Material Culture

Barthes, R. 2006. The Language of Fashion. Oxford, Berg.

Roland Barthes, widely regarded as one of the most subtle and perceptive critics of the 20th Century, was particularly fascinated by fashion and clothing. The Language of Fashion brings together all Barthes’ untranslated writings on fashion. It presents a set of essays revealing the breadth and insight of Barthes’ long engagement with the history of clothes. The essays range from closely argued essays laying down the foundations for a structural and semiological analysis of clothing to a critical analysis of the significance of gemstones and jewellery, from an exploration of how the contrasting styles of Courrges and Chanel replayed the clash between ancient and modern to a discussion of the meaning of hippy style in Morocco, and from the nature of desire to the role of the dandy and colour in fashion.

Basti, B. 2001. ‘Clothing the living and the dead: memory, social identity and aristocratic habit in the Early Modern Habsburg Empire’, Fashion Theory, 5(4), 357-388.

Clothing, together with other cultural phenomena such as manners, language and even physical gestures, marked the boundaries in early modern society that would eventually define such distinctions as class, gender and nationality in ‘modern’ society. This article contains two major parallel lines of analysis, i.e. the cultural meaning of clothing in life on the one hand and its significance in death and for remembrance on the other. It focuses on a defined social group from the sixteenth to eighteenth century and explores how the clothed body, through choice of fashion and fabric, can be a social distinguisher. In death, objects such as jewellery and clothing which adorned the human body, have particular connection to memorial rituals, because piety and social life style can thus by demonstrated. Objects such as these are also significant when bequeathed, as they suggest an influence on class order and social justice.

Batchelor, J. 2005. Dress, Distress and Desire: Clothing and the Female Body in Eighteenth-Century Literature. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Breward, C. 1995. The Culture of Fashion. A New History of Fashionable Dress. Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Covers a wide timespan from the Middle Ages to the present day. Does not aim to present a comprehensive chronology, but examines the meanings of dress in a cultural context and interprets distinctions of class, gender, sexuality, nationality.

Breward, C., Conekin, B., et al. eds. 2002. The Englishness of English Dress. Oxford, Berg.

Is there a peculiarly English ‘look’ and if so how does one define it? With chapters authored by leading scholars in the fields of costume history, social history and cultural studies, this book examines the ways in which fashion and dress might be considered in the context of national identities as they apply in England. An overview is presented of how particular designers and consumer groups have striven to present or contest versions of Englishness through clothing from the 18th through to the 21st centuries.

Brooks, M. M. ed. 2000. Textiles Revealed: Object Lessons in Historic Textiles and Costume Research. London, Archetype.
Castle, T. 1986. Masquerade and Civilisation: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction. London, Methuen.
Corfield, P. J. 1989. ‘Dress for deference and dissent: hats and the decline of hat honour’, Costume, 23, 64-79.
The article focuses in particular on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Currie, E. 2000. ‘Prescribing fashion: dress, politics and gender in sixteenth-century Italian conduct literature’, Fashion Theory, 4(2), 157-177.

This essay investigates the relationship between dress and conduct literature in sixteenth century Italy. Typically contemporary accounts, diaries and prescriptive literature have been used to reconstruct physical garments but this essay uses such texts to reconstruct a sense of contemporary attitudes towards dress and fashion. Conduct literature was prolific throughout the sixteenth century and guidelines about appropriate behaviour were interrelated with recommendations on appropriate dress. This worked to create a morality of dress, with certain types of clothing elevated and certain types associated with a damaged dignity and honour. Dress was defined through forms of social behaviour – there was no word for fashionable dress, just distinctions between old and new forms of social behaviour. Dress was the key signifier of social stability and the belief that clothing was an outward manifestation of the wearers moral and social worth lay at the heart of the 16th century conduct book. Currie emphasises the importance of theories over dress and fashion in reflecting the social, economic and political concerns of Italian cities – conduct manuals tried to preserve the status quo, with writers never questioning the idea that dress was a means of upholding social distinctions, instead focusing on external challenges such as the migration of new foreign styles. Furthermore, Currie suggests that as the Florentine court grew in its bureaucracy and sumptuousness, conduct books instructions over dress would have provided indispensable to a new layer of élites.

De Grazia, M., Quilligan, M., et al. eds. 1996. Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture. Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, 8. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

This collection of original essays brings together some of the most prominent figures in new historicist and cultural materialist approaches to the early modern period, and offers a new focus on the literature and culture of the Renaissance. Traditionally, Renaissance studies have concentrated on the human subject. The essays collected here bring objects – purses, clothes, tapestries, houses, maps, feathers, communion wafers, tools, pages, skulls – back into view. As a result, the much-vaunted early modern subject ceases to look autonomous and sovereign, but is instead caught up in a vast and uneven world of objects which he and she makes, owns, values, imagines, and represents. This book puts things back into relation with people; in the process, it elicits new critical readings, and new cultural configurations.

