11 July 2008

The Revolution of Fashion

Paul Sandby (1761) - Francis Cotes

Young Man in a Fawn Coat (1772) - Tilly Kettle

Sir Thomas Beauchamp-Proctor (1777) - Benjamin West

Marie Jean Augustin Vestris (1781) - Thomas Gainsborough

Mr and Mrs William Hallett (1785) - Thomas Gainsborough

Baron de Besenval (1791) - Henri Danloux

Men's fashion in the second half of the Eighteenth Century was to undergo major changes, moving away from one of the most elaborate and decadent styles in history to a vogue determined by political theory and marred by the violence of Revolution.

Revolution tore through France, a social and political upheval, which saw the hold of power taken from the absolute monarchy and Catholic church, to political forms based on Enlightenment theory and the priniciples of inalienable rights. However as is usual in history, excessive bloodshed would be the primary outcome, with executions and repression in the infamous Reign of Terror. France would subsequently undergo major political change and 'experimentation' with governing structures such as republics, monarchies, empires and dictatorships.

Across the Atlantic, the European emmigrants, specifically those of Britain, in America, were becoming disillusioned with the overseas government. One of the main slogans would be 'no taxation without representation', wanting to govern themselves and have their own independent political structure and arguably inspired by the air of Revolution in Europe, they would fight the British. Having no representation in Parliament, they thought that the taxes and other laws imposed on them had no legitimacy and attacked their rights as 'Englishmen'.

The new system would be based on a republic rather than a direct democratic system, due to the fear of 'mob rule'. This system has remained till today with the federal and state systems, where the powers of the federal are clearly set out, whilst all those not specifically stated come under the jurisdiction of the respective state. The seperation of powers was also a system put in place in direct opposition to the fusion of powers found in the British political system. The Founding Fathers also implemented the system of 'checks and balances', so that no one arm of the federal government could gain unchecked power, fearing the 'tyranny of the majority'. Although arguably this direct polarity of political system also came with its own drawbacks such as legislative deadlocking and the inherent conflicts that could arise from checks and balances.

The intentional opposition in political system was also seen in American clothing of this period. In a conscious attempt to seperate themselves from the Europeans, the new Americans relied on image, specifically that of clothing. Originally most emmigration to America had happened due to religious conflicts, as such the Puritans held great sway, their view dictating conservative clothing. However the Americans also sought to seperate themselves from the 'European pomp' of the past, by which they viewed the elaborate and luxurious clothing of the past as an inherent outcome and product of a society based of hierarchy and a damning social system.

Interestingly, although the Americans attempted to seperate themselves from Europe in this decision, they were actually simply following the prevalent European trend. Enlightenment had spread through much of Europe, which was based on a more equal society than the rigid structures already in place. Artists, writers, philosophers and critics were to look at the political future with a hope, especially at the start of the French Revolution when there was a promise of change, rather than the inevitable violence one sees now with the benefit of hindsight.

The era of Enlightenment saw men's fashion as moving away from the luxurious and embellished garments of the decades before. This decoration was associated with the ancien regime and the dominating aristocracy of the past, as well as being regarded as far too effeminate (an issue we still seem to be plagued with today). The new model was the 'man of feeling' who would wear simpler clothing with plain colours, rather than the vivid tones of the past. Following the writings of Winckelmann, the modern man would be like the heroic images of art, holding himself with 'noble simplicity and calm grandeur'.

Personally I find this period of men's fashion fascinating, in that the style is beautiful, striking a wonderful balance between the 'costume' pieces of the past and the conservative garments that would dictate the future. Arguably the changes in men's fashion since this period of Revolution have yet to change. Men's fashion in today's world is still considered as having to be that dark, simple and conservative image produced by those in the Enlightenment. I also find it highly interesting to see how politics can directly influence and arguably aslo be dictated by fashion.

The Revolutions were to have resounding consequences in the future of fashion, the shockwaves of which are still felt today in the world of men's fashion.

Images courtesy of Tate Britain.

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17 comments:

  1. Aahh I love fashion history, it's so fascinating to see how fashion changes and what influences these changes. Great post!!

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  2. Oooh, fascinating post. A great arguement too for why fashion is NOT frivolous, since it is so often a reflection of our times, values, etc.

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  3. This is such an intriguing post, you really do learn something new everyday :)

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  4. I don't understand in entirety the essence of fashion, but i guess it's a matter of both personal and societal dictate. I'm not really into fashion, but I guess I would say you got a "fierce" style in here. Nice arguments about history and fashion.

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  5. Can I just tell you that I love love love these posts! Love them!

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  6. Hey dapperkid, I linked to one of ur posts about the Shemagh. Please check it out

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  7. Oh wonderful post! I'm very fascinated with the men's and women's fashion from those times. It's amazing to see the kinds of beautiful and extravangant clothing they wore on a daily basis!

    Btw, I tagged you. Check out my blog for the details :)

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  8. What a fascinating post!How interesting to see how changing values and class issues could be seen so explicitly through style. Brilliant.

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  9. As usual a fantastic post, I love all the frills and ruffles.

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  10. Thank you for beautiful and interesting post! Love fashion history.

    Check out my latest post. I just tagged you :-)

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  11. I took a history of trends class a few quarters back. I thought I was the only one that enjoied that kind of stuff. Kudos.

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  12. i loved the way men dressed back then, like in the movies pride and prejudice and becoming jane.

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  13. Wonderful post, I absolutely agree the fashion of the 2nd half of the eighteenth century was simply mesmerizing and although I love modern simplicity, the luxury and detailing of the gourmets were works of art in their own right.

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