Let’s begin, if I may, with you Monica. So, as I understand it, your interest in black dandyism came about as part of your dissertation. So, I’m curious, at the graduate student phase, what sparked that interest? And how did you develop those ideas? When I was in graduate school, I was taking, I was auditing a course actually on W.E.B Du Bois’s classic text “The Souls of Black Folk” that was being taught by Cornel West. And I was doing a little bit of research in the library and I came across a political cartoon of Du Bois dressed as a dandy. And the cartoon was really kind of lambasting him. And really talking, really pointing to his dress as a dandy as something that was completely alien to or kind of in excess of any of his political ideology or or, you know, what popular conceptions at the time would have been about what it meant to be a black man, or a “race man.” I was confused by this. Because, you know, in the black community that I was a part of, or grew up in, you come, to an event dressed and ready to go. If you’re given a platform, you show up for it in a way that, in a way that is respectful of your audience and in particular in that time period, I thought, respectful of your education and your mind. Right? I mean, of the mind’s ability. So, I was confused by this and I said, “Well, why would being really snappy as a dresser be something that could be so politically dangerous?” I didn’t understand it. So I started doing some research about Du Bois himself, which was fascinating to kind of learn about his own desire for, and kind of mobilization of fancy dress, nice suits, fine linen. He was… top hats. He was very into all of that. To learn about his own clothes story, but then also, did a lot more eventually did a lot more research about what it means to what it means for black people who are not considered to self-represent in proper ways. What it means for those people to appropriate fancy dress. What it means for them to appropriate what seems to be standard business dress. So, what it means to be a black body in “x” type of clothing. Right, so that’s how it started. The personal piece also had to do with a kind of long-standing interest in interest, but kind of unconscious use of clothing myself. I grew up in a very, in a relatively homogeneous community in Southeastern Connecticut. There were very, very few people of color there. I realized as I started doing this research, that for me clothing has this very interesting valence in which sometimes people in marginalized situations use clothing on the one hand to make themselves visible, or, on the other hand, and I think of myself in high school, to make themselves less visible, or invisible. To either fit in, or stand out. So, I had been thinking about clothing, and black identity, and marginalization, and the way in which clothing has this particular power to to create hypervisibility and create invisibility at different moments and different times and across the lifetime of a people, or across the history of a people. So, you looked, you covered a wide swath, a period of time in your research. How did black dandyism change over the period? Oh, it changed immensely. Dandies appear or become problematic during moments of transition. When something is changing politically, when something is changing culturally, when um, when there’s a shift in power relations, whether that power has to do with like racial hierarchies, or how we think about sexuality or gender. That’s when kind of dandies see an “in” and become these really interesting signifiers of those changes and those tensions. Right, so for me I wanted to pick out moments, signal moments of transition when dandies kind of came up and were telling us something about how black people saw themselves, how they were being seen, about the way in which, you know, blackness is often mapped onto deviances of gender or sexuality and the way in which those things changed over time. So, it became a way for me to chart that, but without having to write, you know, 700 pages. Caroline, I’m, yeah. Marie Antoinette and her fashion statement. What sparked that interest? I was interested and had always been interested in history and cultural history and so, my dissertation and my first book were about the demise of the French monarchy in the 1790s and the declaration of the first French Republic. What fascinated me was that all of these long speeches about political equality, and new rights for citizens, and little asides by these very serious Jacobin militants about Marie Antoinette’s outfits. So I kept a little set of post-its and a sheaf of notes about mentions of Marie Antoinette’s clothing during the French Revolution and there were enough of them, and they were specific enough and colorful enough I decided that I needed to go back after I finished that book and try to understand better what were the kind of cultural factors and biases and determinants that were shaping these very specific reactions to her clothes. And what I found was something immensely interesting which was the idea that the king and the royal court were gods on earth, they were of an essence that was superior to the rest of humanity. That was supposed to show through in their clothes. It was supposed to show through in the amount of gold on their jackets and in the height of their heels and the silk of their stockings. And so, Marie Antoinette entered a culture that by definition was obsessed with clothing, but there was a huge distinction in being obsessed with clothing and being interested in fashion as a vehicle for novelty or individuality. Then Marie Antoinette, being at Versailles and being young and being very unhappy also in her marriage with a husband who wouldn’t “give her children” for the first seven years, She had to find something else to do and she got really interested in looking elegant and looking chic and changing her look with kind of a rapidity that was unprecedented in European culture generally and unprecedented specifically in a royal figure. So she really became our first, the first European fashion celebrity. People