Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936) was the son of a wealthy farmer in the northernmost part of Germany, Nordfriesland. As a professor at the University of Kiel, he formulated the famous distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, which translates roughly as the difference between “community” and “society.” Tönnies elaborated upon this distinction, building each out to show how the terms represented two different forms of lives, representing traditional rural community on the one hand and modern urban society on the other. In the late nineteenth century, the two terms were seen as being much at odds with each other, with society threatening to eliminate community. Tönnies sought to bridge the opposition by finding examples of community within modern societies. However, this proscriptive side of his work did not overcome his diagnosis of the opposition between cities and the dissolving institutions of rural life.
Clothes were an excellent means of explaining Tönnies's point. The German word for fashion was the same as in French and Italy, mode; however, the word tracht had a specific German tone to it. Tönnies, like many other nineteenth-century writers, set tracht in opposition to mode. Whereas mode carried a cosmopolitan tone, tracht embodied the costume of peasant culture. Peasant dress in the nineteenth century was important not only to nationalists eager to find a political identity in local traditions of dress, but it also provided a stable alternative to the fluctuations of city style. The European urban elite have always enjoyed wearing rural garb when escaping the pressure of their enclosures. Much of the Enlightenment's enthusiasm for comfort grew out of an appreciation of country clothes. What city dwellers took as a sign of backwardness, Tönnies explained, was a manifestation of a fundamentally different culture. He provides a much richer theory than Herbert Spencer does with his distinction between ceremony and fashion. The difference between mode and tracht reflects differences in sociability, economy, and religious beliefs, as well as political