Fashion beyond Versailles: Consumption and Design in Seventeenth-Century France
Dewald, Jonathan, The Historian
Fashion Beyond Versailles: Consumption and Design in Seventeenth-Century France. By Donna J. Bohanan. (Baton Rouge, LA" Louisiana State University Press, 2012. Pp. x, 154. $40.00.)
We live in a consumer society, and since the 1980s, awareness of contemporary consumer practices has increasingly influenced our historical thinking: scholars in several fields have asked what people in the past bought, why, and what their choices meant for other domains of their lives. This research has filled blank spots in our knowledge of the past, but it has also stimulated broader reinterpretations. Long-studied processes like the Industrial Revolution and the political revolutions of the eighteenth century have a new look when seen against the background of changing marketplace experiences.
Donna J. Bohanan's fine new book exemplifies this line of research and reflection. The book is narrowly focused, both chronologically and geographically. It analyzes the ruling elite of Grenoble, a mid-sized city in eastern France, over the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and it considers mainly the furnishings that the group purchased for their homes, rather than the full range of their consumer goods. Such an approach poses obvious limitations, because findings about this narrow milieu cannot necessarily be extended to other social groups or other places, but it also offers important advantages, for in understanding consumer cultures, the details matter. Specific choices in furniture, dishes, fabric colors, and food preparation, Bohanan shows, reveal broad changes in outlook, changes that more-general accounts often miss.
Two interrelated changes dominate Bohanan's analysis. First, she shows that by about 1700 the elites of Grenoble had internalized big-city fashion norms. …