Chopin's Sense of Style
NARRATOR: Kate Chopin's move to the tiny community of Cloutierville near Natchitoches, Louisiana may have been a shock to her. But, it was also a shock to the other women in the community. Her style of dress was the talk of the town.
SOUNDBITE: Emily Toth/Louisiana State University
She loved fashions, fashionable clothes. In Cloutierville, her small town, people wore, women wore dresses to do housework in. She wore fancy riding habits, lavender riding habits with plumes, and she would ride up and down the street on her horse, and no one had ever seen anything like that before.
NARRATOR: Chopin wore a Parisian fashion called the "walking costume." The design allowed her to take walks without tripping over her skirt. But, the outfits also showed her ankles, which the women of Cloutierville had a hard time adjusting to.
SOUNDBITE: Emily Toth
I talked to descendants of people who knew her a hundred years later and she was still the biggest thing that had ever been in Cloutierville, they still talk about those outfits. It would be like a movie star plunked down into a small country town. That's what she was. I don't think she knew how weird she was, or she figured it out maybe later.
NARRATOR: Historians say Chopin's style of dress isn't something she would have picked up in new Orleans in the 1870s.
SOUNDBITES: John Magill /Curator/Historic N.O.
Lengths generally went to the floor. Anything that was above the ankle it would have been considered risqu� to say the least. That would have been considered a little Parisian perhaps.
She could have picked it up in New Orleans though wearing the riding habit and showing her ankles. That isn't something that would have been done in the city for general street wear. Riding, yes, but for street wear, no, cause still the bustle dresses of the 1870's not only went to the ground, but, they had long trains behind them.
NARRATOR: Kate's emphasis on fashion was instilled during her teen years. At that time, she was outfitted in constricting corsets and petticoats under her voluminous long skirts. The layering gave her a fashionable hourglass figure. Some scholars say the way Chopin dressed was as much a part of who she was as the way she wrote.
SOUNDBITE: E.F. GENOVESE /Emory University
I think throughout her life one sees not only the creole influences but the French influences, the sense of a structured world, a sense of a world in which feminine beauty is set off by fashion
NARRATOR: While Kate's style of dress was unsettling to some folks, scholars say people liked her because of her interest in others, as well as her desires to be helpful. The fancy dresses Chopin wore were not a reflection of wealth. She was never a wealthy woman.