When visiting this ersatz farm, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would dress as shepherdesses, and play at milking the cows and tending other docile animals. The farmhouse interior was more opulent, featuring all of the luxuries expected by the Queen and her ladies.
The Petit Hameau was part of the landscape of the "natural" English garden, but it was also a reflection of France's cultural values on the eve of the Revolution. This artificial nature retreat mirrored the moral values associated with natural simplicity and virtue.
Novelists, playwrights, and moralists encouraged the aristocracy to act their part by giving a helping hand to the deserving poor in well-staged events that would reflect well on them. The poor had a tendency to take the aristocrats to court if they failed in their traditional duties, and they often won their cases.
The aristocracy, however, were known to turn all this simplicity into a pretty spectacle, trooping out in groups from their country estates to watch village festivals, especially those that featured happy young people dancing innocently in traditional costumes. This was the sort of "peasant life" that Marie-Antoinette played at with her female friends in the petit hameau, when they dressed in simple gauze dresses tied around the waist with satin ribbons.
The innocence and simplicity of Marie Antoinette's amusements did not, however, redeem her in the eyes of those who noted the expenses of her endeavors. And even more than the money spent on the Petit Hameau, the many hours the Queen spent there in the company of other women, outside the sight and supervision of her husband, gave rise to rumors that were not innocent at all.