Emberley, J. V. 1998. Venus and Furs: The Cultural Politics of Fur. London, I B Tauris.

The book aims to ‘trace the discursive and non-discursive practices that institutionalise, subvert and transgress the meanings of fur – as articles of trade, sexual fetish, commodity, sign of wealth, protective clothing – in order to understand the contest over meanings and values of fur as a struggle between people’. A wide geographical and chronological range is covered. Topics include: the paintings of furs by Titian and Holbein, and the etchings of furs by Wenceslas Hollar.

Hentschell, R. 2008. The Culture of Cloth in Early Modern England: Textual Constructions of a National Identity. Aldershot, Ashgate.

Through its exploration of the intersections between the culture of the wool broadcloth industry and the literature of the early modern period, this study contributes to the expanding field of material studies in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. The author argues that it is impossible to comprehend the development of emerging English nationalism during that time period, without considering the culture of the cloth industry. She shows that, reaching far beyond its status as a commodity of production and exchange, the industry was also a locus for organizing sentiments of national solidarity across social and economic divisions. Hentschell looks to textual productions – both imaginative and non-fiction works that often treat the cloth industry with mythic importance – to help explain how cloth came to be a catalyst for nationalism. Each chapter ties a particular mode, such as pastoral, prose romance, travel propaganda, satire, and drama, with a specific issue of the cloth industry, demonstrating the distinct work different literary genres contributed to what the author terms the ‘culture of cloth’.

Hunt, A. 1996. Governance of the Consuming Passions. A History of Sumptuary Laws. Basingstoke, Macmillan.
Includes discussion of legislation governing dress and fashion in Britain.
Jones, A. R. and Stallybrass, P. 2000. Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

During the late sixteenth century ‘fashion’ first took on the sense of restless change in contrast to the older sense of fashioning or making. As fashionings, clothes were perceived as material forms of personal and social identity which made the man or woman. In Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory Jones and Stallybrass argue that the making and transmission of fabrics and clothing were central to the making of Renaissance culture. Their examination explores the role of clothes as forms of memory transmitted from master to servant, from friend to friend, from lover to lover. This book offers a close reading of literary texts, paintings, textiles, theatrical documents, and ephemera to reveal how clothing and textiles were crucial to the making and unmaking of concepts of status, gender, sexuality, and religion in the Renaissance. The book is illustrated with a wide range of images from portraits to embroidery.

Kidwell, C. 1998. ‘Are those clothes real? Transforming the way eighteenth-century portraits are studied’, Dress, 24, 3-15.

The author examines the contradictions among several contributors to an important exhibition catalogue of the work of the American artist, John Singleton Copley published in 1996, and discusses how far the clothes shown are real, before going on to propose a material culture model to use when studying such portraits.

Lemire, B. 1988. ‘Consumerism in pre-industrial and early industrial England: the trade in secondhand clothes’, Journal of British Studies, 27, 1-24.
Lemire, B. 1990. ‘Reflections on the character of communication, popular fashion and the English market in the eighteenth century’, Material History Bulletin, 31, 65-70.

This volume of the journal is devoted to papers presented at the conference ‘Surveying Textile History: Perspectives for New Research’, New Brunswick, Canada, April 27-30, 1989.

Lemire, B. 1990. ‘The theft of clothes and popular consumerism in Early Modern England’, Journal of Social History, 24(2), 256-276.
Lemire, B. 1991. Fashion’s Favourite: the Cotton Trade and the Consumer in Britain, 1660-1800. Oxford, Pasold Research Fund in association with Oxford University Press.
Lemire, B. 1997. Dress, Culture and Commerce: the English Clothing Trade before the Factory, 1660-1800. Basingstoke, Macmillan.

This work examines a trade that covered the backs of sailors and soldiers, that shirted labouring men and skirted working women, that employed legions of needlewomen and supplied retailers with new consumer wares. Garments, once bought, returned again to the marketplace, circulating like a currency and bolstering demand. The agents in this trade included military contractors for clothing, female outworkers and dealers in used clothes. Each was affected by a changing demand for new-styled ‘luxuries’ and necessities in apparel.

Lemire, B. 2003. ‘Domesticating the exotic: floral culture and East India calico trade with England, c.1600-1800’, Textile, 1(1), 63-85.

Discusses the calico trade and the events that converted such commodities from exotic to staple. Considers the demand for florals, and argues that these fabrics reshaped the material idioms of English life, framing new cultural and economic patterns.

