Lidia Mihova

Mademoiselles and Crinolines: On the literary interpretations of female clothing during the Enlightenment


The paper presents the interpretations given to the smart female clothing in two comedies from the time of the Bulgarian Enlightenment. The theme of the elegant attire for ladies in the two pieces brings forth the problem of the confrontation between the old and the new, the traditional and the fashionable in Bulgarian lifestyle and moral code. With his comedy ‘Crinolines’ P. R. Slaveikov opens up for the Bulgarian dramaturgy the theme about fashion. The author brings out Crinoline – which was a fashionable accessory in a woman’s attire in the 19th c. – as a ‘participant’ in the play with a strong plastic presence. The main comedic situation is structured around the dress. With the help of the dress the author ridicules the infatuation with fashion of the towns and the backwardness of the villages. With the help of the vocal description of the ‘crinoline’ given by the characters, he evolves the typical characters of citizens and rustic people. In the comedy ‘The Missunderstood Civilization’ by Dobri Voinikov, the problem with fashionable clothing is viewed as a moral one and linked with national identity. Through the dress the characters emphasise their differences or similarity of the foreign with the traditional and the fashionable which was taken for ‘The real civilization’.

Using the fashionable dress for ladies the two pieces not only bring up the problems regarding the ‘feigned civilization’ but also those concerning changes in one’s own private life. At the same time both plays do not counteract the intruding ‘foreign’ and ‘fashionable’ with an authoritative and appealing positive model. The humour, irony, and satire so levelled against the female vogue only manage to present the external aspect of the problem. But behind it are hidden many and different problems – moral, social, those concerned with the new role of woman in society etc.


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