literally would trample each other at the opera to see what she was wearing and her hair that day. Her favorite thing was, for a while, that very literally raised her profile in Paris was this three-foot high hairdo called “the pouf.” And it was this kind of architectural structure that was made with her own hair and then a bunch of fake hair and chicken wire and powder. And then you could install different little scenes. It was called a “pouf a la circonstance,” so you could comment on current events and she had a replica of a particular battleship that won a big battle against the British in our war of independence. She had that put at the top of her pouf fully-rigged one day when she went to a party and her hairdresser who had helped her create this look proudly reported afterward that “x” number of ribs were broken, “x” number of ankles were sprained, and one person was killed in the stampede to try to see what the queen was wearing. So, she really rewrote the script for what it meant to be a royal woman. And we take that for granted now in an age when people are always commenting all the time on what public figures are wearing, but that was something immensely new that started with her and that then for a number of different and often kind of seemingly contradictory political reasons got her in a lot of trouble during the French Revolution. You know, Caroline, it was interesting that you talk about the royal court, because for me, one of the first kind of set of black dandies that I was able to identify were also present in European courts. And they come to prominence and celebrity at exactly around the same time that Marie Antoinette is doing what she’s doing. There were a series of slaves actually, who were, who were taken from West Africa, sometimes via the Caribbean and brought to royal courts, in particular the cases I study were mostly in England, but it happened everywhere, where they were adopted by royalty or the aristocracy and and dressed up and sometimes taught the Gentile arts. So, some were trained as opera singers, some were trained as kind of violin maestros. Then, sometimes if they were adopted and became part of these households, they were freed, but then they were still within these royal families. And I pay a lot of attention to, in my book, Soubise, who who was the companion to The Duchess of Queensberry in the 1780s — 60s through 80s — who who really “abused,” according to British society, his position at court. So, he would have a carriage that had, instead of a black groom (which was very popular at the time), he would have all white grooms on his carriage. Right? He would wear the most expensive shoes. He was famous for having these diamond buckles on his shoes, those red silk shoes. Right? He would, he would like rent the most expensive box at the opera and just be very prominently, very prominently in the public. He was often in really difficult social positions, because he would also go to coffee houses in London where slaves were being sold. So he would be the one opulently dressed black person in this coffee house, while his fellows were being were being sold in the same places. He also would receive letters sometimes from other free black people saying, “Watch it.” “You are [you know, in some ways], blowing our, you’re blowing us up!” You know, “this is too much, this is disrespectful.” Or, “You’re painting a picture of that’s in excess of what is possible for us politically at this moment.” That’s so interesting. And listening to you talk about him, I’m sort of struck also by one of the things that ultimately wound up making me sad about Marie Antoinette. And… my work on women, I Iike to think in terms of the power that these women were reclaiming at times when they didn’t have other kinds of power. And yet, I’m thinking of this man going to a coffee house in his finery and being able to rent this box at the opera, and yet, seeing other people being sold. And the limits of, how far can fashion actually take you to be empowered in that way? You know? Do you think about that a bit? I think about it all the time. I mean, I think about, you know, I think about fashion, I think about style, and I think about dress culture. Right? And, the fashion piece is sometimes the category that I am most worried about. Because it’s so related to commodification, right? So, so, that is the place where I find, when people of color enter into that matrix, even in contemporary fashion and politics now. I mean, that is the place where where it’s very hard to control. And especially when if we think about… If we think about slavery as one of the driving forces of capitalism, you see how it’s impossible — like, once you enter into that process, it’s very difficult to find a way out of it. You can’t dress your way out of that. Exactly. So then, when I think a little more about style, that’s kind of where that’s where I try to do most of my thinking around these things. Right, because for me style is really there’s a fashion component to it, because people are very interested… style includes being aware of what is trendy/ chic/ elegant/ you know, kind of on point, includes that. But, also style can be really personal. It can be about a community. It can be kind of local. Right, so sometimes style for me is a way in which people break through even if for momentary moments, break through that kind of consumption/ capital nexus. As I think about style and the issue of conformity and nonconformity, I love the description of style as self-expression, and the description of conformity as fitting into a community. So, Marie Antoinette was a style-conscious person who was a nonconformist. Is that a form of very adamant self-expression? Yeah, no it was and that’s where — well, since I had this operation I was recently binge-watching this terrible Amazon series called “The Royals,” where Elizabeth Hurley plays the Queen of England. And one of Elizabeth Hurley’s mantras is, “nobody cries for the queen.” So, nobody cried for Marie Antoinette at a time when so many people were starving and the aristocracy was