The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe

The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe

by Daniel L. Purdy


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The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe by Daniel L. Purdy

In a famous intersection of fashion and literature, the popularity of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther provoked hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of young Germans to purchase and wear the blue and yellow suit of the novel's protagonist. Their actions not only showed their affinity with Werther and with other wearers of the blue and yellow, but also elevated cultural identification over more traditional elements of social standing, such as employment, education, region, or family. Even aristocratic Prussians forsook their riding garb for Werther's rustic suit.

In The Tyranny of Elegance, Daniel Purdy examines the coming of bourgeois fashion (Mode) and luxury consumerism (Luxus) to eighteenth-century Germany. The liberation symbolized by Werther's suit was illusory, he explains, as fashion itself quickly became a force for conformity as rigid as the sumptuary laws -- such as clothing ordinances -- of earlier centuries. Purdy examines the extraordinary influence of Frederick Bertuch's Mode Journal, which chronicled in obsessive detail the clothing and decorative trends in London, Paris, and other European capitals. He traces the elite reaction against fashion that followed the example of the king, Frederick the Great, who dressed poorly -- in worn and even dirty clothes -- to separate himself from the francophile fastidiousness typical of absolutist armies. The changing notions of personal appearance that swept Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, Purdy concludes, were more than simply new styles reflecting new political ideologies -- they indicated a fundamental shift in the epistemology of the subject and the body.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801858741
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 09/11/1998
Pages: 241
Product dimensions: 6.22(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.16(d)

About the Author

Daniel L. Purdy is assistant professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia University.

Table of Contents

1Fashion Journals and the Education of Enlightened Consumers1
2Reading to Consume: Identificatory Perception and Fashion-Driven Desires22
3The Ever-Expanding Domain of Mode und Luxus51
4The Queen of Fashion: An Allegory of Conformity74
5The Legacy of Medieval and Early Modern Sumptuary Laws91
6Paranoid Geography and the European Dispersion of Fashion119
7The Veil of Masculinity: Clothing and Identity via Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers147
8Civilian Uniforms as a Cure for Luxury180
9The Uniform's Tactical Control: Execution over Performance195
10Signification as Discipline: The Demotion of Ostentation and the Hard-Working Suit217

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