Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes (Dress, Body, Culture)

Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes (Dress, Body, Culture)

Michael Carter

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 1859736068

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

With so much focus on contemporary theory, it is easy to forget that the serious analysis of clothing and fashion has a long history. In fact, they have been the subject of intense cultural debate since the nineteenth century. Fashion Classics provides an interpretative overview of the groundbreaking and often idiosyncratic writings of eight theorists whose work has profoundly influenced the conceptual and theoretical basis of our contemporary understanding of clothes and the fashion system.

Carter fully revives early ‘fashion theorists' – some canonical and others less well known – and examines them in light of more recent work. From Carlyle's fantastical character Professor Teufelsdrockh, through the first Freudian analysis of clothes by J.C. Flugel, the pioneering work of Spencer, Veblen, Simmel, Kroeber, Laver and finally Barthes' monumental work on the modern fashion system, this book explores and explains the foundations of fashion theory. Not only does it provide an historical outline of Western conceptions of clothes and fashion, but it also highlights how ideas intermix and build on one another.

Carter's lively narrative clearly shows that views on fashion have always been impassioned – perhaps most notably Carlyle's notorious attack on Dandyism and Veblen's suggestion that clothes should be made out of old newspaper. This book also makes sense of complex theory and is essential reading for anyone seeking an overview of the history of fashion theory.

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strong emphasis upon the social and political aspects of dress and fashion is very influential on later thinkers. But it has to be said that these emphases are always present at the expense of aesthetic considerations, those aspects that are usually referred to as beauty, elegance and ugliness. Spencer, Veblen, Simmel and Flügel all realize that fashion is responsible for making us wear sartorial abominations as well as providing ensembles that are elegant and beautiful. In different ways they

increased power of fashion that it has overstepped the bounds of its original domain, which comprised only externals of dress, and has acquired an increasing influence over taste, theoretical convictions, and even the moral foundations of life in their changing forms.27 Follow this prediction through to its logical end and fashion becomes the historical destiny awaiting modern capitalism. From being a game of competition in the restricted area of appearance, fashion expands to become the

between what Flügel is doing here and Kroeber’s measurements of women’s evening dresses. In both cases the authors are attempting to devise a method to enable an accurate picture to emerge of the actual changes affecting clothes. For Kroeber, the most important characteristic to plot is the oscillation of the dress shape, and the subsidiary factor of the ratio of exposed flesh to covered flesh. Flügel, beginning with his major binary of modesty and display, argues that variations in clothing

in this instance was just one small example of the revolution taking place in the social mores and intellectual convictions of a whole section of the nation. Daily life for the British middle and upper classes was changing and changing fast. Part of this change was the rejection, and then demonization, of the values and manners associated with George IV and William IV. What was coming into being was Victorianism with its, at least, overt espousal of personal abstemiousness, social and individual

Carlyle fails to match his sensitivity to the subtleties of the dandy idea when he attempts to grasp the ‘Architectural Idea’ of the poor. What might have been witty and amusing when applied to the wealthy loses its humour when turned upon the ‘Bogtrotters’, ‘White-Negroes’, ‘Ragged-Beggars’ or ‘Poor-Slaves’; all names he uses to describe the (Irish) poor. Assertion substitutes for elucidation: ‘. . . the original Sect is that of the Poor-Slaves; whose doctrines, practices, and fundamental

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