Introduction

Publisher:
Bloomsbury
Publication Type:
Chapter
Citation:
A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion in the Age of Enlightenment, 2017, 4 pp. 1 - 22
Issue Date:
2017-01-26
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Aileen Ribeiro, in her magisterial publication The Art of Dress, cited two authors, one eighteenth-century French and one British, to demonstrate that considering fashion and dress, to be part of cultural, philosophical or even scientific change was considered plausible at the very time the fashions were made and consumed'1 Contained in these short quotations are many of the ideas that would colour future theoretical speculation by the likes of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers such as Thorstein Veblen and even Pierre Bourdieu: that fashion is something that stretches to encompass much more than sartorial fashions, that fashion is hastily copied, and that it also serves to identify and situate individuals and societies. In the expression "adjusting oneself" there is even contained the suggestion of the embodiment which has come to provide new impetus in writing about fashion in recent years. I will take these three themes to structure my overview of dress during the Enlightenment: the fairly elastic definition of "fashion" that pertained during the long eighteenth century, the uptake, diffusion or indeed, reflection, of fashions by individuals and groups, including rural elites, and the relationship of dress and the body to Richard Sennett's famous formulation of interlinked "flesh and stone," that is, the linking of dress, body and the built environment in the rapidly transforming towns and cities of eighteenth-century West Europe'
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