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Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening:Enhancements - Style & Cloutierville

Style & Cloutierville: Chopin's Sense of Style

Kate Chopin Enhancements: Style & Cloutierville

Chopin's Sense of Style


NARRATOR: Kate Chopin's move to the tiny community of Cloutierville near Natchitoches, Louisiana may have been a shock to her. But, it was also a shock to the other women in the community. Her style of dress was the talk of the town.

SOUNDBITE: Emily Toth/Louisiana State University
She loved fashions, fashionable clothes. In Cloutierville, her small town, people wore, women wore dresses to do housework in. She wore fancy riding habits, lavender riding habits with plumes, and she would ride up and down the street on her horse, and no one had ever seen anything like that before.

NARRATOR: Chopin wore a Parisian fashion called the "walking costume." The design allowed her to take walks without tripping over her skirt. But, the outfits also showed her ankles, which the women of Cloutierville had a hard time adjusting to.

I talked to descendants of people who knew her a hundred years later and she was still the biggest thing that had ever been in Cloutierville, they still talk about those outfits. It would be like a movie star plunked down into a small country town. That's what she was. I don't think she knew how weird she was, or she figured it out maybe later.

NARRATOR: Historians say Chopin's style of dress isn't something she would have picked up in new Orleans in the 1870s.

SOUNDBITES: John Magill /Curator/Historic N.O.
Lengths generally went to the floor. Anything that was above the ankle it would have been considered risqu� to say the least. That would have been considered a little Parisian perhaps.

John Magill
She could have picked it up in New Orleans though wearing the riding habit and showing her ankles. That isn't something that would have been done in the city for general street wear. Riding, yes, but for street wear, no, cause still the bustle dresses of the 1870's not only went to the ground, but, they had long trains behind them.

NARRATOR: Kate's emphasis on fashion was instilled during her teen years. At that time, she was outfitted in constricting corsets and petticoats under her voluminous long skirts. The layering gave her a fashionable hourglass figure. Some scholars say the way Chopin dressed was as much a part of who she was as the way she wrote.

SOUNDBITE: E.F. GENOVESE /Emory University
I think throughout her life one sees not only the creole influences but the French influences, the sense of a structured world, a sense of a world in which feminine beauty is set off by fashion

NARRATOR: While Kate's style of dress was unsettling to some folks, scholars say people liked her because of her interest in others, as well as her desires to be helpful. The fancy dresses Chopin wore were not a reflection of wealth. She was never a wealthy woman.

Style & Cloutierville: Cloutierville and Chopin

Kate Chopin Enhancements: Style & Cloutierville

Cloutierville and Chopin


NARRATOR: During Kate Chopin's stay in Cloutierville, she met a lot of people. She spent large amounts of time observing and getting to know them. They furnished her memory and imagination with material that led to her becoming a prominent "local color" writer. Depictions of the people, the language, the landscape, the food can be found throughout her short stories, novels and poems.

SOUNDBITES: E.F. Genovese/Emory University
Well they were stepping into a world of Spanish moss and Creole language and very distinct local food and all the cultural attributes. They were also stepping back in time. They were stepping into a world that had suffered very little of the impact of the outside world in the sense of unavoidable impulses to change.

Emily Toth/Louisiana State University
Compared to living in St. Louis, and New Orleans, Cloutierville and Natchitoches Parish was the weirdest place she had ever lived. And it's far more interesting to write about weird places, things that strike you as strange than places you've known all your life. She observed town life, gathered gossip and wrote about it in some ways that are pretty recognizable. People recognized themselves in her stories, but she was sly enough not to write or publish stories about the people of Natchitoches Parish until after she was back in St. Louis.

NARRATOR: Ultimately, Chopin launched a career in writing, perhaps largely because of letters she wrote home to St. Louis while living in Cloutierville. She sometimes wrote to a family friend, Doctor Frederick Kolbenheyer. It was Kolbenheyer who convinced Chopin that she should take her flair for writing more seriously. He encouraged her to write to help get over the loneliness and sadness that followed the death of her mother. It was then that she began writing short stories for publication in selected magazines. The story , "At the 'Cdian Ball" told of Clarisse being as "dainty as a lily; hardy as a sunflower; slim, tall graceful like one of the reeds that grow in the Louisiana marsh." And, she spoke of "Desiree's baby as being a "little cochon de lait", a phrase for fat piglets in regions of Louisiana influenced heavily by the French.

Style & Cloutierville: Cloutierville Today

Kate Chopin Enhancements: Style & Cloutierville

Cloutierville Today


NARRATOR: When you turn off highway one onto highway 495 going into Cloutierville, you have to wonder if Kate Chopin named her collection of stories, "bayou folk" because of the bayou going into town. Cloutierville has changed in some ways since Kate moved on in 1885. In other ways it has stayed the same. Back then, between 500 and 700 people kept the town humming with everyday affairs and small town gossip. Now, the population is only about 120. If Kate could pass through Cloutierville today�she'd still see some of the old houses and business that were here in the 1870s and 80s. Some of the old houses are in good shape. People still live in them.

Other houses and businesses have boards covering the windows and wild vines growing up the walls. There are no signs of growth. Most folks have given up the cane and cotton fields for jobs in the city. For those who stayed in Cloutierville, they are reminded every day of Kate Chopin.

That's because her old house is one of the few attractions that draws folks to Cloutierville. It's now called "The Bayou Folk Museum." About two-thousand tourists visit the house each year. The museum is getting busier, now that it's finally gotten central heating and air conditioning. And, Cloutierville residents can tell even more folks how proud they are that Kate Chopin lived for a while in their town.

SOUNDBITE: Amanda Chenault/Curator/Bayou Folk Museum
She was as far as I know the first woman writer who lifted he fa�ade and showed women as they truly were and are because women are dealing with these same problems today

NARRATOR: The house doesn't contain many furnishings from Kate's days there, an old dresser and a few pieces of silver, plus a couple of paintings donated by Kate's granddaughter, Marjorie Chopin McCormick. The rest of the museum's contents come from donations from people throughout town. Items from the mid to the late 1800's abound. Several residents of Cloutierville eagerly share their own stories about Kate's days in their community.

SOUNDBITE: Leona Sample/Cloutierville Resident
She got around and she always rode that horse. That's where she would see a lot of people cause they'd walk the streets. You don't see too much of that now, gathering, back there they had two or three places they talked and gossiped.