In a book full of playful irony and striking insights, the
controversial social philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky draws on the
history of fashion to demonstrate that the modern cult of
appearance and superficiality actually serves the common good.
Focusing on clothing, bodily deportment, sex roles, sexual
practices, and political rhetoric as forms of "fashion," Lipovetsky
bounds across two thousand years of history, showing how the
evolution of fashion from an upper-class privilege into a vehicle
of popular expression closely follows the rise of democratic
values. Whereas Tocqueville feared that mass culture would create
passive citizens incapable of political reasoning, Lipovetsky
argues that today's mass-produced fashion offers many choices,
which in turn enable consumers to become complex individuals within
a consolidated, democratically educated society.
Superficiality fosters tolerance among different groups within a
society, claims Lipovetsky. To analyze fashion's role in smoothing
over social conflict, he abandons class analysis in favor of an
inquiry into the symbolism of everyday life and the creation of
ephemeral desire. Lipovetsky examines the malaise experienced by
people who, because they can fulfill so many desires, lose their
sense of identity. His conclusions raise disturbing questions about
personal joy and anguish in modern democracy.
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