Levy Peck, L. 2005. Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

A study of the ways in which the consumption of luxury goods transformed social practices, gender roles, royal policies, and the economy in seventeenth-century England. The author charts the development of new ways of shopping; new aspirations and identities shaped by print, continental travel, and trade to Asia, Africa, the East and West Indies; new building, furnishing, and collecting; and the new relationship of technology, luxury and science. As contemporaries eagerly appropriated and copied foreign material culture, the expansion of luxury consumption continued across the usual divide of the Civil War and the Interregnum and helped to propel England from the margins to the center of European growth and innovation. Her findings show for the first time the seventeenth-century origins of consumer society and she offers a new framework for the history of seventeenth-century England.

Lowengard, S. 2007. The Creation of Color. New York, Gutenberg <e>book, Columbia University Press. (
Maeder, E. 1983. An Elegant Art: Fashion and Fantasy in the Eighteenth Century. New York and Los Angeles, Harry Abrams and Los Angeles County Museum.
McKendrick, N., Brewer, J., et al. eds. 1982. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth Century England. London, Europa.
Murdoch, G. 2000. ‘Dress to repress? Protestant clerical dress and the regulation of morality in early modern Europe’, Fashion Theory, 4, 179-200.

The Reformation of religion in sixteenth-century Europe included the re-modelling of the Continent’s clergy. This article considers how Protestant ministers were required to dress both during church services and in their daily lives. Traditional vestments were mostly abandoned in favour of loose-fitting, full-sleeved black gowns. This form of dress was intended to reflect the role of clergy as figures of intellectual authority and as agents of moral discipline. It also aimed to represent ministers to their communities as examples of sexual propriety and as ethical consumers of modest goods. This culture of Protestant appearance spread across the Continent from Scotland to Hungary. Ministers and their wives were instructed to dress in sober colours under the threat of dismissal from office for any who failed to conform. Meanwhile in England clergy continued to dress in traditional vestments, despite Puritan demands that surplices and other ‘Popish’ clothing ought not to be worn. This concern in Protestant Europe that clergy and their wives ought to dress with modesty and sobriety was related to a wider campaign to control immoral forms of appearance. In addition, some rituals of moral disciplining included requirements for offenders to appear in church in distinctive dress to symbolise their repentance and acceptance of the moral norms of the church. While it is difficult to assess the impact of these efforts to implement a code of moral clothing within Protestant Europe, this article suggests that dress regulations ought to be seen as much more than instruments of religious and social power imposed by clerical elites on parish ministers and on ordinary people.

Nicholson, R. 2005. ‘From Ramsay’s Flora MacDonald to Raeburn’s MacNab: the use of tartan as a symbol of identity’, Textile History, 36(2), 146-167.

Portraits and satirical engravings offer insights into the differing ways in which tartan was used, displayed and adopted as an expression of identity during the period 1746-1822. From being the cloth of Jacobitism, tartan became the cloth of the loyal Highlander, fighting for the Hanoverian crown; from being the cloth of an Enlightenment ‘natural man’, it became the garb of the vilified Lord Bute and rapacious Scots in general; from being an exotic ‘foreign’ costume at a London masquerade, it became the costume of nascent Scottish nationalism, a role which it retains to this day.

Ponsonby, M. 2007. ‘Towards an interpretation of textiles in the provincial domestic interior: three homes in the West Midlands, 1780-1848’, Textile History, 38, 165-178.

This article explores the role of textiles in the home in the later eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The methodology adopted is a response to the difficulties of researching homes in this period when probate inventories had largely ceased to be made. Instead of using quantitative analysis, this essay focuses on three case studies of homes where detailed lists allow speculation on the uses of furnishing textiles in these homes. Three themes are identified: conspicuous consumption, domestic ideology and the possible meanings of stored textiles. These themes are explored using recent cultural theories to provide a framework for analysis.

Ribeiro, A. 1986. ‘Dress and undress: costume and morality in the 18th century’, Country Life, 11 (September).
Ribeiro, A. 1987. ‘Dress in Utopia’, Costume, 21, 26-33.
The article offers an introduction to the subject of dress in ideal societies. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) is considered and other literary works from the sixteenth to the twentieth century are discussed.
Ribeiro, A. 2003. Dress and Morality. Oxford, Berg.

Moralists have raged throughout history against various fashions for being too short, too long, too tight, too loose or too costly. Highlighting the times when choice of dress was a moral minefield, this book looks at fashion extremes over the centuries, from the sexual display of the codpiece through to corsets, crinolines and décolletage. Ribeiro shows how dress has functioned variously as a vehicle of righteousness or turpitude and as an expression of sexuality, class or social status. Dress and Morality is an in-depth exploration of the comical vanities and social etiquettes associated with dress in the past.

Ribeiro, A. 2005. Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England. New Haven & London, Yale University Press.

