The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

By Daniel Leonhard Purdy | Go to book overview

“Bourgeois Dress” (1912)

EDUARD FUCHS

At the turn of the century, Eduard Fuchs was famous for his artful books on fashion history as well as for his extensive collections of caricatures. He elevated collecting to an intellectual endeavor that sought to draw serious political implications from a lifetime obsession. A journalist as well as an engaged socialist, Fuchs attempted to bridge the gap between popular culture and political history by interpreting fashion images in relation to the political and economic forces that shape all social relations. He tried to avoid falling into the trap of a reductive historical materialism that automatically interpreted culture as a mere reflection of more fundamental economic conflicts. The connection between the history of capitalism and everyday life was not so simple that it could always readily explain popular culture as an ideology that bluntly represented the interests of a ruling class; nevertheless, Fuchs saw the rise of capitalism as the most important development in the modern era. This concerted effort to develop a subtle and nuanced account of mass culture while holding to a materialist economic theory of history impressed Marxist critics such as Walter Benjamin even if it helped ostracize him from the Social Democratic Party. If the name Eduard Fuchs is recognized today, it is indeed because Walter Benjamin wrote an essay on Fuchs, praising his work as a collector while pointing out the political dangers of an all-too simple belief in historical necessity. According to Benjamin, Fuchs's appreciation of mass culture fleshed out and thereby gave a sense of contingency to the materialist history that had become a dogma to socialists at the beginning of the twentieth century.

If the modern era marks the triumph of the bourgeoisie, Fuchs understood that the members of that class sought to exemplify their position and values in their clothes. Fashion was a medium for communicating values, yet it had its own traditions; it could not be yoked to the conventions of other systems of communication. Class conflict played itself out differently in fashion than in politics. In this chapter taken from his three-volume history of

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