The boudoir as a feminine space
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The boudoir as a feminine space, a special room for a lady, was developed in the eighteenth century, in aristocratic circles. During the Victorian times the boudoir was adopted in well to do families as a room designated for the woman of the house, a room of privacy.
A boudoir is, at face value, a lady’s private dressing room, but the term is loaded with meaning. It comes from the Old French verb bouder, meaning “to pout” or “to sulk,” and so a boudoir was a space for a woman to beautify herself, improve her mood, and emerge out of an otherwise sullen state. Glamourized through 18th century romantic novels and popular lore, the boudoir became a symbol of female sexuality and male desire.
Over the centuries, the boudoir has often been interpreted as a room of secret passions, a super-feminine hideaway that men could only glimpse voyeuristically, and gotten a “bad” reputation.
When Virginia Woolf talked about “A Room of one’s Own”, in 1929, she was, in a sense, talking about the need for a feminine space for oneself, a boudoir. But by then, the reputation of the boudoir was that of a space of female sensuality, erotic indulgence and frippery and not, as with Virginia Woolf’s room, a space where intellectuality was able to thrive. This, somehow, seems to be a thought still reigning today: femininity and sensuality don’t go with intellectuality…. and this might be why the boudoir, boudoir style, often is laughed at as a silly and flippant, “girly”, and not taken seriously or appreciated for what it really is, or can be: a personal, feminine space, to be respectfully treated as a space for women to hide, to flourish, to develop, to experiment with femininity and grow.