Dressing the Kings and Queens of Madagascar, ca. 1810-1900

The royal court of the island nation of Madagascar – which lies off the coast of East Africa – adopted Western-style dress for itself and its elite military troops many decades before similar movements in Japan, Thailand or Turkey. The instigator was King Radama I (1793-1828), who by 1817 was appearing in public dressed in European military outfits, and required the same of his closest associates. Succeeding kings and queens expanded the practice, until the monarchy was abolished in 1896.

This research project explores the political, economic and aesthetic dimensions –and consequences – of this fashion strategy.

Due to the lack of historic written commentary on these dress practices, the study of the clothing itself becomes vital. An important source is found in the photographs of Madagascar’s royalty and retainers taken by William Ellis of the London Missionary Society from 1853-1865. The ROM holds over 250 photographs taken by Ellis, which are being digitized as part of the project.

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