Working Girls: Sex, Taste, and Reform in the Parisian Garment Trades, 1880-1919
by Tilburg, Patricia (2019)
As the twentieth century dawned and France entered an era of extraordinary labor activism and industrial competition, an insistently romantic vision of the Parisian garment worker was deployed by politicians, reformers, and artists to manage anxieties about economic and social change. Nostalgia about a certain kind of France was written onto the bodies of the capital's couture workers throughout French pop culture from the 1880s to the 1930s. And the midinettes-as these women were called- were written onto the geography of Paris itself, by way of festivals, monuments, historic preservation, and guide books. The idealized working Parisienne stood in for, at once, the superiority of French taste and craft, and the political (and sexual) subordination of French women and labour. But she was also the public face of more than 80,000 real working women whose demands for better labour conditions were inflected, distorted, and, in some cases, amplified by this ubiquitous Romantic type in the decades straddling World War I. Working Girls bridges cultural histories of the Parisian imaginary and histories of French labour, and puts them in raucous dialogue with one another: a letter by a nineteen-year-old seamstress, a speech by a government minister; a frothy Parisian guide by a bon vivant, the minutes of a union meeting; a bawdy café-concert song, a policy brief on garment working conditions.
ThemesHistory of Women and Work, French History
Links to Reference
How to contribute.