Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes

Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes

Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes

Fashion Classics from Carlyle to Barthes

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Sooner or later any area of study that develops sufficient critical mass will begin to scrutinize itself. Specifically, it will become aware that its patterns of concerns, anxieties and intellectual dispositions, have a history. While these may not add up to a ‘discourse’, or even a ‘tradition’, there comes a moment when the normal channels of operation shed their cloak of familiarity and start to become visible. It was just such a moment of intellectual estrangement that precipitated this book. I encountered a mildly dismissive remark about Thomas Carlyle and Sartor Resartus – nothing unusual about that, the history of costume is littered with such criticisms. Mentally I nodded in agreement and continued reading. Of course, I had not read Sartor. Or rather, I had picked it up, glanced at a few pages and dropped it in fright. However, on this occasion I sat down and read it in one sitting. So much was familiar in Carlyle's ironic observations about clothes. So many later voices could be heard in his declarations on our habits of dress and dressing. Either he was a glorious, but isolated, interpreter of our clothed condition or he was the first in a line of thinkers that might add up to a tradition. My conclusion, after rereading a few of the standard texts of fashion theory, was that there was such a tradition and that an apt name for it might be ‘Fashion Classics’. The only novel feature that I can claim for this book is that it is the first time that a systematic study has been made of those figures, and texts, normally regarded as central to the study of clothing and fashion. There have been a number of critical glances at the intellectual history of fashion theory, such as those of Wilson (1985), Davis (1992), Barnes and Eicher (1992). Those writings concerned exclusively with the intellectual roots of fashion and dress studies, works such as Keenan's ground-breaking reappraisal (2001) of the significance for dress studies of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, together with the excellent study of fashion and modernity, Tigersprung by Lehmann (2000), have appeared only very recently and were too late for adequate consideration in this book. It is within this growing desire for a clearer picture of the intellectual history of the subject that I want to situate the present volume.

The selection of texts in the book was made, initially, on pragmatic grounds. There were the texts that I constantly returned to for clarification and intellectual refreshment. Then there were the texts that others working in the field . . .

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