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A Dialectical Journey through Fashion and Philosophy pp 93–125 Cite as

Dialectic of Fashion History in Modern Times

  • Eun Jung Kang 2  
  • First Online: 02 January 2020

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This chapter examines the dialectical progression of fashion history in modern times. Its objective is to search for the logical necessity of the dialectical process in fashion history, by observing morphological changes in dress fashions. In order to carry out this task, this chapter probes some important topics such as the origin of fashion and its etymology and the disparity between the prefashion system and the fashion system, and looks into the two most critical threefold dialectical movements in fashion history. Hegel and Marx provide the theoretical hinge on which this investigation stands. Toward the end of the quest for a necessity that fashion history reveals, however, one should find that grasping the dialectical development of fashion history, and indeed history at large, requires an understanding of the progression in the realm of human consciousness, ideas, or ideologies, although the two different systems of Hegel and Marx are operative in the development of fashion history during modern times.

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Refer to Chap. 6 . “Formal Changes in Fashion and Hegelian Dialectic.”

See Chap. 6 ., note 4.

For more discussion of Adorno’s suggestion, refer to Chap. 6 . “Formal Changes in Fashion and Hegelian Dialectic.”

Paradoxically, historically, only absolute idealism gives free rein to the method that the introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit calls, “simply looking at” [ reines Zusehen ]. Hegel is able to think from the thing itself out, to surrender passively, as it were, to its authentic substance, only because by virtue of the system the matter at hand is referred to its identity with absolute subject. Things themselves speak in a philosophy that focuses its energies on providing that it is itself one with them.

See the following remark made by Marx and Engels, for example:

The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology , ed. and intro. C. J. Arthur [New York: International Publishers, 1970], p. 47).
Since it is logic above all and not science generally whose relation to truth is the issue here, it must be further conceded that logic as the formal science cannot also contain, nor should contain, the kind of reality which is the content of the other parts of philosophy, of the sciences of nature and of spirit…. As contrasted with them, the logic is of course the formal science, yet the science of the absolute form which is implicit totality and contains the pure idea of truth itself . This absolute form has in it a content or reality of its own; the concept, since it is not a trivial, empty identity, obtains its differentiated determinations in the moment of negativity or of absolute determining; and the content is only these determinations of the absolute form and nothing else—a content posited by the form itself and therefore adequate to it.

“[E]verybody has to get dressed in the morning and go about the day’s business. What everybody wears to do this has taken different forms in the West for about seven hundred years and that is what fashion is,…” Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress , 2nd ed. (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), p. 6; cited in Sanda Miller, Peter McNeil, Fashion Journalism: History, Theory, and Practice (London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), p. 101.

See note 27 for some observations made by different fashion historians regarding the topic of the genesis of fashion and their reasoning behind their dating.

See Chap. 5 , “Fashion Systems in Prehistory and the Americas,” esp., p. 72 in Welters and Lillethun, Fashion History: A Global View (2018).

See the following remarks by Welters and Lillethun:

“It is more truthful to understand that the desire to embellish the human body—the fashion impulse—is the dominant reason for dress and that humans seek novelty or change; thus, fashion is endemic to human nature and is the term that we prefer over dress, clothing, costume, toilette, and apparel” (Ibid., p. 29).
“As sites of novelty, new materials and processes play important roles in fashion systems; desire for novelty, the so-called fashion impulse, serves as an impetus to fashion” (Ibid., p. 98).

According to Barnard, such a statement as “constant and incessant change is what fashion is” is uncontroversial (Barnard, Fashion Theory : An Introduction , 37).

For the discussion of the relationship between time-consciousness and modernity see Jürgen Habermas, “Modernity versus Postmodernity,” New German Critique 22 (Winter 1981): 3–14; Jürgen Habermas, Chapter 1. Modernity’s Consciousness of Time and Its Need for Self-Reassurance, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures , trans. F. G. Lawrence (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 1–22.

