The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America

The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America
    Book Description:

    In eighteenth-century America, fashion served as a site of contests over various forms of gendered power. Here, Kate Haulman explores how and why fashion--both as a concept and as the changing style of personal adornment--linked gender relations, social order, commerce, and political authority during a time when traditional hierarchies were in flux.In the see-and-be-seen port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, fashion, a form of power and distinction, was conceptually feminized yet pursued by both men and women across class ranks. Haulman shows that elite men and women in these cities relied on fashion to present their status but also attempted to undercut its ability to do so for others. Disdain for others' fashionability was a means of safeguarding social position in cities where the modes of dress were particularly fluid and a way to maintain gender hierarchy in a world in which women's power as consumers was expanding. Concerns over gendered power expressed through fashion in dress, Haulman reveals, shaped the revolutionary-era struggles of the 1760s and 1770s, influenced national political debates, and helped to secure the exclusions of the new political order.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0292-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION That Strange, Ridic’lous Vice
    (pp. 1-10)

    In his 1705 poem “The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves Turn’d Honest,” philosopher and satirist Bernard Mandeville wrote,

    Their darling, Folly, Fickleness

    in Diet, Furniture, and Dress

    That strange, ridic’lous Vice was made

    the very wheel that turn’d the Trade.

    It was a paradox that puzzled many Britons during the eighteenth century: How could fashion be at once a social “folly,” a moral “vice” born of envy and appetite, and an economic good, “turning the trade” and contributing to the success of the English nation and British empire? Bernard Mandeville believed that in an imperial, commercial context the relationship between private...

  5. 1 The Many Faces of Fashion in the Early Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 11-46)

    When Mary Alexander, a merchant who operated a business with her husband, James, in New York, placed a large order for fabric with her English suppliers in 1726, she included three pages of samples: a sheet filled with ribbon pieces, another displaying fifty - eight mixed fabric swatches, and a third containing thirty strips of calico and chintz. The sheets and their contents remain preserved as beautiful artifacts, bright and textured collages in which the materials have retained their brilliance after nearly three hundred years. A viewer is struck not only by the quantity of fabric Alexander ordered but the...

  6. 2 Fops and Coquettes GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND STATUS
    (pp. 47-80)

    Stopping in Staten Island along his journey from Maryland to Boston in 1744, Dr. Alexander Hamilton observed, almost without irony, that the gray moss that hung heavily from the trees might “if handsomely oild and powdered and tyed behind with a bag or ribbon . . . make a tollerable beau -periwig.” Ever casting a keen eye toward things genteel (or just as often ungenteel), Hamilton knew a thing or two about the styling of wigs, preeminent markers of status and masculine identity for men in eighteenth - century British America. Yet he did not limit his observations to the...

    (pp. 81-116)

    During the spring of 1766, Robert R. Livingston, a lawyer and member of the prominent Livingston clan of New York, took on the persona of a wife in a piece of satire he likely intended for publication. The “letter,” a missive from a woman in the city to her husband in the country, gave the following “melancholy account” of the social scene in New York in the wake of agreements among local merchants and retailers not to import English goods. Livingston’s female narrator complained that the town’s beaux, “whose brains like their hearts” she regarded as “too much devoted to...

  8. 4 New Duties and Old Desires on the Eve of Revolution
    (pp. 117-152)

    On November 2, 1773, Sarah Eve reflected in her journal on the time she had spent with Mrs. Brayen, the wife of a doctor, a “man of fortune” from Trenton, New Jersey. The day began well enough — that morning Eve had called upon friends who insisted that she accompany them to visit the woman. She agreed, not wishing to seem “one of the in - flexibles.” Upon arriving at the Brayens’ residence, the visitors found the lady of the house occupied with someone who was to frame a picture for her. Closely observing Mrs. Brayen, Eve mused, “How soon one...

  9. 5 A Contest of Modes in Revolutionary Philadelphia
    (pp. 153-180)

    From the hoop controversies of the early eighteenth century and the sumptuary restrictions of South Carolina’s 1740 slave code to the homespun campaigns and backlash of the 1760s and early 1770s, the port cities of British North America saw continual contests over fashion in dress. Fueled by a variety of sartorial styles and attempts to define their meanings, these confl icts often concerned the ways in which social order intersected with gendered power in a robust consumer culture. In the midst of a period in whichla modeitself was beginning to change, becoming more country (however refined) and less...

  10. 6 Fashion and Nation
    (pp. 181-216)

    In the 1780s, Americans faced dilemmas both sartorial and political. Having won independence from Great Britain in a contest that not only pitted an imperial power against a nascent republic but also set ways of signifying power, legitimacy, and authority against one another, inhabitants of the United States faced the vexing question of how the new nation would appear in the eyes of the world and to itself. Fashion in dress focused the tension of being freed from political dependence on Britain while still economically tethered through commerce, exposing the de facto colonial position of the republican polity.¹ Observing that...

  11. EPILOGUE Political Habits and Citizenship’s Corset The 1790s and Beyond
    (pp. 217-226)

    In the 1790s, the corset reentered the world of fashion. This is not to say that the midsections of women’s bodies had gone unsupported in the decades, even centuries, before. Stays, or “jumps,” and stomachers stiff ened by whalebone shaped the forms of many women in the early modern period. But the word “corset,” from the Latin for “body” and dating to the late medieval period in reference to an outer garment, one also worn by men, had been out of use for some time. It reappeared in common usage in 1795 as a “closely fitting inner bodice . ....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 227-274)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 275-290)