When department stores like Le Bon Marche first opened their
doors in mid-nineteenth-century Paris, shoppers were offered more
than racks of ready-made frock coats and crinolines. They were
given the chance to acquire a lifestyle as well--that of the
bourgeoisie. Wearing proper clothing encouraged proper behavior,
went the prevailing belief.
Available now for the first time in English, "Fashioning the
Bourgeoisie" was one of the first extensive studies to explain a
culture's sociology through the seemingly simple issue of the
choice of clothing. Philippe Perrot shows, through a delightful
tour of the rise of the ready-made fashion industry in France, how
clothing can not only reflect but also inculcate beliefs, values,
and aspirations. By the middle of the century, men were prompted to
disdain the decadent and gaudy colors of the pre-Revolutionary
period and wear unrelievedly black frock coats suitable to the
manly and serious world of commerce. Their wives and daughters, on
the other hand, adorned themselves in bright colors and often
uncomfortable and impractical laces and petticoats, to signal the
status of their family. The consumer pastime of shopping was born,
as women spent their spare hours keeping up their middle-class
appearance, or creating one by judicious purchases.
As Paris became the fashion capital and bourgeois modes of dress
and their inherent attitudes became the ruling lifestyle of Western
Europe and America, clothing and its "civilizing" tendencies were
imported to non-Western colonies as well. In the face of what
Perrot calls this "leveling process," the upper classes tried to
maintain their stature and right to elegance by supporting what
became the high fashion industry. Richly detailed, entertaining,
and provocative, "Fashioning the Bourgeoisie" reveals to us the
sources of many of our contemporary rules of fashion and
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