Mode och moral - Begär och hushållning i svenska 1700-talspublikationer

Agneta Helmius


In this article I turn to the 18th century Swedish public debate on fashion and morality. In the Swedish ‘moral’ essay papers of the 1730’s fashion was portrayed as a woman named Madame la Mode who embodied the sin or desire of vanity or self interest. Her character and stories about how she seduced women and men were meant to be read as metaphors of how traditional society was threatened by ‘modernity’, by la mode. It is important to analytically separate the construction of gender symbolically and structurally. While Madame la Mode challenges traditional virtues of both men and women on a symbolic level, many small prints later in the 18th century argue that it is the upbringing – in a structural order – of bourgeois girls, by their greedy parents, that causes society’s tremor. This in turn should be remedied, says one of the participants in the debate, by public measures such as schools for girls and ‘household universities’. Fashion then, can be seen as the opposite of virtue i.e. morality. Contemporary fashion theorists – in this article I particularly mention two – seem to ignore the moral debate on fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries, just because it was moral, thereby forgetting the moral dimensions of fashion also later on. But if morality concerns the relations between individuals and society, and if fashion is about the exploitation of desire, then morals should be considered a significant part of the modern global economic fashion system.

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