For further discussion on the connection between the self’s endless quest for itself and the flow of time, see Chap. 2 , “What Immanuel Kant Would Say about Fashion: The Metaphysics of the Pursuit of the Self by Way of Fashion.”

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project . ed. R. Tiedemann, trans. H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin, (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 867, <Q°,21>.

For a detailed discussion on the link between fashion and Benjamin’s concept of dialectical image, see Chap. 4 . “In Search of Unintentional Truth .”

For more discussion of this topic, see Chap. 8 , “Fashion as A Utopian Impulse: The Inversion of Political Economy via the Consumption of Fashion,” and Chap. 9 , “The Dialectical Sublation by the Consumption of Fashion.”

For example, see Ted Polhemus and Lynn Procter, Fashion and Anti-Fashion: Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment (London: Thames & Hudson, 1978), 9; Malcolm Barnard, Fashion as Communication , 2nd ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 8; Yuniya Kawamura, Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies, 2nd ed. (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2018), 2.

Polhemus and Procter, Fashion and Anti-Fashion , p. 9; as cited in Barnard, Fashion as Communication , 9.

For example, concerning the sublime, one of the most grandiose concepts in political philosophy, Jean-Luc Nancy says the following:

The sublime is in fashion…. In this sense, the sublime forms a fashion that has persisted uninterruptedly into our own time from the beginnings of modernity, a fashion at once continuous and discontinuous, monotonous and spasmodic. The “sublime” has not always taken this name, but it has always been present. It has always been a fashion because it has always concerned a break within or from aesthetics (whether “aesthetics” designates taste or theory). (Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Sublime Offering,” Of the Sublime: Presence in Question , ed. Jean-Francois Courtine et al., trans. Jeffrey Librett, [Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993(1988)], 25)

Also refer to Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 2. According to Gillespie, all later forms derive from the late Latin derivative modernus . The term modern and its derivatives come from the Latin modus , which means “‘measure,’ and, as a measure of time, ‘just now.’”

See Renato Poggioli, Teoria dell’arte d’avanguardia (English: The Theory of the Avant-Garde) , trans. Gerald Fitzgerald (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), 216.

It should be noted that modernus was coined from modo , as hodiernus was from hodie (today), and its etymological root is not modus but modo according to A Dictionary of English Etymology (London: Hensleigh Wedgwood, 1773).

Ernst Robert Curtius categorically says mode has nothing to do with modern , in European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages , trans. Willard Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1948]1953), 254.

Hunt’s quantitative investigation covers France, England, Italian cities including Venice and Florence, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, and North America during the time that spans from the twelfth century through to the eighteenth century. (Hunt 1996 , 29).

See Yves Charbit, The Classical Foundations of Population Thought , 160.

This interpretation of various seventeenth-century thinkers, so-called possessive individualism, is made by C. B. MacPherson. See C. B. MacPherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).

See Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil, “The Fashion Revolution: The ‘Long’ Eighteenth Century,” in The Fashion History Reader: Global Perspectives , Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil, eds., (New York: London, Routledge, 2010), 174.

Cf. On the grounds of object-based observations, many authors argue that sometime in the fourteenth century fashion emerged.

