Madras and Muslin Meet Europe: On Neoclassical Cultural Appropriation

by Amelia Rauser


A charming miniature attributed to Jean-Antoine Laurent, dated c. 1795, depicts a blond woman in a garden, wearing a simple neoclassical dress with a drawstring neckline and short sleeves. With a straw hat slung over her elbow, she presents herself as natural, authentic, and at ease. But this portrait represents her as not just a fashionable woman but as a fashionable white woman. The blond wig and madras-cloth sash were just two of many elements of neoclassical dress that specifically articulated the wearer’s racialized whiteness.

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