paying no taxes and the clergy was paying no taxes and there was terrible injustice in France. And yet, Marie Antoinette had a really kind of sad and horrible life in its way. And fashion did become the place where she tried to assert some kind of agency and express such a self as she was able to develop being a girl who was sold off basically in marriage, at the age of 14 moved to a foreign culture and never saw any, and never saw her mother or most of her siblings again, and was guillotined at the age of 37. And so, in between arriving in France at age 14 and being guillotined at the age of 37, she found herself in this really peculiar position which was having exactly no community. She was supposed to always and everywhere just be incarnating the principle of absolutist monarchy, but she was a teenage girl who was interested in clothes. And she famously, when she got to Versailles, it was a big privilege to get to wear these certain kind of awful gigantic hoop skirts and heavy trains, and special tight corsets that only the most royal people got to wear that made you pass out every time you tried to laugh. Those were great privileges and makers of a particular world order. And she hated them and she referred to the women who wore them as “centuries and packages,” like, “well those old bags, I don’t want to look like that, I think I want to put a windmill on my head.” And She hated all the court ceremonial at Versailles, she loved these sort of whimsical contemporary fashions like the pouf headdress that I mentioned. She had a little toy farm, some of you know, built on the grounds at Versailles and one of her “Caribbean” looks was she pioneered — I know, I saw it with all the scare quotes that deserves — but, she pioneered these kind of Creole looks, which were white muslin dresses which leant themselves more to kind of frolicking around with her perfumed flocks of sheep and milking her cows in her little toy dairy. And those were called “Creole looks,” because the white muslin was sent all the way to the West Indies to be bleached and laundered and then sent back to France. And it was something that apparently, French women on the plantations in the French West Indies discovered as just kind of cooler fabric than all the heavy French silks that they had been wearing at home and had brought from home. So, Marie Antoinette kind of brought this touch of “Créolité” to the Petit Trianon that was also really just a kind of personal style choice. But at a certain moment, when the tide started to turn against the royal family, she hunkered down and decided that after all she wanted to be this kind of figure of majesty and might and majesty under fire and royalty under pressure and so she hated diamonds, but, as soon as 1789 came around and the Bastille was stormed, every time anybody saw her at Versailles, she was decked out in all of the diamonds she had. And it was this very kind of conscious choice to sort of hew to a principle that she had had the luxury of being able to be able to suspend while she was sort of exploring her creative side and her stylish side in the 1770s and 1780s and she essentially turned herself during the revolution into this kind of icon of royalist fervor. She was much more adamant that her husband Louis XVI about the idea that the monarchy had been placed on earth by God, that the peasants who were trying to rise up against them were going against the will of God. So these color choices that I mentioned that came up in the political oratory about her were very coded and very deliberate. So, purple was the color of royalty and green was the color of the most royalist of all the Bourbon princes, her brother in law the comte d’Artois. And so, at a certain moment in 1791 when the revolution was really turning radical and the tides were turning even against the possibility of a constitutional monarchy, she went everywhere in purple and green and she made her ladies-in-waiting wear purple and green and there are stories that when a lady-in-waiting of the Queen’s when out in that clothing, she would get attacked by a mob in Paris. She would get stabbed. She would get attacked and beaten. So, clothing became this intentionally politically-charged system around her body. But it was something that really kind of followed an evolution in her own style from wanting to express herself, wanting to have fun, wanting to be creative, wanting not to have to conform to this very boring and bloodless monarchical type to deciding, “Oh no, I better do that type and I better do it to the max, because otherwise we’re in trouble.” And um, as indeed they were. And just methodologically, I assume most of her clothing was destroyed during the revolution. So, what kinds of, you know, visual representation did you have accessible to you and how did you piece all that together? That was really hard and my my agent, who’s my favorite editor of all time would call me at least once a week while I was working on this book and say, “Isn’t there just some like place in France where you can go and look at a bunch of her dresses?” And this is also before even a lot of the sort of sources that are now online today were digitized and so, really reassembling her wardrobe had been a matter of going through, just manually leafing through thousands and thousands of court memoirs and thousands and thousands of pages of newspapers and contemporary commentaries, trying to find out what she was wearing on particular days. There was one immensely precious record that I wound up, after two years of begging the French government, getting the permission to consult which was one of her look books from the 1780s. It was called the “Gazette des atours” and it had little swatches on every page of different fabric with a description next to it of what the dress was. Her dame d’atour, the woman in charge of her costume, her dresses would come every morning and she would prick with a pin the different outfits she wanted to wear for the day and there were multiple costume changes. And so, that was a really amazing record to get to see. You can still see