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"Vestmental Communications: Performing Identities on the Streets of London"

Dr. Christian Huck
(Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

My aim is to understand the employment of dress and fashion in eighteenth-century constructions of identity. Fashion, by definition, is a genuinely social and thereby communicative phenomenon.

While a hermit might cover himself to keep warm or protect against the sun, every further use of clothes – that is to display (or hide, or fake) one’s affiliation to a certain class, gender, sexuality, age, nationality, ethnicity, religious orientation, etc. – makes no sense without the presence of others. But if fashion is about ego expressing something to alter, how can alter know what ego wants to communicate? For clothes to function as part of communication, alter first has to assume that ego is trying to say something (either consciously or unconsciously) by wearing certain clothes and not others. Without somebody else reacting to one’s clothes, no communication would occur.

If alter’s understanding is decisive, the meaning of clothes has to be produced elsewhere, and ego has to rely on this. That tights ‘are’ female, that trainers signal youthfulness, that the three-piece suit talks business, and flip-flops say leisure, nothing of this is innate to any of these products, but the result of a complex evolution of meaning. Fashion’s constant change is the obvious indicator that these meanings are subject to continuous transformations: The image of jeans, for example, changed from working-class, to rebel, to youthfulness, to conservatism, etc.

That the same clothes can communicate such diverse meanings is not least the result of a discourse on clothes. In magazines, in books, on the stage, etc., the vestmental code is constantly discussed, confirmed, disseminated, changed, and renewed. The wearing of clothes can be part of communication, but its code is (at least partly) created by a discourse on textiles

In the end, the meaning of clothes is uncontrollable: Fashion’s endless play of repetition and differentiation – mirrored by people’s desire to belong by imitation and individuate by differentiation at the same time – subjugates the meaning of clothes to an endless différance. The fashioning of a self, therefore, can never be completed by a singular individual, but only in front of the symbolic order of culture that is fixated in no singular place.

In this study, I will look especially at the image of Calicoes in early eighteenth-century London. Two questions will be central: Which consequences had the wearing of Calicoes for the individual? How is the societal meaning of Calicoes produced?


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Dr. Christian Huck (*1972)

Since September 2005: Visiting Research Fellow at the London College of Fashion (University of the Arts, London); Emmy Noether Fellowship

October 2003 to August 2005: Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Graduiertenkolleg „Kulturhermeneutik im Zeichen von Differenz und Transdifferenz“ (University of Erlangen)

November 1999 to October 2002: PhD Research Student at the Graduiertenkolleg „Pragmatisierung / Entpragmatisierung: Literatur im Spannungsfeld heteronomer und autonomer Bestimmungen“ (University of Tübingen)

April 1993 to February 1999: M.A. in English Literature and Philosophy (University of Hamburg)



12 Entries found.

    Berg, Maxine, and Helen Clifford. Consumers and Luxery: Consumer Culture in Europe, 1650-1850. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999
    Kowaleski-Wallace, Elizabeth. Consuming Subjects: Women, Shopping, and Business in the Eighteenth-Century. New York: Columbia UP, 1997
    Thompson, James. Models of Value: Eighteenth-Century Political Economy and the Novel. Durham&London: Duke UP, 1996
    Lunt, Peter K., and Livingstone Sonja. Mass Consumption and Personal Identity: Everyday Economic Experience. Birmingham: Open University Press, 1992
    Kroll, Richard. The Material World: Literary Culture in the Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1990
    Weatherill, Lorna. Consumer behaviour and Material Culture in Britain, 1660-1760. London: Routledge, 1988
    Miller, Daniel. Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Oxford: Basil Blackwell., 1987
    Thirsk, Joan. Economic Policy and Projects: The Development of Consumer Society in Early Modern England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987
    McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England. London: Europa, 1982
    Porter, Roy. English Society in the Eighteenth-Century. London: Penguin, 1982
    Sennet, Richard. The Fall of Public Man: On the Social Psychology of Capitalism. New York: Vintage/Random House, 1976
Book Articles
    Luhmann, Niklas. "Individuum, Individualitšt, Individualismus. Gesellschaftsstruktur und Romantik. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1989. Vol. 3

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