The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

By Daniel Leonhard Purdy | Go to book overview
Save to active project

“Pride” from The Fable of the Bees (1724)

BERNARD MANDEVILLE

Mandeville's Fable of the Bees scandalized the eighteenth century. Its stinging immoralism made it a perpetual target for rebuttals. Rousseau was one of the many later thinkers obliged to refute the Fable's notorious claim that private vices amounted to public virtues. Without naming his opponent, he tried to rebut Mandeville's provocative celebration of luxury by writing “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” (1750). The Fable excerpt printed here focuses specifically on how pride motivates fashion. Far from denouncing luxurious clothes as exceeding the needs of any individual, Mandeville argues that lavish spending on dress “trickles down” to employ a host of tailors and other skilled craftsmen. The more money the wealthy elite spend on their own attire, the more hands are kept busy providing them the luxury goods they desire.

In a mercantile city such as London, the visual representations of class distinctions are easily blurred. Lower-class people can easily use the anonymity of a large city to their advantage. By dressing above their social station, they can easily fool others (and, as a consequence, even themselves) into thinking that they fare better than their actual condition mandates. Mandeville maps out in delicious detail how each strata seeks to emulate the one above while simultaneously trying to preserve its own distinctiveness from the group directly below. The desire to raise oneself in society, combined with the fear that one is losing ground to others, is the primary cause for fashion's many cyclical changes. The highest classes, Mandeville argues, continuously invent new designs to visually display their superiority and separation from their lower-class imitators. New modes of appearance are nothing more than new symbols of distinction that begin at the top of society and slowly make their way down the chain of class emulation. At each level, ordinary citizens are motivated to work twice as hard so that they can afford the luxuries of those directly above them. Hence, Mandeville asserts, pride generates industry. Were it not for the common human desire to seem grander

-21-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Rise of Fashion: A Reader
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 357

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?