On the surface, Marie Antoinette isn’t someone you’d want to imitate. Notorious for her extravagance, the Queen of France and Navarre built a reputation for being clueless about the social, economic and political conditions that raged around her. Bad press and gossip did nothing but increase public scorn for Madame Deficit. (Let’s not talk about where that led. It makes my neck hurt.)

I figure Marie Antoinette was a lot like the rest of us: she had as many good traits as bad. In A Day with Marie Antoinette, she is revealed as a study in contradictions—much more than big hair and fancy dresses. If she accomplished nothing else in her short 37 years it’s this: we’re still talking about her—proof that the feisty queen can still instruct.

Here’s a five-point plan for unleashing your inner empress, inspired by the better side of Marie Antoinette.

Tonights china

Set the table. Royal life could be tedious. The Queen of France didn’t sit around wishing something interesting would happen. When she got bored, she planned a party—and no one threw a grand ball or party like Marie Antoinette. Even by today’s standards, her soirees were lavish, but what she really loved were intimate dinners. If you were fortunate enough to sit at her table, you dined on dinner services of gold, silver and porcelain.

Fine china, crystal and silver are now passé. Can you remember the last time you saw them on a bridal registry? Those of us who have china seldom use it. We save it “for good” or moan about washing each piece by hand. (MA had servants for that!) The next time you hesitate to drag out your china, consider this: why do you have it if you aren’t going to use it? Using your china regularly tells close friends and family they are special and worth the extra effort.

Refresh your wardrobe each season.  Trying too hard has only recently become a sin. It wasn’t a problem for Marie Antoinette. No, no, no. She was not afraid to walk into a ballroom wearing the most outrageous hair, dress or jewelry. The Austrian-born queen ordered new clothes three times a year. Each order included 36 outfits—12 formal court dresses, 12 gowns with wide panniers and 12 dresses for casual wear. Maternity dresses, riding habits and assorted clothes accompanied the orders according to need.

Why, oh why, did she need so many clothes? Evidently, the act of getting dressed was more public than private in the queen’s day. These events were called toilettes. So mundane was royal life that rich ladies had nothing better to do than get together and play dress-up—sort of an 18th century version of spa night with your girlfriends. They got their hair done. They ate breakfast. They wrote letters. You get the picture.

Wow. Thirty-six new outfits per season. And I thought I was bad. I do love the idea of buying one or two new pieces for each area of life per season. What a sensible way to limit what you spend on clothing. While you’re adding, you can keep your closet lean by selecting things to donate or consign.

Adorn yourself—on a budget. Okay, the queen’s appetite for jewelry may have been a tad bit … excessive? Marie Antoinette once persuaded the King to purchase a set of girandole diamond earrings. Think of them as chandeliers that dangle from your ears. That purchase—today’s equivalent of a multi-million dollar investment—anchored the couple in debt for the next four years. A year later, she was on to the next great thing —a set of bracelets at a cost of 250,000 livres. Like so many of us, Marie Antoinette roamed from one lust to the next. Her ennui was an abyss.

Fine jewels are not my weakness—a bloody good thing because self-employment would never have supported such a fetish. Those of us on more modest budgets can be thankful that costume jewelry is so popular. My mother keeps reminding me that today’s chunky styles will eventually fall from grace.

Meanwhile, inexpensive costume jewelry can make even the most basic wardrobe more interesting. One of my new discoveries are handmade Victorian pieces by Colleen Toland, sold at Victorian Trading Company and at Ms. Toland’s Etsy store. I love her necklaces, which are just the right length to fit inside blouses—still a wardrobe staple for me. (I try to delete them, but they keep reappearing.) They also have extenders to make them convertible for all kinds of clothes. Her earrings are spectacular, too. I have theseAnd these.

Pink Dogwood Earrings

Floral EarringsJonquilBuild your own private retreat. Despite her lively, outgoing personality, the Queen of France craved privacy. Consider her life. Following tradition, the labor and delivery of the queen’s first child was attended by a small crowd. People were hanging from the draperies (literally) in her private quarters to observe the royal mom on her day of agony. The rationale for this practice had something to do with making sure the heir to the throne couldn’t be swapped with another baby. But let’s be real: at least some of these people were paparazzi, there to witness and share the queen’s misery through Twitter’s ancestor—the old-fashioned gossip mill. Would that make you want a room of your own?

After his father’s death, Louis XVI presented Marie Antoinette with a small retreat known as Petit Trianon. It was the royal version of today’s tiny house—a place where the queen could be herself, entertain intimate friends, dream, enjoy music and theatre, and take long walks through nature. She accepted her husband’s gift on one condition: he was never allowed to come without invitation. It was totally her space.

I can’t afford a tiny house, let alone a small palace, but I’ve recently discovered the next best thing. One corner of my office serves as a place of prayer and meditation. It’s true that we can pray anywhere at any time, but something about setting aside even a small space for private prayer and reflection can be a real catalyst for personal and spiritual growth.

Walk tall. By most accounts, Marie Antoinette was no great beauty. What she had was grace and charisma—the ability to make people around her feel special. People who kept company with the queen described her carriage as comparable to a dancer’s. What she lacked in beauty, she overcame with sincerity, charm and comportment.

Slouching is second nature to me, but walking tall makes my body feel so much better. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to become one of those little old ladies who isn’t stooped? I keep practicing my royal posture—standing erect, pulling my shoulders down and positioning my head evenly over my shoulders. I may never be mistaken for a royal, but research shows that good posture boosts mood, increases confidence and improves energy levels. With all that going for it, why not work on it? Have you heard Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language? So interesting.


Who is the most intriguing royal in your opinion? And what do you admire about them?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.