the pin pricks in some of the fabric and you can see that some of the dresses were never worn, were never picked. At Versailles, supposedly she had six entire rooms that were filled with her dresses and those were one of the first things the people went for and pillaged when they marched on Versailles in October of 1789. So, yeah. And there are a few pieces of her clothes and stray shoes here and there that have kind of made it into different collections around the world and that some are still held as relics in families in France. People were really nice in letting me come and look at those, but it really was puzzle work of the most painstaking sort. What about legacy? Was post-Marie Antoinette style influenced? And for how long? And in what ways? Yeah, Iike to say that her, that the little white dress, her “Creole look” that she pioneered at the Petit Trianon, that her little white dress was the little black dress of the 20th century and in fact it became her most enduring probably contribution to fashion. It was this great democratization of fashion when she started wearing these kind of simple muslin slip dresses that didn’t require huge armature underneath, that didn’t require whalebone stays, that didn’t require a train. You didn’t have to have a servant carrying your train. You didn’t have to have special furniture where you could sit with ten feet wide hoop skirts. And so, when she started wearing these little dresses in the 1770s, they caught on in a big way, not only with the people at court and the aristocracy who were just blown away by how much more comfortable it was to dress in that way, but in fact with a general public that was more easily able to copy them. The directoire and the empire, all of those dresses that you see kind of the empire-waisted dresses that the people the people in the court of Napoleon and Josephine wore, all of those were really modeled on Marie Antoinette’s little white dress. And you really see that look kind of survived well into the late 19th century and it was very much coded as a kind of throw back to the simple elegance of Marie Antoinette, which had not been so appreciated by her enemies at the time. Has your own style been influenced in any way by what you’ve studied? Monica? I have to say that when you write a book about black dandyism, the first thing that happens when I give a talk, or or even when I was interviewing for jobs, was I would come in, I would sit down and people would say, “So, we wondered what you were going to wear.” Here’s what I think about style. I think two things. And about my own style, it’s changed over the years. I feel like I was more stylish when I had more time. Same. Who has the time? Yeah, I know. Who has the time? But, I will say that now that I’m less concerned about my own style, I’ve actually became a really good (I think) observer of other people’s styles. So, this is the thing that how style figures in for me now. Living in New York is a godsend around this, and I have to say that my book, what eventually became my book from my dissertation, really changed when I moved to New York and started teaching here at Barnard. Because there was a way in which contemporary black style that I was seeing on the streets and that I was kind of you know, experiencing ever day, really made me think more deeply and differently about the history that I was telling. So, I would say that the kind of beginning and ending of my book are really… You know where the book ends up, because half of the book that I wrote is my dissertation, the other half is what I produced when I was here in New York, really had a huge influence on me. So, New York is a godsend. And what I really try to do, because I enjoy conversations about fashion and style, I try to keep up. And that means there’s a couple blogs that I hit daily, in my procrastination. I also, recently, because we were talking about the election and the inauguration, so, all the attention that’s been paid to Michelle Obama recently and Hillary and Melania, these are things that I really pay attention to and read carefully. I’m very, very attuned to visual culture as well as language. But I feel like visual culture is becoming, especially because we are like in an Instagram culture, we’re in a social media place. I feel like, in terms of the kind of the influence in my own work, it’s really gone in that direction where where I’m able and kind of proud of this. I’m able to have conversations with my students about like, you know in the five minutes after Beyonce’s “Lemonade” came out, I said, “Ok.” You know, so I try to keep those things going, so that I have a way of addressing important moments in particular of black style that arise, that need to be interpreted, you know, or I need to put some thoughts out there. I want to be able to do that as much as possible. So, my own style used to be more important. I’m now thinking about it in a more kind of “meta” way. I was seated a few years ago in a dinner party in New York with a fashion designer who’s now passed away. And he told me that one of his favorite long-term customers had told him that she’d reach a certain age where she no longer wanted to be the stylish woman in the room, she wanted to be like the sofa that was just very well upholstered. And I think the harder I work on my current book, and the harder we all work, there’s so little time for anything. And so I think that as much as I still love style as kind of an area of intellectual inquiry, and visual culture an endlessly rich fodder for discussion and analysis about politics and gender and class and money and I still love all that but, but it no longer plays the role in my life that it did. And really I’m now looking for kind of the respectable upholstery. And then the leg brace is one more excuse just to keep it simple. Thank you. So, I think we’re about out of time. I want to thank everyone for joining this evening. I have enjoyed myself immensely. Thank you Caroline, Thank you Monica. Very interesting studies and a really fascinating discussion. Thank you again, we wish you a good evening.