Even though the highly elaborate costumes and ceremonies of the French court at Versailles have long disappeared, Rousseau's “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” continues to censure fashions that become too impractical. The common complaint that haute couture can never be worn by real women echoes Rousseau's arguments against the rococo styles of the French court. Over the last two hundred years his arguments against luxury have been reapplied within a wide range of debates.
Rousseau argues most strenuously against ornamentation in dress while advocating liberation of the body from conventions that constrain its ability to move freely and labor industriously. His criticisms of ostentation have been redeployed by nineteenth-century American suffragists who advocated leggings for women so they could be free from the respectable conventions associated with bodices and hoop skirts. High modernist architects such as Le Corbusier followed up on Rousseau's claim that the human body's primary purpose was to labor to its fullest abilities. By valuing physical activities over the elaborate rituals of social life, Rousseau laid the groundwork for architectural modernism's similar celebration of task-oriented buildings that eschewed unnecessary decorations. He phrased his argument as a conflict between an advanced civilization that restricted the body and a pastoral past in which humans provided for their own needs through work. The clean, efficient look of modern buildings tries to satisfy Rousseau's criticisms of civilization by applying the principles of Greek and Roman simplicity to the centers of society. Architects and designers such as Le Corbusier understood their own work as a renunciation of fashion's friviolity. Of course, the question that any stylish person would have to ask is: Just how unfashionable is high modernist design? Many would say that it was exactly what it sought to avoid: fashion. In a similar vein, Rousseau's celebration of rural life set the stage for the long legacy of country styles of dress. From English riding boots to L. L. Bean, the aftereffects of his contempt for restrictive dress continue to show themselves.