The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

The Rise of Fashion: A Reader

Synopsis

Writing more than a century before "Vogue, no less a figure than G. W. F. Hegel reviewed the fashion of his day and found it wanting because, in becoming outmoded so quickly, it drew attention away from the timeless beauty of the human form. And Hegel is not unique among philosophers in his interest in fashion's role; for more than 250 years, social thinkers have considered fashion--its transitive nature, the conformity it inspires, the vast range of its influence--as a defining feature of modern life. In "The Rise of Fashion, Daniel Leonhard Purdy brings together key writings from the Enlightenment to the twentieth century that explore fashion as the ultimate expression of modernity. Making available many previously untranslated or otherwise unfamiliar works from French, German, and English, Purdy establishes an extraordinary lineage of fashion commentary dating back to Mandeville and Voltaire, which laid the groundwork for the writings on commodity culture of Adorno, Benjamin, and the Frankfurt School. From,critiques of aristocratic excess to accounts of fashion's influence on our ideals of masculinity or femininity, from the figure of the dandy and the eroticism of clothing to the class politics of fashion, this landmark reader includes works by philosophers (Carlyle, Rousseau, Georg Simmel) and social theorists (Herbert Spencer, Veblen), as well as writers (Goethe, Baudelaire, Mallarme, Wilde) and critics (Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, Simone de Beauvoir). Collecting and contextualizing many of the earliest and most significant formulations of fashion theory, "The Rise of Fashion provocatively examines the proposition that to be modern is to be fashionable.

Excerpt

When Friedrich Vischer wrote that speed was the defining feature of modern life, he proved his point by referring to the rapidity with which styles were replaced within good society. No one, he wrote in 1879, had time for long speeches or tailored clothes; ready-made was the order of the day. Eduard Fuchs reiterated the point in 1912: “Never before has there occurred such a degree of rapid and sudden change of fashion…. An inventive genius is at work….which impresses and bewilders, if not through the beauty of the styles, then certainly through the enormous wealth of its ever new combinations.” Explaining this “inventive genius” was a fundamental question that unified generations of fashion commentators. If one could understand why styles changed so rapidly, then one might grasp modernity itself, for the genius of fashion was associated by a long line of writers with the upheavals of modern existence. Somewhere in the rush of change, they all reasoned, there must lie some essence, something stable, that could account for the onslaught of images and attitudes fashion struck.

Mode and modernity were connected by more than semantics. Fashion's obsession with change, its constant search for the newest design, gave it a formal similarity with other systems that demanded continuous innovation. The parallel between such weighty endeavors as technological innovation, avant-garde art, or political revolution and the apparently frivolous desire to update one's personal appearance meant that moralists, political economists, literary critics, and sociologists could use their interpretations of fashion culture as springboards for broader debates about modernity.

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