Sexing La Mode: Gender, Fashion and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France – Jennifer M. Jones

Sexing La Mode: Gender, Fashion and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France

Being a fanatical reader of the exclusive fashion magazines, ‘Sexing la Mode’ was an utter merriment; like tracing the roots of Anna Wintour’s fraternity. Jennifer Jones proficiently traces the genesis of French couture and the prevailing fashion mode.

Dating back to the late 17th century, dressing norms were regulated solely by Louis XIV; restricted to only the elite royalty. Unlike today, men’s fashion ruled the roost while feminine fashion was mere “a tavern wench, the drunken invention of a tramp, a loose chicken skinned whore who hides her lowly birth by destroying the minds she captures.”(M.de Fitelieu – a fashion critic;1642). The publishing of the very first fashion journal ‘La Mercure galant’ by Jean Donneau de Vise, a royal historian, exposed the commercial Parisian culture and brought awareness on the operational fashion system. The 18th century saw the commercialization of the fashion industry with several thousand female seamstresses and textile merchants demanding the legalization of the right to choose and work in the fashion arena. Fine arts and clothing fused to give rise to what we now call ‘haute couture’. Feminization of sewing was the mantra of the 19th century thus liberating women’s fashion without effeminizing France. Finally, fashion characterized one’s identity and not vice-versa.

The most interesting part of the narrative was the inception of the ‘One-sexed model of gender’. Even though Yves Saint Laurent did put the androgynous suit on the runway, its idea was conceptualized by Elisabeth Charlotte, sister-in-law of Louis XIV. Being married to the most notorious homosexual, Elisabeth came up with the concept of androgynous dressing for all sexes venting her frustration on her asexual life.

Indeed! A truly well-researched and intriguing historical read.

4/5****

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