The Appearance of Enlightenment: Refashioning the Elites

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The Enlightenment World, 2004, 1, pp. 381 - 400
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In the eighteenth century clothing introduced and worn at court ceased to be the dominant fashion. The strict codification of dress backed by sumptuary laws asserting an unchanging social structure was undone by philosophical, scientific, political and economic change. Rising incomes, the spread of literacy and print culture, the introduction of new cottons and cheaper techniques of production and printing meant that more types and numbers of garments and fabrics entered the wardrobes of the bourgeoisie, as well as artisans, tenant farmers, mechanics and the servant class. Fashion choice accelerated within a market economy, in which choices about commodities became markers of distinction and mobility. Fashion also functioned as a potent symbol for the types of social and economic change which modern capitalism enabled, standing in for values ranging from transformation to deception, which were explored within Enlightenment philosophical tracts and popularizing accounts.
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