines the influence of art on 18th and 19th century dress, as the Romantic
Movement swept through the trends of England and France, as well as a return to Greek and Roman ideals of beauty. A draped and more exposed silhouette became an excepted practice; within the context of art sensuality in femininity was explored through many topless paintings, pushing the boundaries of beauty in the public sphere.
Rivlin, B. “Cultural Conflict in French North Africa.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 306 (1956): 4-9. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1030727.
This article discusses the problems of colonial influence in the North African context, as French influence caused a cultural conflict of hybridity. The author also discusses the phenomenon of cultural schizophrenia that develops under this context.
Roojen, Pepin Van. Islamic Fashion: Traditional and Modern Dress in the Muslim World. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Pepin Press, 2012.
This book is a photo anthology of Islamic Fashion, particularly the evolution of the burqa, veil, and traditional garments as they have been re-imagined by modern designers, influenced by western colonization, and paired with modern western garments. The anthology is divided into regional sections, such as Europe, North Africa, Middle East, and Southeast Asia. It also displays street style as well as couture examples of the burqa.
Spring, Christopher, and Julie Hudson. North African Textiles. London: British Museum Press, 1995.
In this book, traditional customs of North African textiles are examined, as they are used in everyday life and in special traditions within the society. This is a broad overview of traditions and uses within Islamic North Africa, compared to distinct regions; it allows the reader to gain a general understanding of the cultural context associated with textiles.
Stone, Caroline. The Embroideries of North Africa. Essex, UK: Longman, 1985.
This text particularly focuses on the distinct embroidery styles of North African fashion culture, based upon style design and color, including a lace style which was imported into western markets. The book is organized by style and theme, compared to a regional distinction, and analyzes in depth the cultural distinctions of the embroidery styles, based upon meaning, history, and foreign influences, as well as cultural practices and use of the embroidered textiles.
The Battle of Algiers. Criterion Collection, 2004. DVD.
This film chronicles the freedom struggle of the FLN as the fight to gain independence for Algeria, from French colonial control in the 1950s, by the use of terrorist actions and bombing campaigns. Violence is a key theme in the movie as torture is utilized by French operatives. The idea of dress and gender is used to further the FLN cause as women place bombs without suspicion by masquerading as French women, and evade searches by wearing the veil. FLN men also use the veil to masquerade and travel in disguise.
Van De Peer, Aurelie. “Ghost-busting Fashion: Symbolic Boundaries and the Politics of Time in Fashion Journalism.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://ics.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/08/13/1367877914544732.
This article discusses the role of symbolic boundaries and the concept of time within the fashion journalism. Symbolic boundaries govern fashion from season to season, as garments determined to be either current or past, terms distinguish clothes from being retro, to vintage, to a costume. Such terms rank clothing based upon their ability to bring something new by reimagining the past, compared to be a historic referential based piece that is deemed outside fashion.
Vaurs, R. “The Role of France and the French in North Africa.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 306 (1956): 17-25. Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1030729.
This article discusses the role of France and French colonization in North Africa, and how
French interaction has served as a catalyst to modernization in the Islamic countries of Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. The author presents evidence that French influence is responsible for education, ideals of freedom, social improvement, and economic growth. A dissident spirit the author credits with the Berber heritage of the North African region, which influenced the revolutionaries of Islamic background driving the revolutions of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
Wahrman, Dror. The Making of the Modern Self Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
In this book the importance of gender and dress are discussed, as well as the effect of fashion and dress on establishing identity. Evidence of gender and dress and the effect it has on society and culture is analyzed, as cultural dress is defined by the assertion of masculinity and femininity through clothing choices, as well as societal roles. When these lines are blurred the culture is affected, and change occurs. The rise of pants within women’s dress is a key theme in the text, as the choice of pants has affected the idea of femininity. In addition the use of skin exposure has in lower necklines and sleeveless styles have changed the ideals of femininity in the modern context.
Waugh, Norah, and Margaret Woodward. The Cut of Women’s Clothes, 1600-1930. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1968.
This text contains patterns and historic sketches of clothing used in England and France from the 17th to 20th century. Transcribed orders of clothing purchases and designs, as well as letters discussing trends and styles used. By chronicling the subtle variations of dress through these three centuries, classic cuts of western dress are established and changing trends identified.
Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. New York: H. Holt, 2006.
In this text the interplay of fashion and politics is analyzed within the context of the French Revolution, particularly focusing on Marie Antoinette. During the paranoia leading up to the French Revolution, fashion played a role in the perceptions of political loyalties, in the form of color choices and cuts of dress. If citizens did not wear the tri colors, they could be suspected of disloyalty, such was the case and strategy of Marie Antoinette to defy the revolutionaries. Due to the distaste for Marie Antoinette and her questionable morality, the styles of the Queen were abandoned during the revolution, shifting French fashion in a new direction.
Young, Robert. “Chapter 4: Hybridity.” In Postcolonialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
In this chapter, hybridity within culture is discussed as east and west interaction creates a unique situation for cultures caught in the middle. A hydrid form of the traditional eastern culture is kept, yet adapted to a new western format, creating an odd scenario. In this text the perception of the veil is discussed, as it is seen in different regards in western culture compared to eastern Islamic societies.