Oscar l’Odalisque

Halfway through Volume IV of Rose of Versailles, heroine cross-dresser Oscar decides to wear a woman’s dress and go to a ball.  It’s the first time she’s ever done this.  The woman that takes care of her is very excited, and she asks her to choose between the French style and the odalisque style.  This immediately caught my attention.  When I hear “odalisque” I think of nude women!  Anyway, we’re not told which style Oscar chooses but she comes out in a very pretty dress.  Eventually, during the ball, someone mentions that the odalisque style suits her really well.  So she did pick the odalisque after all!

I found plenty of references to the robe a la française online, but nothing on specific odalisque fashion.  As I feared, if you google “odalisque” you mostly get paintings of nude women, or at most of girls in skimpy outfits.  The odalisques, by the way, were slaves, assistants and/or apprentices to the harem concubines of the Ottoman Empire.

Thankfully, I found a Japanese site that explained things quite well and saved me a lot of time.  The Japanese article is [here].

The writer (maybe named Akane Mineki, but I’m not 100% sure) did a lot of research, and came to two conclusions:  1) Turkish odalisques would likely have worn pants (as they sat on the floor); 2)  mangaka Ikeda is calling this style “odalisque” not because of the dress but because of the fan that Oscar carries.  As the writer points out, the peacock feather fan is indeed strikingly similar to that pictured in Ingres’ 1814 painting La Grande Odalisque.  Here are the two matched up:

This kind of non-folding fan, Mineki explains, was out of fashion at that time (c. 1785).  It had been in fashion earlier, though, and it would come into fashion again later (thus explaining Ingres’ use of it), so you could say Oscar was behind the times or ahead of the times!  Then again, if you cast your net far enough you could say that about anyone’s fashion anywhere anytime…

There are a few things I want to add.  First, Marie Antoinette brought the use of peacock and ostrich feathers into fashion at her court, but on hats and not as fans.  Still, it’s interesting that she liked peacock feathers.  Next, Oscar’s dress is far less puffier than the others at the ball.  In technical terms, she’s wearing smaller panniers than would be required for a robe a la française.  For comparison, here’s Marie Antoinette wearing full-fledged panniers:

This smallness is probably part of the odalisque look as Ikeda intended it.  Alas, Oscar still manages to trip up wearing this style.

My friend pointed out that not all Turkish women wore şalvar (trousers) at this time and that dresses were worn, especially by the upper classes. I was directed to the video below with a harem hall for a setting (this song won Eurovision for Turkey in 2003). Notice the singer’s dress. I’d have preferred Oscar wore something more like this 🙂

~ by Haloed Bane on April 22, 2011.

15 Responses to “Oscar l’Odalisque”

  1. I remember this outfit vividly but never really paid attention to the fan – good catch! This detail is wonderful and totally makes me want to re-read Oscar again.

    • Ikeda’s attention to history is superb. I’m half way through Berubara right now. At first, I was reading on French history along with the manga, but I had to stop when I realized the history was spoiling the plot for me!! Alas, I have a notion already of what happens to Marie Antoinette and company.

      I’m reading Hagio’s Heart of Thomas now and loving it. Sasa, as a shoujo expert, could you recommend me a few manga series (2 to 5 volumes long) that are very, very good. I don’t mind if they’re 70s stuff or 90s stuff or whatever.

      • Ohhh, recommendations. How could I have missed out on this! I’m sorry. There are a lot of shoujo out there, but only few older series are scanlated. Give me a few days, and I will come back to you about this. The real expert on older shoujo is actually a friend of mine who is not very active on the internet.

        I finished Heart of Thomas shortly after reading your post on it a few days ago, and while I really liked the characters, I wasn’t very fond of the shocking revelations. Anyways, one series I found similar which you might know already, is “Kaze to Ki no Uta”. Oh, and I am sure you have read “Poe no Ichizoku” too?

        • Well, I get what you’re saying. After Heart of Thomas one wants to read something a little less heavy. I haven’t read Poe or Kaze. Is Poe good?? I had Kaze on my sights and it looks interesting but it’s long…

          I’m open to any sort, just something good (of course). it can be new, it can be light, i don’t mind. i’ll look forward to any other stuff you might come up with 🙂

          • Less heavy huh… Most shoujo are heavy in some sense or another, it’s kind of like a genre law. If a story is so emotionally involving that it can depress you – that is more or less the best sign of quality for a shoujo. Perhaps it is also the genre that is the worst at taking itself with a grain of salt (which commonly happens in seinen or josei like Hataraki Man or Kuragehime).

            So, back to the topic! Something like 1 1/2 years after my last posting, I decided to put the list onto my old anime blog, ahaha.

            • This is precisely why I like shojo, this emphasis on intensity over extension (no need to travel to faraway lands, let’s just deal with excruciating feelings inside one’s own classroom). But after Thomas, god, a little break would be nice 🙂

  2. Aw, the beatiful Ikeda’s women! The dress of that singer remember me the red uniform that Oscar wore in a few episodes and i don’t dislike the ball dress, she looks so feminine! The hairstyle is pretty too, a little greek goddess.

    • She does look like a goddess. I’m sorry for Marie Antoinette, but Oscar should be queen!!

      I don’t remember a red dress. Maybe I haven’t read that part yet. I’m only halfway done…

  3. […] On ak’s French Style On holstein’s flavor On Hotfile On Mediafire Buy HQ volumes off Passing Fancy! […]

  4. Nice. Any plans to watch the Rose of Versailles anime? It’s a masterpiece.

    • I will at some point, definitely. That and Dear Brother too. Right now I’m halfway through the Versailles manga so it’ll take me a while but I’ll watch it in the end 🙂

  5. Fun Fact: Oscar and Emeraldas share the same seiyuu. 😀

    • Well, you sure know how to sweeten the deal!

      That makes so much sense 🙂
      I wanna watch it…

  6. […] this was supposed to be just another comment to this question, but the list quickly grew out of hand. So, I decided to make a post out of […]

  7. […] odalisque but the style of the fan Oscar is carrying. For more information please check out this lovely blog that elaborates on the scene, design elements of her dress and the […]

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