Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860

By Banner, Lois | Journal of the Early Republic, October 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860


Banner, Lois, Journal of the Early Republic


Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860. By Michael Zakim. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2003. Pp. x, 296. Illustrations. Cloth, $30.00.)

The strength of this book lies in the author's bringing together of insights from economic, industrial, labor, cultural, and gender history to support a series of broad conclusions about democracy and capitalism in the antebellum era. It is also a pleasure for a historian of fashion and physical appearance like me to see dress taken seriously as a major force in individual lives and American culture.

In this book, Michael Zakim provides the most detailed account yet assembled of the rise of the men's clothing industry in the United States and of its early rationalization and standardization under the capitalist system, which began to appear in New York City in the late eighteenth century and grew rapidly in the antebellum era. By 1850 the clothing store Brooks Brothers, for example, had a "marble palace" of 20,000 square feet and a sales force of 2,000 (99). Pants were neatly piled on tables in the middle of its salesroom, and coats were displayed on hooks on the walls. Four hundred workers in back rooms either cut out the parts of the clothes from patterns placed on cloth or sewed together the parts into the items for sale.

Zakim tells us more about the nature of dress in the lives of the young, upwardly mobile men who flooded the cities in this era to become clerks in stores and businesses than previous studies of the subject, including my own American Beauty (1983) and Patricia Kline Cohen's Murder of Helen Jewett (1998). Zakim is sensitive to the importance of individual items of dress; thus, he notes that the invention of disposable white collars allowed clerks to adopt a defining style of the male elites without having to undergo the significant expense of keeping those collars clean.

Zakim presents women who worked in the men's garment industry as calling into question any notion of a "transcendent feminine passivity or even domesticity" (157). Mercilessly exploited by capitalism's unrelenting drive for cheap labor, they responded to the conditions of their exploitation by forming labor unions and engaging in strikes. Ultimately, however, they would fall victim to the "breadwinner ethic"-the idea that men should support their families by their own work, no matter their income. Even workingmen espoused that ideology, which they used to demand higher wages for themselves and which created a divide between male and female workers.

Unfortunately, however, Zakim's narrative wanders, and it is at times hard to follow. Moreover, his conclusions are not as new as he claims them to be. Trained by social historians at Columbia University, he does not seem aware of a large body of literature in the history of fashion that has been accumulating for some time. Historians of fashion realized years ago that uniform, well-tailored clothing in dark colors had become the mark of the modern man of business and that fashion had become a standardizing force masking the revolutionary nature of capitalism, which separated home from office, created gulfs between the classes, and turned commodities into fetishes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.