History has all too often dismissed Marie Antoinette as a simple, frivolous queen with expensive taste. But in Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, Barnard College professor Caroline Weber makes the clothing of Marie Antoinette startlingly relevant. She argues that, like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Empress Josephine and countless other iconic women, Marie Antoinette used fashion to make powerful political statements that shaped the public's perception of her and still resonate today: More than 200 years after her death, her style is still mimicked on fashion runways.

Queen of Fashion depicts a sadly human woman desperate to signal her allegiance to an increasingly bitter public. In the face of accusations that her extravagant wardrobe and lifestyle were bankrupting the nation, Marie Antoinette chose to dress more simply and cheaply in taffeta and somber colors. Yet even this choice was ridiculed by nobility and common folk alike, who then complained that she did not appear adequately royal.

Although Weber has clearly done her homework, Queen of Fashion never succumbs to textbook tediousness. Just the opposite: It's a rollicking account of fashion and power in Versailles. Weber's empathy for the queen is palpable, and her fascination with fashion is contagious. Frivolous? Never. Fascinating? Every single page.

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