The Stuart period is particularly rich in the variety of dress among the wealthier classes, ranging from the complex, sometimes ‘metaphysical’ clothing of the Jacobean elite and the romance of Arcadia at the court of Charles I to the influence of Puritan moral and religious discourses, the extravagance of Restoration fashion and new concepts of gentility and modernity in the early eighteenth century. Relatively few garments survive from before the eighteenth century, and the history of costume in the preceding centuries therefore has to rely to a great extent on literary and visual evidence. This book examines Stuart England through the mirror of dress. It argues that both artistic and literary sources can be read and decoded for information on dress and on the way it was perceived in a period of immense political, social and cultural change. Focusing on the rich visual culture of the age, including portraits, engravings, fashion plates and sculpture, and on the many and varied literary sources – poetry, drama, essays, sermons – the author creates an account of Stuart dress and reveals the ways in it reflects and influences society. Supported by a wide range of images, she outlines the main narrative of clothing, as well as exploring such themes as court costumes, the masque, fanciful and ‘romantic’ concepts, the ways in which political and religious ideologies could be expressed in dress, and the importance of London as a fashion centre.

Richardson, C. ed. 2004. Clothing Culture 1350-1650. Aldershot, Ashgate.
Richardson, C. 2004. ‘‘havying nothing upon hym saving onely his sherte’: event, narrative and material culture in early modern England’. In: C. Richardson. ed. Clothing Culture 1350-1650, Aldershot, Ashgate.
Riello, G. 2006. A Foot in the Past: Consumers, Producers and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Riello, G. and McNeil, P. eds. 2006. Shoes. A History from Sandals to Sneakers. Oxford, Berg
Styles, J. 1993. ‘Manufacturing, consumption and design in eighteenth-century England’. In: J. Brewer and R. Porter. eds. Consumption and the World of Goods in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, London, Routledge, 535-542.
Styles, J. 2007. The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven & London, Yale University Press.

Retrieves the story of ordinary consumers in eighteenth-century England and what they wore. This book reveals that ownership of new fabrics and new fashions was not confined to the rich. It extended far down the social scale to the small farmers, day labourers, and petty tradespeople who formed a majority of the population.

Styles, J. and Vickery, A. eds. 2006. Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700-1830. New Haven & London, Yale University Press.
Thirsk, J. 1990. ‘Popular consumption and the mass market in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries’, Material History Bulletin, 31, 51-58.

This volume of the journal is devoted to papers presented at the conference ‘Surveying Textile History: Perspectives for New Research’, New Brunswick, Canada, April 27-30, 1989.

Vickery, A. 1993. ‘Women and the world of goods, a Lancashire consumer and her possessions, 1751-81’. In: J. Brewer and R. Porter. eds. Consumption and the World of Goods, London, Routledge.
Vincent, S. 1999. ‘To fashion a self: dressing in seventeenth-century England’, Fashion Theory, 3(2), 197-218.

Clothing occupied a very particular place in 17th-century English culture. At that time, dress awareness was not limited to middle- and upper-class women but equally – if not more so – to men. Clothing became a key determinant of economic identity, as sartorial state was repeatedly described by those who sought to make their pecuniary position clear. The way an individual dressed had therefore the potential power to determine placement in the social ranking while also potentially affecting the expression of personality and even producing forms of differently gendered behavior. Analysis of the circulation of clothing clarifies the effects of gifted garments on the relationship between the giver and the recipient, and an examination of gloves illustrates the variety of meanings that could adhere to a specific item of clothing.

Vincent, S. 2003. Dressing the Elite: Clothes in Early Modern England. Oxford, Berg.

Clothing occupies a complex and important position in relation to human experience. Not just utilitarian, dress gives form to a society’s ideas about the sacred and secular, about exclusion and inclusion, about age, beauty, sexuality and status. In Dressing the Elite, the author explores the multiple meanings that garments held in early modern England. Clothing was used to promote health and physical well-being, and to manage and structure, life transitions. It helped individuals create social identities and also to disguise them. Indeed, so culturally powerful was the manipulation of appearances that authorities sought its control. Laws regulated access to the dress styles of the elite, and through less formal strategies, techniques of disguise were kept as the perquisites of the powerful.

Focusing on the elite, the author argues that clothing was not just a form of cultural expression but in turn contributed to societal formation. Clothes shaped the configurations of the body, affected spaces and interactions between people and altered the perceptions of the wearers and viewers. People put on and manipulated their garments, but in turn dress also exercised a reverse influence. Clothes made not just the man and the woman, but also the categories of gender itself. Topics covered include cross-dressing, sumptuary laws, mourning apparel and individual styles.

Weatherill, L. 1988. Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760. London, Routledge.
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