Chic, Quaint, Ridiculed: Behind the Origins of ‘Bourgeois’ Style

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PARIS — Bourgeois style made its mark on the Paris runways for fall, but think twice before calling real-life French women the b-word.
“It’s the worst-ever insult for me,” said Betty Catroux, legendary muse to Yves Saint Laurent.
For the 74-year-old model, the “bourgeois” woman is the living embodiment of boredom. “Bourgeois women follow codes and rules, all dress the same and share the same mind-set, which I hate,” she continued. “It’s an extremely pejorative word in France.”
Inès de la Fressange shared Catroux’s indignation.
“The bourgeoise is often late to trends: she ignores them like a snob,” said the model and designer. “For me the word has a negative connotation: it evokes convention, fear of fancifulness, something a bit reactionary.”
Flaring knee-length skirts, culottes, wool capes, blouses, boots and silk scarves — all the attributes of a well-to-do Rive Gauche “madam” — were among trendy items of the Paris season, with Hedi Slimane’s acclaimed second Celine show leaving critics gleefully hailing the grand return of “bourgeoise style.”
So why the prickly reactions?
“The history of the term ‘bourgeois’ is particularly interesting, because it has gone through a lot of semantic evolutions,” explained Laélia Véron, a stylistics and French language lecturer at the Université d’Orléans.
Deriving from the

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