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Fashion in Medieval France

Fashion in Medieval France

Sarah-Grace Heller
Series: Gallica
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Fashion in Medieval France
    Book Description:

    How are we to distinguish between a culture organized around fashion, and one where the desire for novel adornment is latent, intermittent, or prohibited? How do fashion systems organize social hierarchies, individual psychology, creativity, and production? Medieval French culture offers a case study of "systematic fashion", demonstrating desire for novelty, rejection of the old in favor of the new, and criticism of outrageous display. Texts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries describe how cleverly-cut garments or unique possessions make a character distinctive, and even offer advice on how to look attractive on a budget or gain enough spending money to shop for oneself. Such descriptions suggest fashion's presence, yet accepted notions date the birth of Western fashion to the mid-fourteenth-century revolution in men's clothing styles. A fashion system must have been present prior to this 'revolution' in styles to facilitate such changes, and abundant evidence for the existence of such a system is cogently set out in this study. Ultimately, fashion is a conceptual system expressed by words evaluating a style's ephemeral worth, and changes in visual details are symptomatic, rather than determinative. SARAH-GRACE HELLER is an associate professor in Medieval French at Ohio State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-541-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Scholars, particularly in art and costume history, have argued and accepted that fashion was not really born before around 1350. Those who are familiar with the Old French literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries may find that astonishing, since very concise descriptions of fashionable clothing abound in that corpus. Take for instance an opening passage in one of the most famous and influential of thirteenth-century texts, Guillaume de Lorris’Roman de la Rose(c. 1225–40). The narrator-protagonist sets the scene in May. The earth and all the bushes are pleased to wear new clothes:

    Avis m’iere qu’il estoit...

  5. 1 Sine qua non of a Fashion System
    (pp. 15-45)

    Although it is one of the most commonplace terms in the modern lexicon, “fashion” proves difficult to define, controversial to analyze, and moreover tends to inspire demonstrations of scorn or devotion. There is the impression both that it exists to different degrees in different times and places, and that today’s urban fashion is more urgent and omnipresent than that of former days or less developed areas. Yet when it comes to declaring where fashion is absent, such as in primitive, ancient, or medieval cultures, scholars who know those cultures will frequently claim its presence. To come to terms with this...

  6. 2 The Birth of Fashion
    (pp. 46-60)

    Can we speak of a birth of fashion? Many scholars have done so, operating under the assumption that, while dress and ornament are universal, fashion is specific to certain times and places. The birth of modern fashion has been discovered in the industrial revolution, in the rise of the department store, and with the advent of cheap print media. Many costume historians have located fashion’s birth in the West in the fourteenth- or fifteenth-century courts of Burgundy or Italy, or more generally with the era referred to as “Early Modernity.” This chapter will survey, and question, some of this dating....

  7. 3 Desire for Novelty and Unique Expression
    (pp. 61-94)

    An important sign of a fashion system’s existence is a pattern showing regular desire for new things, with arbitrary discarding of past styles in favor of novelty. This chapter examines items whose value was expressed in terms of novelty or originality, and attitudes concerning the frequency of acquisition, with a particular view to the fulfillment of criteria 1 to 5, although the others are necessarily implicated as well and will be shown to be in evidence. Tournaments stage scenes of generosity and prizes, presenting dreams of knightly novelty and distinction as well as occasions when old and worn things can...

  8. 4 Words for Fashion
    (pp. 95-119)

    One important sign of a concept’s existence is the presence of words to describe it. This is particularly true of fashion, where real objects only gain their ephemeral “fashionable” value through a system of public appearance and evaluation, as described in criteria 3 and 7. This chapter takes a philological approach to the existence of a fledgling thirteenth-century fashion system. It looks at the evolution of a particular set of terms, specificallycointeand its derivatives, towards their close association with desirable appearance, studying examples of their usage in depth in a variety of Old French and Occitan texts. Expressions...

  9. 5 The Desire for Spending Money
    (pp. 120-147)

    In the opening scene ofPride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennett speculates that Mr Bingley’s “large fortune” must be “four or five thousand a year.”¹ In 1953, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall played women seeking to discern “How to Marry aMillionaire.” Standards and customs change greatly between periods, but an outstanding income generally must number among a leading man’s requisite outstanding traits. How much income was required to allow the medieval romance hero to cut a distinguished, fashionable figure? On another level, what does it mean when precise sums of money are used in fictional narratives? Note that...

  10. 6 The Development of Shopping
    (pp. 148-171)

    In a fashion system, economic and social structures must be in place to permit and promote the frequent acquisition of new things. But fashion systems function both at the macro-economic and personal levels. How does a system for acquiring new things come about in a nascent fashion system? French vernacular literature sets up many situations in which new clothes are admired or received. But crucial to a fashion system is an economy where it is possible for more than just a narrow elite to consume new things expressive of personal tastes on a regular basis. How and where did one...

  11. 7 The Seduction of the Well-Draped Form
    (pp. 172-180)

    This book has argued that a fashion system was nascent in the growing urban areas of France from the later twelfth century and had become a dominant, systematic, societal force in urban areas by the later thirteenth century. It has done this by looking at expressions of desire related to elements of a fashion system. It has not, up to this point, examined closely any particular styles. This final chapter proposes a revised look at the styles of the thirteenth century, in particular the reactions to increased supply and greater variety in fabrics, the initial result in part of the...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-214)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)