Dr. Stephanie Koscak
History 132: Men and Women of Fashion: The Politics of Dress in the Age of Atlantic Revolution
What does fashion and consumer culture have to do with politics? This course explores this question by focusing on the role of dress and display at one particular historical moment—the age of revolution on both sides of the Atlantic during the second half of the eighteenth century. This period, which saw the establishment of constitutionalist states and republics in former absolutist monarchies and imperial colonies, also witnessed the beginnings of unprecedented commercial expansion that transformed society and culture, including fashion. This class adopts a broad definition of fashion to include not only dress, but costumes, styles of personal adornment, manners and social etiquette, consumer objects, decorative possessions, and so on. As we will see, fashion served as a flash point for debating the political, social, and cultural conflicts wrought by commercialization, democratic politics, and imperialism, including ideas about proper gender order, social organization, and political representation. Themes we will examine include the relationship between democracy, political resistance, and distinctions in dress; the construction of political allegiance through symbolic clothing and objects; and the ways in which fashion mediates ideas about morality and gender relations. One of the main goals of this course is to consider continuities and differences in the meanings of fashion across these distinct but related revolutionary crises in order to question how broader political movements had far-reaching consequences for individual self-presentation. How do politics, an arena traditionally defined as public, consequential, rational, and masculine, impact the realm of fashion, often seen as private, inconsequential, irrational, and feminine? And conversely, does fashion affect politics? Is it significant that Tom Paine, the English radical remembered for his role in the American and French Revolutions, also earned his living making corsets?