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 🙂