Fashion and Extravagance

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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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.

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.


Figure 1:

A Taste in High Life. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Number: F.118:129 <>


Figure 2:

Fashionable Dresses in the Rooms in Weymouth 1774. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Number: E.2262-1888 <;


Figure 3:

An elegant establishment for young ladies. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Number : P.50-1930                                                          <;

[1] Bernard Mandeville, “The fable of the bees. Part II. By the author of the first.” (1729). 113. Web.

[2] Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: ‘The Great Renunciation’? Commercialization, Politics, and Gender.”  1-9-14

[3] 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.

[4] The Spectator. Addison and Steele. No. 129, July 28.

[5] McKendrick, Neil. “The Commercial Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England”


Wigs Embodying Enlightenment Ideals

By Kristi Ueda

The title could be translated to "Miss des Faveurs Strolling in London," while the inscription is as follows: "My hairdo indeed resembles a dovecote,  Since all these pigeons come in to rest, But shooting at it, Englishmen, what will you do, Should you, for our extravagance, turn reckless."

Mlle des Faveurs a la Promenade a Londres
Print artist: Anonymous
Production place: France
Current location: British Museum
Museum number: 1991,0406.17
Date: 1775
Materials: Paper
Dimensions: 252 mm x 341 mm
The title could be translated to “Miss des Faveurs Strolling in London,” while the inscription is as follows:
“My hairdo indeed resembles a dovecote,
Since all these pigeons come in to rest,
But shooting at it, Englishmen, what will you do,
Should you, for our extravagance, turn reckless.”

“Everyone [in Paris] has become a Monsieur.” Marquis de Mirabeau

Wigs, once an exclusive luxury good donned by the privileged, became increasingly widespread throughout the revolutionary Atlantic during the late eighteenth century as Enlightenment ideals permeated fashion and dress. The late eighteenth century proved to be a time of confusion with many different ideologies and interpretations emerging from the Enlightenment, such as a priority on reason and logic, as well as a search for authenticity in life, governance, and dress. This dissemination of ideas and thoughts meant that just as there was no longer universal law, there was no longer one perfect way to partake in fashion. Hence, this print satirizes this collision of ideas and resulting fashions.

While there may have been no one perfect mode of fashion, David Ritchie argued that the French emerged as “the law-givers of fashion and dress to the neighbouring kingdoms” in 1770 (44). This was a valid point as many Enlightenment thinkers were in fact, French. Originally an aristocratic ornament of Old Regime Europe to emulate the royal courts, the wig was traditionally a symbol of high birth and privilege (Kwass 634). However, as Enlightenment ideas of equality saturated all levels of the social hierarchy, middling people began to gain access to wigs. Wigmakers established practices from Paris to the provinces and these new wigs took on Enlightenment ideals of individualism, convenience, and naturalness.

Wigs came to embody the authentic self with the newfound individualism, convenience, and naturalness ideals of the Enlightenment manifested in dress. For instance, the late eighteenth century wigs focused on the comfort and free movement of the head (Kwass 649). This allowed wearers to continue sporting their wigs regardless of activity or weather. Some wigmakers even claimed that their wigs were comfortable enough to sleep in so that wearers could retain their individuality and uniqueness in the private sphere as well (Kwass 649). In the case of this print, the French pair are simply strolling through London yet they are in their dressed wigs. It is evident that persons of the revolutionary Atlantic wore wigs not only to be a part of fashionable society, but also to embody their ideological beliefs. In effect, ordinary people were encouraged to view wigs as a “reflective self” that would be capable of announcing one’s identity and uniqueness (Kwass 656). A great variety of wigs and hair dressing styles materialized and decorations such as pearls, jewels, and ribbons were used to highlight the individual (Ritchie 58). At the same time, the Enlightenment emphasized the concept of nature, and so new fashions were subdued to imitate la belle nature, which was a simpler, natural look (Kwass 652). Master wigmakers claimed to possess the ability to “imitate nature perfectly” in his wigs (Kwass 652). With such a focus on nature, the print satirizes the French woman for misinterpreting this Enlightenment ideal. For she adopted a literal and thus incorrect concept of naturalness by incorporating a dovecote in her hair amidst her other accessories. The anonymous artist uses this exaggeration to display the confusion surrounding new Enlightenment ideologies spilling into the commercial sphere of fashion. Moreover, Ritchie argued that women in London, attempting to follow the French mode, requested to be styled after fashions they had seen in public. These requests, though seemingly harmless, were made in error, for “each lady’s features vary so hair should be dressed accordingly” (Ritchie 58). Once again, there appears an insistence on maintaining more natural and individualized hair. Ritchie argued that hairdressers were to be judges of physiognomy and account for their client’s age, place, and company. Hair became a science. Enlightenment undercurrents reached more people throughout the Atlantic in the late eighteenth century, as an increasing portion of the population gained access to wigs and believed in an authentic self. Specifically in France, social and fashion changes resulted that interfered with politics to culminate into the French Revolution (1789-1799).

