Accessories to Modernity explores the ways in which
feminine fashion accessories, such as cashmere shawls, parasols,
fans, and handbags, became essential instruments in the bourgeois
idealization of womanhood in nineteenth-century France. Considering
how these fashionable objects were portrayed in fashion journals
and illustrations, as well as fiction, the book explores the
histories and cultural weight of the objects themselves and offers
fresh readings of works by Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola, some of the
most widely read novels of the period.
As social boundaries were becoming more and more fluid in the
nineteenth century, one effort to impose order over the looming
confusion came, in the case of women, through fashion, and the
fashion accessory thus became an ever more crucial tool through
which social distinction could be created, projected, and
maintained. Looking through the lens of fashion, Susan Hiner
explores the interplay of imperialist expansion and domestic
rituals, the assertion of privilege in the face of increasing
social mobility, gendering practices and their relation to social
hierarchies, and the rise of commodity culture and woman's
paradoxical status as both consumer and object within it.
Through her close focus on these luxury objects, Hiner reframes the
feminine fashion accessory as a key symbol of modernity that
bridges the erotic and proper, the domestic and exotic, and mass
production and the work of art while making a larger claim about
the "accessory" status-in terms of both complicity and
subordination-of bourgeois women in nineteenth-century France.
Women were not simply passive bystanders but rather were themselves
accessories to the work of modernity from which they were
Subjects: Language & Literature
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