Fashionable Queens: Body Power Gender: Body Power Gender (Austrian Studies in English Book 103) by Flicker Eva / Seidl Monika

Fashionable Queens: Body Power Gender: Body  Power  Gender (Austrian Studies in English Book 103) by Flicker Eva / Seidl Monika

Author:Flicker, Eva / Seidl, Monika [Flicker, Eva / Seidl, Monika]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Publisher: Peter Lang
Published: 2014-06-16T16:00:00+00:00

Figure 1Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun: Marie Antoinette en gaulle (1783)

Rousseau phrased this best very early on, when describing in 1761 the way Parisian women dressed to his beloved, hidden away in some patriarchal mansion in the wholesome countryside of Switzerland. Distinction, Rousseau remarks, cannot be obtained any longer by the display of wealth and luxury. Were the ladies of nobility to engage in this competition, they would be outdone by the wives of the financiers, far richer than themselves. So they had to look for other means to stand apart. In so doing, they devised to imitate someone that the bourgeois woman would simply not dare to copy, out of innate modesty. With their low cut décolletés that made any respectable man lower his eyes in shame, with their aggressively painted faces, they looked like prostitutes. ← 136 | 137 →

The relationship of fashion to modernity is fraught with ambiguity, ambivalence, and paradox. This ambivalence can be seen in the modern discourse on fashion, which has always been strangely split. There is fashion and fashion. Properly speaking, men’s fashion is not really fashion. The optimally functional suit without any superfluous adornment is in its world-wide constancy through the centuries, one is tempted to say, almost classical in its narrow range of variation. Its staggering universal success is ascribed to the fact that it is the ideal modern dress: beautiful, because functional. Female fashion, on the contrary, is mostly seen as a remnant of the old aristocracy, a frivolous frill, an entirely dysfunctional ornament, in need of a thorough modernization. We could say that female fashion has remained post-feudal. The ‘new woman’ is born in agonizing pain, nothing can ever be taken for granted, and perennial setbacks are witnessed. Chanel had barely managed to dress the liberated woman by patiently translating men’s fashion into female fashion when Dior came along. Dior’s New Look again required the ‘unhealthy corset’, which is said to have hampered every movement, a slap in the face of the modern aesthetic dogma form follows function. Ornaments reappear, women wear jewels and make-up. The second powder war was won by the pro-powder fraction, not for the aristocrats this time, but for women of all classes. Fashion proves to be unreformable; it cannot become fully modern. Women’s fashion is set on remaining deaf to the very tenets of modernity, a line of argument that stretches from Adolf Loos to Le Corbusier. Its latest version can be found in Anne Hollander’s Sex and Suits, however with a twist, highlighting not the functionality, but the sexiness of the male suit. For Hollander, the men’s suit brings out the classical hero in everyone. It is only men’s fashion–thus not fashion proper–that is modern. All the innovations in cut necessary for modern clothing have been made, underlines Hollander, by the male tailors for male suits and never by female seamstresses. Male tailors are thus characterized as avant-garde, eclipsing the seamstresses whom Robert Musil once dubbed as specialists in artificially increasing body surface (Musil 1193-1194).


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