A Social History of Clothing
Alexander Maxwell

This course examines clothing politics in a variety of different places and times. Clothing carries such a rich variety of social meanings that the history of clothing provides an insightful lens on evolving sites of social conflict. Class, nation, gender, ideology and religion are all reflected in clothing, and the history of sartorial conflicts shows how these different social variables interact with each other.

This course is structured around a series of seminars. Students are expected to have done the reading listed before class each day. All seminars will begin with a student presentation on the readings that should outline the key points of the reading(s), and end with two or three questions intended to further discussion.


Essay: Students will write a 20-page research paper. This paper must include primary sources: students must choose a sartorial event and discuss how clothing interacted with other social variables. This assignment values depth over breadth.

Exam: Students will answer two essay questions based on the course readings. This assignment values breadth over depth.

Week 1

M Intro to class. Clothing vs. Fashion. What do clothes tell us?

W Clothing as "language." Social meanings and communication.

Grant McCracken "Clothing as Language: An Object Lesson in the Study of the Expressive Properties of Material Culture." Material Anthropology: Contemporary Approaches to Material Culture, Barrie Reynolds, Margaret Stott, eds. Lanham, Maryland: University of Maryland Press, 1987.

Week 2

M Hierarchy and sumptuary laws. Mandatory consumption.

Madeline Zilfi, "Goods in the Mahalle: Distributional Encounters in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul." In Donald Quataert, ed. Albany, NY: SUNY press, 2000, 289-311.

W Ethnicity and sumptuary laws. Jews. Headgear and the millet system.

Donald Quataert. "Clothing Laws, State, and Society in the Ottoman Empire, 1720-1829." International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 29, no. 3 (August, 1997), 403-425

Week 3

M Absolutism and clothing: Peter the Great, Joseph II, Mahmud II and the fez.

Readings: Lindsey Hughes. Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, 280-85 (check pages xxx)

Roderic Davison. "Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christian-Muslim Equality in the Nineteenth Century." American Historical Review, vol. 59, no. 4 (July, 1954), 844-864.

W Uniforms: from the military to the state. Gustav III and the Swedish National Uniform.

Philip Mansel. "Monarchy, Uniform and the Rise of the Frac, 1760-1830." Past and Present, vol. 0, no. 96 (August, 1982), 103-132.

Week 4

M Enlightenment ideas about clothing and the nation.

Rousseau, A Discourse on Political Economy, 1755.


W Mercantilism: saving money through autarky. National Civilain Uniforms

Michael Zakim. ‘Sartorial Ideologies: from Homespun to Ready-Made.’ American Historical Review, vol. 106, no. 1 (December, 2001).

Week 5

M Clothing in the French Revolution: liberty and equality

Dale L. Clifford. "Can the Uniform Make the Citizen? Paris, 1789-1791." Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 34, no. 3 (2001), 363-382

Jennifer Harris "The Red Cap of Liberty: A Study of Dress Worn by French Revolutionary Partisans, 1789-94." Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 14, no. 3 (Spring 1981), 283-312.

W Clothing in the French Revolution: fraternity.

Jennifer Heuer. "Hats on for the Nation! Women, Servants, Soldiers and the ‘Sign of the French’," French History, vol. 16, no. 1 (2002), 28-52.

Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion in the French Revolution, London: B.T. Batsford, ltd., 1988.

Week 6

M The fashion system

Kimberly Chrisman Campbell. "The Face of Fashion: Milliners in 18th Century Visual Culture," British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 25, no. 2 (Autumn 2002), 157-172.

W Exporting the Fashion System

Charlotte Jirousek "The Transition to Mass Fashion System Dress in the Later Ottoman Empire," Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1922, Donald Quataert, ed. Albany, NY: SUNY press, 2000, 201-241

Daniel Purdy. The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998 (xxx)

Week 7

M Paris and the invention of the department store

Philip Nord Paris Shopkeepers and the Politics of Resentment "Grands Magasins," "Haussmanization" (2 chapters)

W Zola on the department store

Émile Zola The Ladies’ Paradise

Week 8

M The slow decline of folk costumes

Regina Bendix. "Moral Integrity in Costumed Identity: Negotiating ‘National Costume’ in Nineteenth- Century Bavaria," in Journal of American Folklore, vol. 111, no. 440 (Spring 1998), xxx.

W Clothing and Ethnicity in traveller’s accounts

Charles Boner. Transylvania; its Products and its People. London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1865 (xxx)

Week 9

M Fascism, fashion and folk costumes.

Eugenie Paulicelli Fashion under Fascism: Beyond the Black Shirt. Oxford, NY: Berg, 2004.

W Fashion and Feminism: Bloomers and dresses.

Robert Riegel. "Women’s Clothes and Women’s Rights." American Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3 (Autumn 1963), 390-401.

Week 10

M Colonial anti-fashion: China

Antonia Finnane "What should Women Wear? A National Problem." Modern China, vol. 22, no. 2 (April 1996), 99-131; Xiaoping Li "Fashioning the Body in Post-Mao China." Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body, Anne Brydon, Sandra Niessen, eds. Oxford, NY, Berg, 1998, 71-81.

W Western clothes as universal symbols: Attatürk

A Fez of the Heart

Week 11

M The Hijab and westernization.

Fadwa El Guindi Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance. Oxford, NY: Berg, 1999, Ch.9-11, p. 147-185.

W Erotic Fashions

Valerie Steele. Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985, xxx