Published by
Leboullanger, French
Photograph by
Subject of
Unidentified Woman or Women
ca. 1910
silver and photographic gelatin on photographic paper, with ink on paper
H x W: 5 7/16 × 3 1/2 in. (13.8 × 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. It was common for the dress and foulard shawl to match as they do in this image.
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.
A photographic postcard of an unidentified woman from Martinique in traditional Creole dress. Only her torso is shown in silhouette. Her body is facing to the right of the image with her head turned to the left. She wears a traditional douillette clothing ensemble composed of a striped and floral-patterned foulard shawl draped over her shoulders with a matching floral-patterned blouse or dress underneath. She is wearing a large pendant on a necklace and small gold earrings along with a madras headscarf. [MARTINIQUE] is printed in black on the top of the postcard above the woman. On the bottom of the postcard are two lines of print. [Type et Costume Créole / Leboullanger, Fort-de-France - Photogr. Cochet]. The back of the postcard is unused and has [CARTE POSTALE] printed in black at the top. Below, are blank spaces for [CORRESPONDANCE] and [ADRESSE] with four dark blank lines below. The first line begins with [M____].
Place captured
Fort-de-France, Martinique, Caribbean, Latin America, North and Central America
Cultural Place
Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia
France, Europe
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.

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