Monday, February 8, 2010

The Renaissance to Rousseau

by Emily Kaufman

1500's northern Europe

Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory: In the introduction to their book Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass explore the origins of the term "fashion" and the attitudes toward fashion by Renaissance society. This book was written in 2000 but works tirelessly to remove the modern prism through which we see things, they present very objective arguments explaining the contradictory notion that fashion holds with it memories and has creative power and that fashion is used simply as a commodity.

1500's European dress for ruling class and servants who would have been paid in clothing

By analyzing the meaning of the word fashion Jones and Stallybrass find the cache that was associated with it during the Renaissance. The word fashion in the context of the Renaissance really means the act of making. This may seem to be a strange notion that the idea of fashion that we have now, constantly in flux. However in the 15th and 16th centuries it was thought that the clothing you wore would make you a certain way. Hence the saying that "the clothes make the man."

The older notion of fashion is not dressing oneself but rather receiving clothing as a designation. Jacques Louis David, The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine, 1805, detail

We still willing receive clothing as a designation of honor. Miss Universe 2009 and LeBron James in Bejing, 2008

The introduction brings different sources to support this assertion. The mere fact that clothing can signal your place in society or your disposition, as witnessed with Hal from Henry IV Part 2, who uses the term fashion with regard to the sorrow that he feels for the death of his father.

Clothing holds the memories of what they represent, and not only do they hold the memories they represent they also impose the implications of those memories onto the wearer. For example the monks habit is not just a uniform, rather it holds with it the way of life that the monk has taken upon himself. It is an innate reminder of the chastity and modesty that it represents.

The wedding ring is commonly understood to be both a ritual object and a daily reminder

The article moves on to discuss the idea that when Europe began to colonize materialism began to be demonized, quite contradictory saying that Europe was amassing much wealth. The Europeans were doing detaching themselves from the material and making the material into mere commodity. Thus, through the European perspective it was negative to hold materials dear leading to the notion of the Fetish.

When colonists arrived in the areas that they were conquering they notices that the indigenous peoples held their possessions very near to themselves because they gave them meaning and held memory within them. To the colonists who were mostly Protestant this was extremely similar to the relics and paraphernalia associated with the Catholic Church. The Protestants viewed that as idolatry and thus the negative connotation associated with the word was born.

The fetish was seen by Protestants any material object of value, especially if worn on the body. The fetishization of commodities was discussed by Marx and has transitted to brands.

The authors explain the confusion between “fetish-izing” an object and a commodity. They appear to assert that making a fetish of an item is good because it gives meaning to that unit and that unit has meaning, whereas the colonists made the commodity a fetish and therefore looked at materials as mere things and not memory holders and meaning makers.

It is this crossroads that the authors suggest that they will explore in the book that this article is the introduction for. It appears that they believe that materials do in fact hold power of memory and fashioning, as this is the final statement. “Our argument is that fabrics were central both to the economic and social fabrication of Renaissance Europe and to the making and unmaking of Renaissance styles."

Louis XIV by Riguad, 1694

The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion is by Joan Dejean, a professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania. The NY Times book review explains the assertions that Dejeans makes in the book that Louis XIV is the father of the world of fashion that we live in. He explains that Louis' tastes and style sense dictated the court around him and thus permeated French society. Louis singlehandedly promoted the diamond to the revered position it now holds.

Versailles and shoes of Louis XIV

The idea of the fashion slave was one that began with the courtiers and nobles who watched what Louis was doing and wearing and followed his lead. There was a powerful fashion press that ruled upon which colors would be "in or out" the next season. Also during this time with the introduction of large mirrors, cosmetics became very important. The main curx of this article explains that the idea of ever changing and morphing fashion is far from novel. It has been around since the 17th Century and does not seem like it will be leaving anytime soon.

The Mecure Galant, fashion journal for the royals

Article: Jennifer M. Jones, “Repackaging Rousseau: Femininity and Fashion in Old Regime France”: Jennifer M. Jones is an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University who specializes in women’s studies in European History. This article was written in 1994, it does a good job of objectifying the history and removing the modern perspective that we are so used to imposing on history. This article seeks to explain the transformation in clothing and production in France- it was democratized. By the time of the Revolution members of all classes were able to take part in the fashion scene.

This led to many debates amongst the French. Rousseau, a major critic of fashion, he believed that women have an innate need to be pleasing to men and that is understandable and praiseworthy even, what isn’t is when women become slaves to the changing fashions as he said “The true triumph of beauty is shining by oneself. The lover of fashion is in bad taste because when one changes one’s fashion, one’s face and figure nevertheless remain the same, and the which suits one time should suit one forever”(945).

The debates about fashion played out on the stage of the clothing itself, by the eve of the revolution there were two modes of dress, the classic French way (the formal court dress) and a new much simpler style that included white muslin.

The formal portraits, Queen Marie Antoinette of France with her children, Adolf Ulrich Wertmüller 1785-1786 andby Vigee Lebrun, 1783

The casual portraits with looser hair and casual hats popular at the time, Vigee Lebrun, 1780's

The article utilizes the fashion press as a means of understanding the debates and questions that were surrounding the world of fashion during this time. The first real fashion magazine came out Cabinet des modes was aimed at explaining the ever changing fashions to the urban woman and to the provincials who wanted to keep abreast of the changes taking place in Paris.

Woman began to have closets far vaster than their husbands, which caused fears that women were irrationally squandering away the family’s money on changing styles. However at this time when the focus was moving from the court and the nobles to the people there was much more reason for the women to dress and to take pride in it.

Cabinet des Modes, 1790

A major change that occurred was the shift between the importance that had been placed on luxury and rich materials to a new promulgation of the significance of taste. Clothing did not need to be of the most expensive materials as long as it was in fashion and in tune with the mode. The magazines main job was to celebrate the French peoples taste and also to get the women in roped in to the yoke of the fashion world as the Cabinet des modes wrote,

If there are a few rebels who don’t wish to submit (because there are some in many empires), and who, by their contrariness, would prefer to renounce all hairstyles and set aside all plumes…my empire is sweet and simple, and I only want to command willing subjects”(963).

This thereby shows how women were taken advantage of by these magazines in order to promote the clothing manufacturers and to promote the goals of the magazines.

Cabinet des Modes 1790, see more images here

1 comment:

  1. Wow... Excellent blog content & graphic . thanks for sharing Renaissance clothing information.