Showing posts with label Fashion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fashion. Show all posts

Saturday, October 7, 2023


Oscar Wilde reportedly said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Typical Wildean wit, perhaps addressed to the smart London world of snobs and social climbers, in which worth and station were not given, but asserted. They were asserted through notions about clothes (“fashion”), but also attitudes toward illness. As Susan Sontag observes in Illness as Metaphor (1978), “Both clothes (the outer garment of the body) and illness (a kind of interior decor of the body) became tropes for new attitudes toward the self.”

Sontag goes on to write:

Shelley wrote on July 27, 1820 to Keats, commiserating as one TB [tuberculosis] sufferer to another, that he has learned “that you continue to wear a consumptive appearance.” This was no mere turn of phrase. Consumption was understood as a manner of appearing, and that appearance became a staple of nineteenth-century manners. “Chopin was tubercular at a time when good health was not chic,” Camille Saint-Saëns wrote in 1913. “It was fashionable to be pale and drained; Princess Belgiojoso strolled along the boulevards…pale as death in person.” Saint-Saëns was right to connect an artist, Chopin, with the most celebrated femme fatale of the period, who did a great deal to popularize the tubercular look. The TB-influenced idea of the body was a new model for aristocratic looks—at a moment when aristocracy stops being a matter of power, and starts being mainly a matter of image. (“You can never be too rich. You can never be too thin,” the Duchess of Windsor once said.)

Indeed, the romanticizing of TB is the first widespread example of that distinctively modern activity, promoting the self as an image. The look of TB had, inevitably, to be considered attractive once it came to be considered a mark of distinction, of breeding. “I cough continually!” Marie Bashkirtseff wrote in the once widely read Journal which was published, after her death at twenty-four, in 1887. “But for a wonder, far from making me look ugly, this gives me an air of languor that is very becoming.” What was once the fashion for aristocratic femmes fatales and aspiring young artists became, inevitably, the province of fashion as such. Indeed, twentieth-century women’s fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

For Additional Reading: Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.


A Few Songs About Fashion And Self As Image:

David Bowie – Fashion

Lady Gaga – Fashion!

Green Day – Fashion Victim

The Kinks – Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Suede – She’s In Fashion

Kanye West – Dark Fantasy

ZZ Top – Sharp Dressed Man