‘Silhouette’ is a shadow profile, showing an outline of someone or something. Silhouettes became popular in the eighteenth century in France as a cheap way of creating portraits for those who could not afford the more lavish paintings. The word ‘silhouette’ derives from Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67), a French politician during the reign of Louis XV. Silhouette has specific responsibility to strengthen the country’s finances during The Seven Years’ War (1756-63). He taxed the rich which made him very unpopular with the wealthier sectors of French society. His austere reforms gave him a lasting association with all things cheap, with the term a la silhouette being applied to them, including the inexpensive portrait cutouts that were all the rage. The term as stuck ever since and lost its capital ‘S’ as it entered generic English.
[Courtesy of 'It's a Wonderful Word' by Albert Jack]