To the Queen: Am I empowered or just downright tarty?

Each Sunday, modern mortals are graced with the sound advice of Marie Antoinette as she weighs in on social dilemmas in her weekly advice blog. If you are struggling with your own life puzzle, allow the queen to help. Send an email to whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.

My Queen,
I love to wear short skirts  and body conscious dresses because that’s who I am. I’m not ashamed of my body so I don’t know why I should cover up or hide myself. I also don’t like to lie about who I am so it feels wrong to dress any other way. My boyfriend’s mother told me I might think about covering up a bit, especially to work (I’m a receptionist) but I think she’s just old fashioned. What do you think?
-Confident in her own skin

Observe CharlesII's mistress, Louise de Kéroualle, looking always as she is on her way to or from a thorough dishevellment.

For a young woman in my day, as in yours, those can seem the only choices: Looking virtuous or looking loose, as if it’s an either/or scenario. In my France, there weren’t many powerful female role models, and many of them had been mistresses, courted for their spending power and perceived influence over the King. I might have felt that if I couldn’t earn the influence due the mother of the future King’s children, I could at least look like she held his sexual esteem and the power that went with that I started dressing and acting like a flighty courtesan with crazy spending on parties and dresses. I even held Renaissance costume party where my husband dressed as Henri IV’s and I dressed as his legendary mistress Gabrielle d’Estrees. (Imagine a Halloween party with Monica Lewinsky dressed as Anne Boelyn.)

Here’s the thing: What you think feels empowering can at the same time look downright tarty. And looking like the scheming mistress rarely does a girl favors (There’s no easier way to get booed on a talk show than to come on as the mistress. And if you’re not even going to sleep around when you pretend you are a mistress – and I kept my virtue, thank you very much – you aren’t even going to enjoy it.) In my case, the French people in 18th century France were particularly tired of mistresses. Louis XV’s mistress, Jeanne Du Barry had been an actual street harlot. They blamed her spending for putting the crown into debt and now I was doing the same thing? They were done. They had had enough of royal favorites who put their spending power before the country’s reputation. And now their Marie was parading around like the most notorious woman of their time? I became the target of the country’s frustrations and hostilities and the most hated person in France. Partly because I thought how I presented myself was no one’s business but my own.

Our modern gals should take note: Dressing slutty isn’t something respected leaders do. I didn’t have time to wait the 212 years for a modern-day Lawrence University study on the topic, but it would have been worthwhile for her. The research found that while a receptionist might dress as sexy as a manager, only the manager’s intelligence, competency and leadership ability would be questioned. In other words, people expected better of the manager. You can always dress however you please but don’t think for one minute that your clothes don’t speak volumes about your judgement or the type of duties you can perform — or could. A leader lets her actions, not her cleavage, represent her.

What do you think? Did the queen get it right? What advice would you add?

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