Sunday, March 01, 2015

Poupette's collection of French Regional costumes

1. Front cover of a WW2 French children's game:
"Poupette" ("Dolly") presents her new collection

[French regional costumes
2. Examples of Poupette's French Regional costumes
[Images used to demonstrate some regional costumes]
3. Poupette in a regional costume from Alsace
4. Poupette in a regional costume from Nice
For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

A wartime educational game for French children

Shortly after the end of the Second World War Sister Olga Baudot de Rouville, a French Red Cross nurse of both World Wars and an active member of the French Resistance after 1940 left France and moved for a time to live on the outskirts of Cockermouth, Cumberland (now Cumbria) the birthplace of the former Poet Laureate William Wordsworth. After a time Sister Baudot de Rouville, whose wartime 'nom de guerre' was "Thérèse Martin", left West Cumbria and went initially to her mother's homeland of Ireland. She later moved back to France.

In pre-war civilian life Sister Baudot de Rouville used to give private tuition especially in English. Among the personal effects she left behind in Cumbria when moving to Ireland was an educational game for aimed at young French children (in this case mainly young girls). "Poupette" (in English "Dolly") is a booklet with a cardboard cut-out figure of a young girl (Poupette) [Photograph No. 1].

So far as can be determined the booklet dates from the early part of the Second World War (1939 - early 1940) and was printed in the 'Nord' region (Tourcoing). As one might expect, the written instructions are in French. In an English-speaking country, such as Britain or Ireland, this would be a useful and structured method of teaching French as a foreign language to children.

Inside the booklet are strong paper copies of French regional costumes, which a young child could use to 'dress' Poupette. This game would provide a number of learning outcomes, such as working with their hands to build up the different costumes, find out about the different regions and the variety of costumes and customs in the different parts of France. The traditional names of the regions are used. Examples of some of the regional costumes in this collection (from Brittany, Anjou and Béarn) can be seen above [Photograph No. 2].

Sunday, 01 March, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

A WW2 learning experience

Poupette's regional costume collection was a relatively simple and inexpensive educational children's toy but good value. Well into the late 19th Century and even into the first half of the 20th Century France had a wide cultural diversity. A move from one French region to another could almost be like going to a different country. There were many significant differences between the French regions, such as the urban and rural landscapes, the customs, music and dance, the traditional style of dress and sometimes even the language. This was an educational toy that could help children learn about different parts of France.

At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War traditional costumes were still regularly worn in some of the regions. Even since the war, when regional costumes are as frequently worn as in former times, they are still seen at festival times, other special occasions and by local folk music groups and dance enthusiasts.

Even now, as the cardboard cut-out figure of Poupette figure and some of the copies of the regional costumes have survived, it would still be possible to recreate this same learning experience. To demostrate this, two examples of Poupette in regional costumes can be seen above. One shows Poupette in a traditional costume from the Alsace region in N.E. France [Photograph No. 3]. Another photograph shows the figure dressed in a costume from the region around Nice in S.E. France [Photograph No. 4].

Putting this game within the context of the war years, when it would have been used by French children, it is more than likely they would have also learnt about what was happening in the different regions during the war. Alsace, on France's border and on the western bank of the river is adjacent to Germany and Switzerland. Over the years it had been passed back and forth between French and German control. After the fall of France in 1940 Alsace once again became German and was incorporated into the Third Reich.

There are, in fact, subtle differences in the traditional Alsatian costume for women depending on which part of Alsace they are from and whether they were Protestants or Catholics. The most distinctive feature of the costume is the 'coiffe alsacienne' with its gigantic bow which developed to this size after 1871 (i.e. when the region was part of Germany). Protestant women tended always to wear a headdress made of black ribbon like the one Poupette is wearing [in Photograph No. 3]. Women who were Roman Catholic by religion might wear brighter colours.

Between the end of June 1940 and November 1942 the region around Nice fell within an Italian controlled "demilitarised zone". Small parts of the region close to the Italian border, such as Menton, were annexed into Italy. Then, between November 1942 and the Italian surrender to the Allies in September 1943, Italy occupied the greater Nice area. Finally, between September 1943 until its liberation by the Allies in 1944 the area around Nice was occupied by the Germans.

As with other regions, there were subtle differences in the 'traditional' regional costumes worn in the Comté (county) of Nice. The costume that Poupette is wearing is one that may have been worn by a flower girl or (as in Poupette's case) a fruit seller [Photograph No. 4]. The wide-brimmed woven straw hat worn by Poupette in the photograph is tied with a red ribbon is called a 'Capelina'. The red and white striped canvas skirt is typical of the region, as is the embroidered black satin apron (which is mostly obscured in the photograph behind the basket of fruit).

Sunday, 01 March, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


During the war many wartime games and toys were made of paper or card. In some respects Poupette, made of cardboard and paper rather than a doll with costumes made of cloth can therefore be seen as representative of its time. Whether there was an equivalent male figure to learn about male regional costumes is unknown. There was only the Poupette booklet with regional costumes for women among the items left behind by Sister Olga Baudot de Rouville.

Regardless of whether there was a war on or not children need toys and games to play with. This wartime toy to learn about the diversity of the French regions and regional costumes is in many ways timeless. Modern day children can have a structured learning experience with this or similar games as their wartime counterparts.


Cumbria County Archive and Local Studies Centre
Scotch Street,
Cumbria. CA28 7NL
Ref: YDX 207 / 4
[Part of the printed material collection of Sister Olga Baudot de Rouville (1891 - 1979), WW2 nurse and member of the French Resistance]

Sunday, 01 March, 2015  
Blogger Cathie said...

A "capelina" indeed is what the hat worn by a Niçoise was called! And when not worn on her head, it would be tied to her waist by a ribbon, and hang nicely on her hip!

I hate to let it be known that I have played with such cardboard dolls, a while after the war though! The figures were still around in France. Poupette gave her name to a very prestigious shop for children's clothes and baby equipment, in Cannes.

Also, you are right to say that traditional costumes were still worn after the war in some regions of France. I recall seeing women wearing the Alsace head wear in the fifties, it was quite a sight to me, coming from Nice! Of course, one was firmly told then not to stare!

Finally, I don't think boys were made into dolls until Ken came into the picture, though baby dolls were called "poupons" in French, thus passing for boys, though nothing revealing their sex was ever apparent!

Monday, 02 March, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Thanks for the update, Catherine.
(Merci beaucoup!). I'm pleased I got the information correct about the Nice costume!

It may just be a cardboard 'dolly' but it provides an insight into years gone by and has some historic value. Probably very few of these will have survived.

Tuesday, 03 March, 2015  

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