The Zouave Moment from the Crimea to Paris: Cross-Dressing on Stage and Battlefield

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM
Hancock Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Carol Harrison, University of South Carolina
For France’s Zouave soldiers, the Crimean War was the stage for modest military success and a public relations triumph. The conflict in the Crimea was the first time Zouave battalions left their home in colonial north Africa. It was also the first occasion when newspapers and especially photographers went to war. The Zouaves, with their colonial origins and their exotic uniforms, perfectly suited this new media environment. The signature baggy trousers, short braided jacket, sash, and soft cap confounded both ethnic and gender categories. Although the uniform was north African, the men who wore it were nearly all French. Women quickly adopted aspects of Zouave dress, both in mainstream fashion and as an element of radical dress reform. The Zouave look quickly migrated to the stage, both in the Crimea, where the Zouaves were famous for battlefield theatricals, and in Paris, where Zouave battalions joined Napoleon III’s Imperial Guard and male and female Zouaves appeared regularly in boulevard theatres. Zouave dress combined the seriousness of military manhood with the playful possibilities of theatrical cross-dressing: Zouaves might dress as women; women might dress as Zouaves, and Europeans laid claim to native cunning and ferocity.
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