Oyster harvesters

It is believed that oysters are a powerful aphrodisiac. (They actually aren’t, but

that’s a talk for another time). It looks like the magical stimulating effect of the

bivalve “mouthful of the sea” is so strong that even late 19th and early 20th

century oyster harvesters became an object of erotic fantasies. More or less

like modern-day flight attendants. This can explain the enormous numbers of

rather playful vintage French postcards featuring photographs of oyster farm


In the times of the Second Empire (mid-19th century), special oyster farms were

established on the Atlantic coast of South-Western France. Women play an

important role in this profession, and they must fulfil the most painstaking tasks:

separating young oysters, setting them in beds, and cutting off the molluscs that

have grown too close to each other. This must be done carefully and meticulously,

not to damage the oysters. It is believed that women are much better at this than

men. In addition, as a rule, women are lighter, so they won’t sink that much into the


Oyster farm workers are known as parqueuse and are separated into two categories: the

harvesters (les femmes au marais or marsh women)

and sorters (les femmes de la côte or shore women).

It’s been noticed that it is the representatives of “costumed” professions that are

often considered as objects of sexual fantasies: flight attendants, nurses, maids.

Oyster farm workers could also be counted as such.

The usual parqueuse outfit consists of a loose-fitting blouse, broadcloth or flannel

culottes, apron and a rather coquettish hat. And those strange shoes.

These shoes, named patin, are specially made to walk over marshy mud without

sinking. The square board with a wooden shoe base that secures the heel,

and leather and string fastenings. Each of these shoes weigh 3–4 kg.

The photographer clearly took a liking to this young harvester so he photographed her in

different equipment versions.  He even asked her to put on boots that were normally only

worn by men. A pair of such boots weighs about 10 kg. Sand rake and basket are necessary

pieces of oyster hunting equipment.

In order to work on the marsh, patin are worn on bare feet. In winter and in summer.

Women roll up their trousers to knee-height to keep them dry. It may seem funny

now, but in those days, the rolled-up trousers of the oyster gatherers urged many

men to travel to Arcachon specifically to ogle at the young workers’ bare legs and


Red flannel trousers of the parqueuse women become one of the symbols of Arcachon.

Paul Kaufman, journalist and illustrator, described in 1901 the set-up of the oyster parks, as

well as the life and daily routines of their workers, doesn’t hide his excitement when

describing the clothes of the lovely harvesters of Arcachon: “Underneath their woollen