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From haute couture to haberdashery, 'deviant' dress to Dior, Elizabeth Wilson traces the social and cultural history of fashion and its complex relationship to modernity. She also discusses fashion's vociferous opponents, from the 'dress reform' movement to certain strands of feminism. Wilson delights in the power of fashion to mark out identity or subvert it. This brand new edition of her book follows recent developments to bring the story of fashionable dress up to date, exploring the grunge look inspired by bands like Nirvana, the 'boho chic' of the mid 90's, retro-dressing, and the meanings of dress from the veil to soccer player David Beckham's pink-varnished toenails.
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Elizabeth Wilson is Emeritus Professor of cultural studies at the University of North London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Similarly with dress: the thesis is that fashion is oppressive, the antithesis that we find it pleasurable; again no synthesis is possible. In all these arguments the alternatives posed are between moralism and hedonism; either doing your own thing is okay, or else it convicts you of false consciousness. Either the products of popular culture are the supporters of a monolithic male ideology, or they are there to be enjoyed and justified.
A slightly different version of these arguments acknowledges that desires for the 'unworthier' artefacts of the consumer society have been somehow implanted in us, and that we must try to resolve the resulting guilt by steering some moderate middle way. To care about dress and our appearance is oppressive, this argument goes, and our love of clothes is a form of false consciousness-yet, since we do love them we are locked in a contradiction. The best we can then do, according to this scenario, is to try to find some form of reasonably attractive dress that will avoid the worst pitfalls of extravagance, self-objectification and snobbery, while avoiding also becoming 'platform women in dingy black.'
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