A Treatise on Hair

This image is the cover of hair-dresser David Ritchie’s A Treatise on the Hair, which was published in 1770.

The French man in the print is included to mock the aristocratic excess still prevalent in France near the turn of the nineteenth century prior to the French Revolution. Though exaggerated, his large powdered wig, decoration sword, and helplessness in reaction to the woman’s hair being shot at were all characteristic of the impracticality and effeminacy surrounding noble life in Old Regime France. The print artist included this French man in the satire to show the English denunciation of the macaroni style that emerged in London based on French courtly influence. According to Kate Haulman, the macaroni first appeared in London in the 1760s as wealthy young men took on other European styles while traveling the continent (635). Macaronis were identifiable by their elaborately dressed, powdered hair much like the French man’s shown in the print. This style embraced the Enlightenment ideal of individualism while still holding on to luxurious consumption characteristic of Old Europe (Rauser 101). It became a symbol of the “self-made man” (Rauser 108). Just as middling people gained access to wigs, the wig continued to position itself middling between Enlightenment advances and Old Europe flamboyance. Self-made macaronis, though important in Enlightenment rhetoric, were not respected to epitomize Enlightenment ideologies because of their criticized effeminacy and inauthenticity. The Englishmen in the print reject the French styles shown because of these follies. As evidenced by these related images below, the caricatural social satire surfaced alongside the macaroni craze.

The Macaroni, a real character at the late masquerade

The Macaroni, a real character at the late masquerade

How d'ye like me

How d’ye like me

The Macarony Dressing Room

The Macarony Dressing Room

Macaroni caricatures served as both cautionary counterexamples and desirable role models to society; they displayed enviable individualism as expressed by extravagant wigs, but also a warning of the dangerous extreme (Rauser 111). The rustic Englishmen serve as a stark contrast, with their functional guns and rugged, practical dress. Amidst the American Revolution (1775-1783), late eighteenth century England witnessed a need to establish new ideas of identity categorization and selfhood to differentiate between being English and American. The hair or wig of the Englishman repowdering his gun can be seen loosely fastened in the back and practical enough to fit under his hat. For these rustic Englishmen, Enlightenment thought meant eliminating luxury in favor of convenience and naturalness. Rejecting the grandiose dress of the French that influenced the effeminate and inauthentic macaroni in their country, England made way for the “great masculine renunciation” of the early 19th century, when simple and dark clothing were preferred and seen as more comfortable and natural. Meanwhile, late eighteenth century England still found wigs to be necessary accessories of self-expression.

In conclusion, the late eighteenth century revolutionary Atlantic witnessed an influx of Enlightenment concepts of individualism, convenience, and naturalness that permeated not just social thought, but dress. Wigs came to reflect the wearer’s Enlightenment beliefs and interpretations. However, with so many different theories in collision, outrageous styles emerged such as those in the satirical print and additional images. The late eighteenth century experienced this last surge of extreme hair and wig styles before Enlightenment ideals become standardized through major events such as American Independence and the French Revolution.


Bowles, Carington. How d’ye like me. 1772. The British Museum, Collection Online. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number 1877,1013.837.;

Dawe, Philip. The Macaroni, a real character at the late masquerade. 1773. The British Museum, Collection Online. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number J,5.42.;

Haulman, Kate. “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” The William and Mary Quarterly 62.4 (October 2005): 625-62. Print.

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth Century France” American Historical Review (2006): 631-59. Print.

Rauser, Amelia F. “Hair, Authenticity, and the Self – Made Macaroni.” Eighteenth – Century Studies 38.1 (2004): 101-17. Web.

Ritchie, David, Hair-dresser. A treatise on the hair: Shewing Its Generation. Means of its Preservation. Causes of its Decay. How to recover it when lost. What occasions its different Colours; with the probable Means to alter it from one Colour to another. Its most proper Management in different Climates, and in all the Stages, and Circumstances of Life. also a description of the most fashionable methods of dressing ladies and gentlemens hair, both Natural and Artificial. With An Essay on Dress in General, Address’d to the Ladies of Great-Britain. By David Ritchie, Hair-Dresser, Perfumer, &c. London, MDCC.LXX. [1770]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 6 Mar. 2014.

