Photograph by
Littée, Edgar, French, 1866 - 1931
Published by
Subject of
Unidentified Woman or Women
silver and photographic gelatin on photographic paper, with ink on paper
H x W: 5 1/2 × 3 1/2 in. (14 × 8.9 cm)
The title of this French colonial postcard (GUADELOUPE. - Type n° 7) exemplifies the standard naming structure that categorized “exotic” native subjects in the form of ethnic and occupational “types.” Presenting the image subjects in this way conveyed the perception of them as “tame” colonial subjects capable of assimilation into European ways of life. The colonial postcard, popular in the first two decades of the 20th century, came to represent both the technological triumphs of western photography – in printing and mass production – and the political triumphs of European conquest and expansion. These postcards also promoted tourism to the French Caribbean, painting the region as a safe, favorable, and exotic travel destination.
The woman in this image wears a traditional, five-piece French Caribbean formal ensemble called a douillette, which is derived from the grand robe worn by early French settlers. Prior to Emancipation, dress codes required enslaved women to wear a chemise jupe, an informal bodice and skirt ensemble. Douillettes would have been worn by mulattas and free black women. Following Emancipation, black women resisted these old dress codes by donning elaborate douillettes that were previously forbidden. The douillette dress is made of colored or shiny fabric and is worn over a petticoat and accessorized with a satin foulard shawl over the shoulders. As depicted in the image, women protected their douillettes by placing the skirt of their dress over their arm. This practice is believed to be fashioned after the West African custom of lifting the skirt and flinging it over one arm. This method allowed for a partial view of the petticoat.
The ensemble is finished with an ornately tied madras head scarf. Originally produced in the Chennai region of southeast India, madras cloth became popular amongst Creole women in the 18th century and replaced the white cotton head kerchief which was associated with the dress codes of enslavement. In the early twentieth century, Guadeloupian and Martiniquan women reclaimed this head adornment as their own and many wore madras head scarves with their douillette and chemise jupes. The square or rectangular piece of madras cloth was worn over the forehead and folded to display varying numbers of peaks. The head scarf can be tied in a ceremonial fashion or can be worn to show the availability of the woman in courtship, depending on the number of peaks tied into it. One peak represents that the woman is single, two that she is married, three that she is widowed or divorced, and four that she is available to any who tries.
It was fashionable to accessorize these outfits with gold jewelry. The woman in this image wears a traditional collier-choux around her neck and chenille earrings. The collier-choux is a multi-layered necklace made up of a succession of two striated gold grains welded together. Her chenille earrings are made of three gold threads twisted into a single body.
A photographic postcard of an unidentified Guadeloupean woman in a traditional douillette dress ensemble including a madras head scarf. She is featured standing, facing slightly towards the right of the image, looking towards the camera and smiling faintly. She is wearing a long, light colored, floral print grand robe that ties around her waist. A dark colored foulard kerchief is placed over her shoulders. She stands with the skirt of her robe gathered over her right wrist, obscuring her hand. She also wears traditional gold jewelry with her ensemble including the multi-layered collier-choux necklace and chenille earrings. She wears a knotted, striped madras head scarf. [GUADELOUPE. - Type n° 7] is printed in black on the top of the postcard above the woman. On the left side of the postcard, printed sideways, [Edit. Phos. Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe)]. The back of the postcard is unused and has [CARTE POSTALE] printed in black at the top and in smaller letters printed underneath [La Correspondance au recto n'est pas acceptée par tous les Pays Etrangers. (Se renseigner à la Poste.)]. Below, are blank spaces for [CORRESPONDANCE] and [ADRESSE]. Four dark blank lines are below the Adresse. The first line begins with [M____]. Handwritten in graphite on the bottom left corner is [QAN].
Place captured
Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Caribbean, Latin America, North and Central America
Cultural Place
France, Europe
West Africa, Africa
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia
Media Arts-Photography
Memorabilia and Ephemera
African diaspora
Clothing and dress
French colonialism
Credit Line
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Object number
Restrictions & Rights
Public domain
Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.

Cataloging is an ongoing process and we may update this record as we conduct additional research and review. If you have more information about this object, please contact us at

Share this page