Gilding the Market: Luxury and Fashion in Fourteenth-Century Italy

By Susan Mosher Stuard | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Desirable Wares

Highly desirable luxury wares had always augmented the medieval trade in staples, and long-distance merchants, even peddlers, regularly carried ready-made luxury goods in their bales and packs. By the fourteenth century city shops had begun to pay close attention to the drawing power of welldisplayed luxury wares and built up trade on the premise that fine objects themselves aroused interest, even strong desires to possess. Luxury wares, and their display and presentation, pose questions requiring careful study since the newer mode of presentation to customers in city shops has not received all the attention in scholarly literature that it deserves.1

Since fourteenth-century people lacked mirrors that provided head-totoe scrutiny, gaining an accurate picture of one’s ensemble was close to impossible and not a reliable retailing device. Small peer glasses, generally highly polished disks of metal, and a few rare unblemished pieces of rock crystal silvered on the back were all that people possessed to reassure themselves about their looks, so directing the gaze of the customer to the effects achieved by fashion was pursued through other means.2 Flattering buyers to render shopping an emotionally compelling activity relied more on examining desirable objects and discussing their merits than regarding the enhanced self. A century later mirrors came into widespread use as a by-product of Murano clear glass or crystallo, and the resulting full-length observation of costume may have encouraged people to dress with greater restraint. But in earlier days a retailer learned to cue customers to admire a hat, purse, or chain, and attempted to teach buyers how to imagine themselves decked out in current fashions like short robes, parti-colored hose, pleats, buttons, slashed sleeves, or any of the other conceits of the day. Perhaps the garish and extreme effects of fourteenthcentury fashions resulted from a poor perception of the effects of donning fashionable attire. Or perhaps too uncritical acceptance of a retailer’s beguiling arguments drove the trend toward extremes. The fashionable tended to dress to impress with the boldest effects they could muster, and customers purchased their luxury wares as unconnected entities, which they then combined into ensembles according to their own preferences. Goods that were arresting, bright, shiny, and intricate, ones that produced novel effects or startled viewers, drove early phases of the turn to fashion.

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Gilding the Market: Luxury and Fashion in Fourteenth-Century Italy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - Desirable Wares 20
  • Chapter 3 - Gravitas and Consumption 56
  • Chapter 4 - Curbing Women’s Excesses 84
  • Chapter 5 - Costs of Luxuries 122
  • Chapter 6 - Shops and Trades 154
  • Chapter 7 - Marketmakers 190
  • Chapter 8 - Conclusion 228
  • Notes 241
  • Bibliography 293
  • Index 321
  • Acknowledgments 331
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