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The black princess of elegance: The emergence of the female dandy

by Senem Yazan

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Departing from the French poet Charles Baudelaire’s reading, this study attempts to demonstrate that the male dandy, who attached great importance to his public image, turning his body into a work of art in the way he posed, dressed and behaved, was exploited in various forms, by various groups of women between the 1840s and 1920s. While investigating the characteristics of dandyism and its manifestations in women who worked in the fields of literature, visual and performing arts, and lived in the context of the early feminist movement in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Paris and London, this article focuses primarily on the courtesans of the Second Empire, the male impersonators of the late Victorian theatre and the wealthy Anglo-American lesbian collective of the 1920s. As a part of the modern urban life and a marker of the instability and mobility of modern gender identity, women found new ways to communicate, both sartorially and professionally, in a setting where men’s clothes, accessories, habits and lifestyles offered women independence. While locating female masculinities in the discourse of masculinity with its own history, characteristics and representations in this ongoing process shaped by culture and choice, this approach endeavours to reveal female dandyism as a curious yet alluring way of relating to oneself in spite of the patriarchal culture.

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