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French Revolution Fashion: Guillotine Earrings

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

During the reign of terror, the guillotine became such a symbol of pop culture in France that it was almost like a local celebrity. People owned miniature replicas of it, and some were even made into children’s toys which used syrup in the place of blood. But to me what’s most fascinating is that men and women alike, particularly supporters of the Jacobin cause, wore jewelry in the shape of guillotines. A primary source recorded that in 1794, dandies wore “little gold guillotines for earrings or for breastpins” and “women wore little gold guillotines in their ears, or as finger-rings, or as clasps for their girdles; whilst all the time the great real red guillotine continued its daily labors …”

These are, I believe the only pair of earrings that are still in existence from the reign of terror in the shape of guillotines. There is a liberty cap at the top, the guillotine of course, and then a head with a crown on it at the bottom — symbolizing the fall of the French monarchy. Something really interesting is that I read published personal letters from a woman living in the year 1889, and one of her letters talked about how there was a 100 year anniversary of the French revolution exhibition going on in France and it had on exhibition items of clothing from the king and queen. She also mentioned it having a pair of guillotine earrings and said she found them to be grotesque. Maybe it was these!

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