The Victim’s Ball

Croisures à la victime, 1798
from “Fashion in the French Revolution” by Aileen Ribiero

Or, les Bal des Victimes
The celebratory atmosphere following the “Reign of Terror” gave way to a number of frivolous yet gruesome fashions and pastimes, one of which was the Victim’s Ball. In order to qualify for admittance in one of these sought after soirees one had to to be a close relative or spouse of one who had lost their life to the guillotine. Invitations were so coveted that papers proving your right to attend had to be shown at the door, and some were even known to forge this certificate in their eagerness. All the rage at these grand balls was to have the hair cut high up off the neck, in imitation of “le toilette du condamne” where the victim’s hair is cut so as not to impede the efficiency of the blade. There were several popular hairstyles including cheveux à la titus or à la victime for both women and men, where the hair is given very short and choppy cut, and the “dog ears” worn by Muscadins, where long flops of hair are left on either side of the face, but cut right up to the hairline on the back of the neck. And for the ladies, a thin red velvet ribbon worn round the neck, or red ribbons worn croisures à la victime, a kind of reverse fichu, or ceinture croisée, across the back of the bodice forming a symbolic “x marks the spot” across the upper back.

Will posterity believe that persons whose relatives died on the scaffold did not institute
days of solemn and common affliction during which, assembled in mourning clothing,
they would attest to their grief over such cruel, such recent losses, but instead [instituted]
days of dancing where the point was to waltz, drink and eat to one’s heart’s content.

Like most fads, these reactionary styles and those of the Incroyable et Merveilleuse crowd that ruled Paris the days after 9 Thermidor, this one was over before it began. By the end of the decade once mutually exclusive sartorial insignia such as knee breeches (monarchist) and the tricoloure were sported together with verve, irrespective of their once pertinent symbolism. It’s just fashion! The short and sassy hair cut à la titus never caught on outside of France for women, but lasted in France into the next century. Men’s hair never recovered. From the unpowdered long locks of the revolutionary sympathizer, to the dashingly short titus, men have endeavored to look unfussed ever since, even if it took a whole lot of fussing to achieve.

guillotine: Being summoned to execution
Being summoned to execution
1796 Les Incroyables
by Jean-Louis Darcy after Carles Vernet
Muscadin on the left wears his hair in the “dog eared” style
guillotine: Being summoned to execution
1795-96 Note the hair à la victime, in immitation of the toilette du condamne.
Madame Arnault de Gorse
by Louis-Leopold Boilly
the subject wears her hair à la titus
1796 The Painter in her Studio
by Louis-Leopold Boilly
subject wears red or violet ribbon à la croisures
Chignon à la Grecque, entrelacé avec un Fichu de couleur, Bandeau en Cheveux, Collier de Perles, Ceinture à la Victime
1797 Capote Anglaise, garnie en Crêpe Bandeau de Velourz, Guilloche en Or, Petit fichu croise
1797 Fichu en Croise detail
1798 Ceinture Croisée, Robe Overte sur le Côte
from Journal des Dames et des Modes
1799 Turban au Balloon, Ceinture Croisée. Redicule à Chiffre
from Journal des Dames et des Modes
Portrait de femme, à mi-corps, robe blanche, rubans violets et turban
by Jean Baptiste Jacques Augustin

3 thoughts on “The Victim’s Ball”

  1. Wow, this is very interesting and how morbid. Can;t believe relatives of the victims would do such a thing.

  2. Crazy. I’m so inspired and horrified by this that I’m going to write a short story…which brings to mind the question, Is my writing a story about it akin to their morbid fascination?…

  3. Wow, I’d love to attend a ball where all the party-goers had relatives decapitated. Not that I’d want any of my close family despatched in that way, although at times I wish hubby would lose his head! There are one or two bitches I’ve worked with who would be better off without their head…..

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