This article understands the midinette as a key figure in the early twentieth-century Parisian picturesque. Specifically, the article examines popular depictions of the noon lunch break that romanticized the midinettes and warned of (and celebrated) the amorous seductions and picturesque allure of these women. A defining part of that allure was undereating. The Parisian garment worker was understood to be a delightfully frivolous undereater who happily sacrificed food for fashion and pleasure. Pulp fiction, songs, vaudeville shows, and even reform campaigns in this period proffered a novel representation of undereating and noneating in depictions of the midinette. The undereating midinettes of the early twentieth-century Parisian imaginary did so as a means of engaging more fully in the capitalist marketplace, making their bodies more appealing advertisements for and objects of urban consumption.

Cet article propose la midinette comme un personnage clef de l’imaginaire parisien du vingtième siècle. Notamment, la représentation populaire de la pause déjeuner des midinettes glorifiait les séductions amoureuses et le charme pittoresque des travailleuses parisiennes. Ce charme était fondé, en partie, sur une alimentation légère, voire une sous-alimentation. L’ouvrière de la mode était saisie comme une adepte d’une sous-alimentation frivole et agréable, heureuse de sacrifier de la nourriture pour les plaisirs de la mode et du divertissement. Une nouvelle représentation de la sous-alimentation se trouve dans les descriptions de la midinette à travers la littérature populaire, la chanson, le vaudeville, et même les efforts réformateurs. La midinette sous-alimentée de l’imaginaire parisien du début de siècle ne mangeait pas pour s’engager plus profondément dans le marché capitaliste—en faisant de son corps une publicité séduisante pour la consommation urbaine.

Author notes

Patricia Tilburg is associate professor of history and chair of the Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Davidson College. She is author of Colette’s Republic: Work, Gender, and Popular Culture in France, 1870–1914 (2009) and is completing a book that interrogates representations of Parisian garment workers in popular culture, social reform, and labor activism from the 1880s through the interwar.

The author wishes to thank members of the Charlotte Area French Studies Workshop and the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Association for comments on earlier versions of this article, as well as Scott MacKenzie, Melissa González, and Jane Mangan. All translations are those of the author unless otherwise noted.