26 September, 2011

If wishes were riding habits.

Marie Antoinette hunting with Louis XVI
in the background. Louis-Auguste Brun, 1783.
Private collection.
Though my reenacting takes place in conservative New England, I have a large soft spot for the 18thc. French garments. I make it no secret that Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette are my French idols. The Dauphine holds a large part of my heart especially, as she was an equestrienne. In a time where it was believed a woman's place was not on the back of a horse, she refused; she rode with the hunts--stag, boar, fox--on her own hunters. Despite the uproar, the now-fictional stories of riding ruining her chances of becoming a mother (we also now know that it was not her fault for not consummating the marriage or bearing children immediately), she rode. Riding seemed to be her escape from the pressure of the royal court life and sometimes it was the only time she saw her husband. If you ask any equestrienne they too will respond that riding is a form of therapy, an escape from every day life.

When I ride, I sometimes slip from the 21stc. to the 18thc. and pretend I'm riding behind the hounds, through the thick forests, dressed in a beautiful habit--the color and material changes with the seasons. Green and worsted wool for cool springtime rides; indigo Irish linen in the warm summer; red like the blazing maple leaves in the fall, or brown later in the season, like the bare trees. While I ride astride, I do long to learn to ride aside, but thankfully there is evidence of split-skirts in 18thc. riding habits so I won't have to--one day, though. It's on my to-do list.

Marie Antoinette at the age of 28. Louis-Auguste Brun, 1783.
Gazing at paintings of the 18thc. aristocracy aboard their magnificent steeds takes my breath away. When my dog Lola and I are out on the trail or riding through the field or even working in the ring, I imagine we are a small sliver of a portrait, or that maybe we are Marie Antoinette, "riding like a man" and ignoring the naysayers. I think of the Dauphine's difficulties, and realize that 3 centuries later, we're not that much different. There is a little bit of the Dauphine in me.

One day, when my sewing skills are more advanced, I will research more carefully a riding habit for myself. More like a few; one to wear in conservative New England at events and another inspired by Marie Antoinette (I particularly love the lavender or lilac habit in the painting above). Maybe even her military-esque habit to the left; why not, right? All that stops me is my own fear and imagination (okay, and money). Fear kept me from riding for several years, but I've conquered it and ride like I have no fear (or try to, fake it 'til you make it, right?). I can certainly conquer sewing in the same manner.

And an interesting note, Marie Antoinette is just a year older than I am in the painting of her astride her warhorse.

My warhorse, Galli. This was one of my Christmas card photos last year.

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