Published by Young Sin You
“[Clemenous] never yet found a frugal man, without Avarice or Necessity. And again, there are innumerable Spend-thrifts, lavish and extravagant to a high degree, who seem not to have the least Regard to Money, whilst they have any to fling away: but these Wretches are the least capable of bearing Poverty or any, and the Money once gone, hourly discover, how uneasy, impatient and miserable they are without it.” Fashion and consumer culture in Europe changed the concept of individuality. People expressed their capacities to possess by their dress and fashion. However, like the old saying, ‘Drown the Miller,’ excessive spending on fashion brought sarcasm from the society. Extravagance and pretentiousness of members of the high class became another consequence of the consumer culture.
Mercantilism triggered a revolutionary boom in consumption that first began in England in the eighteenth century. Trade brought new types of consumer products, created an expanding commercial society, and stimulated increased consumer demand. Especially after 1750, this consumer boom was characterized by new production and manufacturing techniques and enabled a greater portion of the population than even before to buy consumer goods. In “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England,” Neil McKendrick suggested new concerns about the consumer culture. “The ideas that ‘consumption was the logical end of production’, that the ‘latent consuming capacity of the public at large might become an engine for sustained growth’, that ‘society was an aggregation of self-interested individuals tied to one another by the tenuous bonds of envy, exploitation and competition’ were new and, to many, alarming.” The consumer culture certainly brought economical and social growth. However, it also came with emulation and envy. In Taste in High Life, William Hogarth satirizes the clothes and manners of fashionable society in the eighteenth century. The pictures on the wall depict vast skirts supported on hoops, corsets, and high-heeled shoes. It is clear that people wanted to hide, or rather correct, their actual body and boast their fashionable lives. In the foreground of the painting, there is a dressed-up monkey reading from a dinner menu offering ‘cox combs, duck tongues, rabbit ears, and fricasey of snails.’ People of the high class had unnecessarily fashionable and lavish lives. They did whatever cost to sustain their fashionable lives, even if it was eating duck tongues or rabbits’ ears.
However, in the beginning, these fashionable dresses and decorations had a different meaning to the people, especially to the women. Women were very limited to socialize and participate in the society. It was because of the domestic sphere as women’s proper place in society. Therefore, assembly rooms, public places found in many cities where members of the higher social classes of “both sexes” could gather and socialize, provided a safe environment where these women could meet new people and make friends. But, these kinds of gatherings brought emulations, which led to pretentiousness and extravagance. Also, according to The Spectator, “People fancy themselves in the Height of the Mode.” Following the Mode caused too much spending on fashion.
Surely, as Neil McKendrick asserted, “Wigs and other removable items of dress render personal appearance changeable. Such shifts in the nature of one’s possessions coincide with a reappraisal of the way property expressed personality.” However, individuality could not be achieved when all the people follow the mode. Here is a very good example of adverse reactions of following the mode.
The young girls had to wear corsets to correct their body shapes. They had physical constrictions and distortions in the name of fashion, which caused girls dying or disabled by having their internal organs crushed by too-tight corsets.
Bernard Mandeville, “The fable of the bees. Part II. By the author of the first.” (1729). 113. Web. http://find.galegroup.com/ecco/quickSearch.do?now=1394581856250&inPS=true&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=uclosangeles
Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: ‘The Great Renunciation’? Commercialization, Politics, and Gender.” 1-9-14
McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London: Europa, 1982), 9-33.
The Spectator. Addison and Steele. No. 129, July 28.
A Taste in High Life. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Number: F.118:129 <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O79443/a-taste-in-high-life-print-hogarth-william/>
Fashionable Dresses in the Rooms in Weymouth 1774. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Number: E.2262-1888 <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1109354/fashionable-dresses-in-the-rooms-fashion-plate-unknown/>
An elegant establishment for young ladies. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Number : P.50-1930 <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O15007/an-elegant-establishment-for-young-watercolour-burney-edward-francis/>
 Bernard Mandeville, “The fable of the bees. Part II. By the author of the first.” (1729). 113. Web.
 Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: ‘The Great Renunciation’? Commercialization, Politics, and Gender.” 1-9-14
 McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London: Europa, 1982), 9-33.
 The Spectator. Addison and Steele. No. 129, July 28.
 McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England”