Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Cross-Dressing Women in Paris, 1821

The promenading world is amused just now [i.e. in 1821] with the daily appearance in the Tuileries of a Polish lady, dressed in the Polonaise undress uniform, decorated with the order of distinction given for bravery at Warsaw. She is not very beautiful, but she wears the handsome military cap quite gallantly; and her small feet and full chest are truly captivating in boots and a frogged coat. It is an exceedingly spirited, well-charactered face, with a complexion slightly roughened by her new habits. Her hair is cut snort, and brushed up at the sides, and she certainly handles the little switch she carries with an air which entirely forbids insult. She is ordinarily seen lounging very idly along between two polytechnic boys, who seem to have a great admiration for her. I observe that the Polish generals touch their hats very respectfully as she passes, but as yet I have been unable to come at her precise history.

By the by, masquerading in men's clothes is not at all uncommon in Paris. I have sometimes seen two or three women at a time dining at the restaurants in this way. No notice is taken of it, and the lady is perfectly safe from insult, though every one that passes may penetrate the disguise. It is common at the theatres, and at the public balls still more so. I have noticed repeatedly at the weekly soirees of a lady of high respectability, two sisters in boy's clothes, who play duets upon the piano for the dance. The lady of the house told me they preferred it, to avoid attention, and the awkwardness of position natural to their vocation, in society. The tailors tell me it is quite a branch of trade &'150; making suits for ladies of a similar taste. There is one particularly, in the Rue Richelieu, who is famed for his nice fits to the female figure. It is remarkable, however, that instead of wearing their new honors meekly, there is no such impertinent puppy as a femme déguisée. I saw one in a café, not long ago, rap the garçon very smartly over the fingers with a rattan, for overrunning her cup; and they are sure to shoulder you off the sidewalk, if you are at all in the way. I have seen several amusing instances of a probable quarrel in the street, ending in a gay bow, and a "pardon, madame!"

SOURCE: Pencillings By the Way: Written during some years of residence and travel, in France, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Turkey, and England, by N. P. Willis (New York, 1844), p. 24. Many thanks to Jim Chevallier for bringing this to my attention.

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Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Cross-Dressing Women in Paris, 1821", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 February 2010 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1821tuil.htm>.

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