Published by
Leboullanger, French
Printed by
Bauer, Louis, French
Subject of
Unidentified Woman or Women
ca. 1920
ink on paper
H x W: 5 1/2 × 3 1/2 in. (14 × 8.9 cm)
The title of this French colonial postcard “MARTINIQUE - Type et Costume creoles” 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 chemise jupe, an informal bodice and a wrap which was draped, rolled, and tied in a West African style. Prior to Emancipation, enslaved women in the French Caribbean were subject to Le Code Noir, which required them to wear a chemise jupe made up of a white blouse, two skirts, and silver jewelry. The first skirt was colorful whereas the second one was made from cotton and muslin. Following Emancipation, black women resisted these dress codes by donning elaborate five-piece formal douillettes that were previously forbidden and mixing the different dress styles to construct their own distinct cultural identity.
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. The collier-choux is a multi-layered necklace made up of a succession of two striated gold grains welded together.
A picture postcard of an unidentified woman from Martinique in the traditional Creole chemise jupe ensemble. She is featured standing facing the viewer with her head turned to the left. She is standing in front of a painted forest scene with artificial flower props on her left. She is wearing a white blouse with a foulard shawl draped over her shoulders and tucked into her madras skirt, or jupe. She wears a matching madras head scarf and a multi-layered necklace called a collier-choux. The postcard has a white frame around the edges and printed black text along the lower edge reads [Leboullanger, edit. Fort-de-France] and [MARTINIQUE - Type et Costume créoles]. The lower left corner has a black stamp in the shape of a helmet with writing inside. The back of the postcard features handwriting covering the original markings. The original card has [CARTE POSTALE] printed in black at the top with [CORRESPONDANCE] and [ADRESSE] printed below. The written note is in black ink and begins with [En te fais des compliments...].
Place captured
Fort-de-France, Martinique, Caribbean, Latin America, North and Central America
Cultural Place
France, Europe
Madras, 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.

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