Monday, February 8, 2010

Aristocratic Power


Crown of Christian V (1671) kept at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

The term "aristocracy" means “rule of the best” and was originally a type of government in which the most prominent and wealthy citizens rule. This resulted in kingship with kings acknowledging the best military heroes by giving them noblemen status and a gift of land. This circle of kings and nobles was the basis of aristocracy. Aristocrats originally valued prudence, discretion and other virtues. By the 1700’s aristocracy had become a combination of noblemen and simply general wealth. The term now often refers to the highest economic class.

Traditional Western Class Rank
Monarchy / Royal Aristocracy: Total ownership & political power
Aristocracy: Historic wealth and ownership, social power and influence, companions of royalty and examples of civilized life
Asset class: Old or new ownership and resources, lack of need to work or maintain assets to any extent (employs labour and house service)
Merchant class / Bourgeoisie: Business ownership and normally home ownership both of which must be maintained
Service class / Petite Bourgeoisie: Partial ownership in tools, educational resources, greater skill such as an engineer, doctors, lawyers and teachers
Working class / Proletariat laborers: No business or tool ownership, just work, normally debted property
Lower class: lack of ownership, lack of consistent work, lack of or limited education or skill as a resource to obtain work
Poverty: complete lack of all asset or resources
The pastoral exception: The provincial pastoral life challenges the class system because most farmers own their entire livelihood but there was also the wandering peasant who came to the city in the industrial revolution and created the working class and lower classes

Read more on noble ranking

The basis for aristocratic life was filling time with something other than work, which originally meant making a good use of time through development of auxiliary skills and cultivation.


Aristocracy originally set example for others in society, advocating virtue and noblesse oblige. They have historically regarded power as responsibility and ownership as stewardship for future generations. Some argue that by the 1700’s the life of leisure took over and that after the revolution entire resources were depleted in 3 generations.


Fashionable Aristocrats

Countess Castiglione, Italian lover of Napoleon, photographed her closet in the 1860's


Countess Marie-Laure de Noailles of the Villa Noailles


Countess Jacqueline de Ribes,
"The Most Stylish Woman in the World"


Aristocracy today? Fabricated royal descent is more common than pedigreed royalty and aristocracy. 150 million Americans (about half) have some traceable European royal or aristocratic descent, mostly from the original Americans who received land grants. Princely titles are active in many European countries that generate a jet set class with some living on name alone. Below left Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco.

Above right, Jamie Johnson's Born Rich, 2003. In the United States where new money is almost all there is, second and third generation wealth qualifies as influential. Read more about American Wasps here and the prep tradition here. See Wasp films and costumes here.


There is also the question of a need for an ongoing myth of aristocracy seen in the celebrity who occasionally follow the aristocratic code of giving back.


The aristocratic life in fashion media. In the capitalist cult of the object, media glorifies the luxurious and excessive life of the aristocrat over refinement, taste and virtue, which were the greater values of the ruling class. The images evident in fashion media are referential to the most problematic era of aristocracy, the mid 18th century. They are suggest the life of play and leisure.


Steven Meisel, Dolce & Gabanna, 2007

Lanvin, F 2009

Steven Meisel, 4 Days in LA, Versace, 2001


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