Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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"FASHIONING THE BOURGEOISIE" Clothing reflected an investment, not just of money, but also of time. A fashionable bourgeois wife might go through seven or eight different wardrobe changes in a single day. A rigorous sartorial code dictated which outfit was appropri-ate for what occasion and time of day. Through their fashion choices, bourgeois women fulfilled the public role society had assigned to them as conspicuous consumers and walking symbols of their husbands’ wealth and status. Men followed fashion trends from London, adopt-ing the redingote (English riding coat) and tight-fitting trousers, usually in black. Dandyism, invented in England by the famous dresser Beau Brummel, was popularized in France through handbooks such as Balzac’s 1830 Treatise on Elegant Living, published in La Mode, the same paper that published Gavarni’s fashion plates. The dandy, Balzac explained, distinguished himself from the hard-working bourgeois in the time he took to get dressed and groomed and in the careful selection of fashion accessories. Ties, gloves, and cane handles were particularly important markers of refinement and aloofness from economic productivity.