During the French Revolution, a period known as the Reign of Terror resulted in the execution of over 16,000 “enemies of state” in front of cheering crowds in Paris. Those executed were primarily nobility or royalty and included both Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
Victims of these widespread executions faced a new instrument of death called the guillotine. This great French killing machine intoxicated its audience, arousing excitement, fear and rage.
Following the Reign of Terror, a celebratory atmosphere inspired the appearance of a number of gruesome fashions known as à la victime.
Red ribbons became fashionably worn around the neck to symbolise the bloodline where the guillotine’s blade sliced through the neck. Men and women wore their hair cut high off the neck, to imitate the way the executioner cut the hair of victims to expose their neck to the blade.
Great victims’ balls known as Bals des victimes were held for relatives of the victims of the guillotine. Guests dressed in fashions à la victime and danced together to mourn their dead by celebrating life. In place of a graceful bow, guests would greet each other by sharply jerking their head downwards to imitate the moment of decapitation.