The Power of Pure Contingency: Fashion in Smith and the Reynoldses

James Noggle

in The Temporality of Taste in Eighteenth-Century British Writing

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199642434
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738579 | DOI:
The Power of Pure Contingency: Fashion in Smith and the Reynoldses

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Most accounts of fashion in the eighteenth century see its vigour and direction as derived from the aspirations and new purchasing power of the commercial classes. But a contrary and obvious truth—noted by the authors treated here, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and Frances Reynolds, among others in the period—is that fashion is ruled by the rich and the great. In the modern world, this rule rests on the glamour of their power in the present, divorced from narratives of cultural and commercial progress. Fashion, the name for taste in its most hectic relation to time, concentrates attention on the now of culture and its mere difference from what has come before. Dominating this utterly contingent moment, the rich and great find a new basis for their authority, no longer in inherited insignia of hierarchy, but now in the always shifting, imaginary link between lofty status and taste in clothes.

Keywords: Taste; fashion; Adam Smith; Joshua Reynolds; Frances Reynolds

Chapter.  12936 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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