Published by
Photograph by
Littée, Edgar, French, 1866 - 1931
Subject of
Unidentified Woman or Women
silver and photographic gelatin on photographic paper, with ink on paper
H x W: 5 9/16 × 3 1/2 in. (14.1 × 8.9 cm)
The title of this French colonial postcard “GUADELOUPE. - Type n° 2” 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 mix of traditional elements of French Caribbean dress, the chemise jupe and the douillette. Prior to Emancipation, dress codes required enslaved women to wear a chemise jupe, an informal bodice and skirt ensemble. Alternatively, the formal five-piece douillette ensemble, derived from the grand robe worn by early French settlers would have been worn by mulattas and free black women. Following Emancipation, black women resisted these old dress codes by donning the 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.
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. This woman wears a gold barillet necklace, which included an ornately decorated barrel that also acted as the clasp but was worn at the front.
A photographic postcard of an unidentified Guadeloupian woman in traditional Creole dress. She is featured from her torso up, wearing a light, patterned gown with a floral-patterned foulard shawl over her shoulders and tucked into her waist. She has on large earrings with a central cameo surrounded by a golden leaf motif and she wears a multi-layered necklace and a madras head scarf. The image fades to white toward the bottom where there is printed text, [GUADELOUPE. - Type n° 2 / 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 [Ce côté est exclusivement réservé à l'adresse]. Four dark blank lines are below, the first line begins with [M____]. Handwritten in graphite on the top right corner is [10 €].
Place captured
Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Caribbean, Latin America, North and Central America
Cultural Place
France, Europe
Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia
Memorabilia and Ephemera - Other
Photographs and Still Images
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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