It didn't start that way, of course. According to good old Wikipedia:
The French say that before a girl reaches 25, she prays: "Donnez-moi, Seigneur, un mari de bon lieu! Qu'il soit doux, opulent, libéral et agréable!" (Lord, give me a well-situated husband. Let him be gentle, rich, generous, and pleasant!") After 25, she prays: "Seigneur, un qui soit supportable, ou qui, parmi le monde, au moins puisse passer!" (Lord, one who's bearable, or who can at least pass as bearable in the world!") And when she's pushing 30: "Un tel qu'il te plaira Seigneur, je m'en contente!" ("Send whatever you want, Lord; I'll take it!"). An English version goes, St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid, And grant that I never may die an old maid.
And there was certainly a side to the St Catherine's Day festivities that was aimed at humiliating unsuccessful (i.e. unmarried) women - just look at that mocking gargoyle face peeping round the corner below!
(Two Catherinettes in Paris in 1909)
But then look into the faces of the Catherinettes themselves and see the confidence. The strength. The sisterhood.
(A bevy more in 1932)
(Henri Matisse drew this sketch of a Catherinette in 1946.)
(And here are Issaac Israel's confident beauties)
I look at these images and I see subversion!
If I'd known about it, I would have loved being a Catherinette, tromping about the place in a crazy hat and enjoying being taken out to lunch and given flowers and drinks all day. Sisterhood, solidarity, and silly hats. St Catherine, I salute you!
* To read more History Girl posts on saints look here. My favourite so far is still St Neot, patron saint of fish. With or without a bicycle.
(Thank you to On this day in fashion, Blackriders and Wiki commons for these images.)