White, Charles. The Macarony Dressing Room. 1772. The British Museum, Collection Online. Web. 8 March 2014. Museum Reference Number J,5.85.

The Luxuriously Common Snuffbox by Kamarin Takahara

“Money, the cause of much mischief in the world, is the cause of most quarrels…the former commonly thinking, that they cannot give too little, and the latter, that they cannot have enough; both equally in the wrong.”[1] Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield wrote this in 1750 to his eighteen year old son, Philip Stanhope who was preparing to visit Paris, France. Philip Dormer Stanhope gave advice and rules on what young Philip should bring and how to behave in society. One of the items Philip Dormer Stanhope suggested his son carry a snuffbox in public. The snuffbox, along with other luxury items, was perceived as a representation of an individual’s identity and status.The type of snuff box Stanhope carried around possibly resembled the cartouche-shaped gold snuffbox with a miniature enamel cover under glass.

Snuffbox1740- Great Britain Snuffbox, Zincke (miniaturists)

Despite England and France’s economic turmoil, the wealthy sphere always maintained their sense of individuality through lavish objects. According to Neil McKendrick, “restless striving to clamber from one rank to the next, and where possessions and especially clothes, both symbolized and signaled each step in the social promotion, the economic potentialities of such social needs could… be immense.” [2] Having the ability to purchase lavish items determined your place in society. However, McKendrick argues that by the eighteenth century the barrier separating the social hierarchy became blurred. More of the population was able to enjoy the purchasing of consumer goods. Before, the wealthy were the only individuals to purchase snuffboxes, but after the consumer revolution snuffboxes became more accessible. In Neil McKendrick’s chapter, the late eighteenth century saw an increase in production which allowed different individuals from all social classes to purchase items of luxury and pleasure.

The wealthy community was becoming irrelevant in societies such as England and France. Their identity was closely linked to their personal objects. For example, Michael Kwass argues that “the wig had become big business in the eighteenth century—big enough to suggest that it was no longer an exclusive luxury article.”[3] In the illustration “Les Incoryables” two fashionably dressed men stands observing one another’s garments. The satirical image demonstrates the difficulty to differentiate a gentleman of wealth from a commoner. Since different types of fashion were becoming accessible to the public it became more difficult to determine an individual’s social status based on their appearance. The materialistic items men and women wore and carried in public gradually became insignificant.

Wig Les Incroyables

If items that were once extravagant become common they lose its value and therefore no longer helps distinguish between social classes. In order to keep the social classes and their ornate items unique, the wealthy spent additional money on their material objects. Regarding snuffboxes, the prosperous individuals who could afford it began to personalize their boxes. This particular snuffbox has two miniature enamel images of Sir Robert Furnese’s daughter’s. Along with the personalized miniature’s, the walls are chased with nymphs and dolphins among reeds, scrolls and shells. The snuffboxes also began to hold political meanings such as a painted portrait of a politician, diplomatic gift, or awarded to recognize official service. By continuing to make their snuffboxes unique and personalized, the wealthy were keeping the social hierarchy functioning. Another item the wealthy indulged in was elaborate furniture for their grand estates. For example, the “Bureau Cabinet,” was made from material rare in Great Britain and created using a technique formally practiced in France. For the upper class, the power of dress and ornate objects helped create their social identity, which they were desperately holding onto.

CabinetBureau cabinet

The snuffbox became an object of luxury regarded only for the affluent. Then snuffboxes became frequently used by individuals not part of the wealthy status. Elaborate items were an important part of society and the amount of meaning behind each object accumulated and increased a person’s worth and developed their identity. The upper class needed to improve small items like the snuffbox because if they began to lose a simple item to the masses then their social status would slowly merge into society and would begin to lose their identity.


Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review. (2006): 631-59.

McKendrick, Neil. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-century England.” In The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications Limited, 1982.

Stanhope, Philip Dormer, 4th earl of Chesterfield. “Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope: Thursday, 19 November 1750 — [letter].” Letter stanphOU0010211_1key001cor of Electronic Enlightenment. Ed. Robert McNamee et al. Vers. 2.4. University of Oxford. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <;.

Bureau Cabinet. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: W.37:1 to 37-1953.

Les Incroyables. The British Museum. Museum item number: 1861, 1012.372.

Snuffbox. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: LOAN: GILBERT. 388-2008.

[1] Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield, “Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope: Thursday, 19 November 1750 — [letter],” In Electronic Enlightenment, edited by Robert McNamee et al. University of Oxford. <;.

[2] Neil McKendrick, “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-century England,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, (London: Europa Publications Limited, 1982), 20-21.

[3] Michael Kwass, “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth Century France, “American Historical Review (2006): 637.