The most widely accepted hypothesis dates fashion’s emergence to the appearance of a new men’s clothing styles in the mid-fourteenth century Burgundy…, it said that modern male dress first appears in France around 1350 with the revolution produced by the appearance of the short surcoat on young men, in radical opposition to the long robe, which continued to be worn by older and more venerable men. (Sarah-Grace Heller, Fashion in Medieval France [Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2007], 48).
From what is taken by most scholars to be the beginnings of an institutionalized fashion cycle in the West, namely, fourteenth-century Burgundian court life, up to the present, fashion has repeatedly, if not exclusively, drawn upon certain recurrent instabilities in the social identities of Western men and women. (Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture, and Identity [Chicago, University Press, 1992], 17).
An intensified aristocratic interest in fashionable clothing seems first to have become noticeable at the Burgundian court in the fourteenth century,…. (Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity , rev. ed. [London: Tauris, 2003], 20).
The Court of Burgundy was especially notable for luxurious dress during the 14th and 15th centuries…. Tortora, Phyllis G. and Sara B. Marcketti Survey of Historic Costume [London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, (1989/2015)], 148.
Scholars generally recognize the fourteenth century as a time when workers in costume crafts, merchants, and eager customers, both an aristocracy and a wealthy bourgeoisie, clearly portrayed the kinds of social behavior associated with fashion, behavior from which the highly complex fashion system of the twentieth century and twenty-first centuries has evolved (Roach-Higgins 1995: 395–96). (Kawamura , Fashion-ology , 49).
It was in the second half of the fourteenth century that clothes both for men and for women took on new forms, and something emerges which we can already call ‘fashion.’ (James Laver, Costume and Fashion: A Concise History [New York: Oxford University Press, 1983], 62).

Also see Susan Crane, The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing, and Identity During the Hundred Years War , (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 3 and 13.

Georg Simmel writes:

Fashion is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation; it leads the individual upon the road which all travel, it furnishes a general condition, which resolves the conduct of every individual into a mere example. At the same time it satisfies in no less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency towards dissimilarity, the desire for change and contrast,…. Thus fashion represents nothing more than one of the many forms of life by the aid of which we seek to combine in uniform spheres of activity the tendency towards social equalization with the desire for individual differentiation and change. (Simmel, “Fashion” [1957], p. 543)

See Crane, The Performance of Self , 13; Jay Calderin, Form, Fit and Fashion: All the Details Fashion Designers Need to Know but Can Never Find , (Beverly, Massachusetts: Rockport Publishers Inc. 2009), 28; Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland, Textiles and Clothing, 1150–1450 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1992), 7; Welters, “Introduction,” p. 3; Christopher Breward, The Culture of Fashion (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995), 13 and 29; James Laver, A Concise History of Costume (London: Thames and Hudson, and New York: Abrams, 1969), 62; Wilson, Adorned in Dreams , p. 18; Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, Volume I of Civilization and Capitalism, fifteenth–eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 317.

Alan Hunt, Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law (1996), 45.

The reason that some caution is needed about linking the advent of sumptuary legislation with the rise of fashion is that in both England and in the Italian cities of Florence and Venice sumptuary laws were already well established by the early decades of the fourteenth century and predated the eruption of the increasingly self-conscious fashion in the Burgundian court.

Christopher Breward states:

As well as defining gender roles and status within family based communities, the pervasiveness of fashion as a new concept from the 1350s had a more direct impact on the emergence of the individual—a sense of self-knowledge and an understanding of man’s place in the wider structures of the world. Within medieval society the body was prioritized as the dwelling-place of soul, inner character was displayed throughout outward signs and clothing could not avoid implication in such a problematic moral arena. Individuality and the communications of the soul were manifested through various strategies. (Breward , The Culture of Fashion [1995], 35)

See Crane, The Performance of Self , 13; Jay Calderin, Form, Fit and Fashion , 28; Elisabeth Crowfoot et al., Textiles and Clothing , 7; Linda Welters, “Introduction,” 3; Christopher Breward, The Culture of Fashion , 13 and 29; Laver, A Concise History of Costume , 62; Wilson, Adorned in Dreams , 18; and Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life , 317.

Refer to note 32.

The words in parentheses are my own addition.

Refer to Fernand Braudel’s comment:

…whereas the traditional costume had been much the same all over the continent, the spread of the shorter costume was irregular, subject to resistance and variation, so that eventually national styles of dressing were evolved, all influencing each other to a greater or lesser extent―the French, Burgundian, Italian or English costume, etc. ( The Structures of Everyday Life , 317.)

Cf. Douglas Russell says, “During the Elizabethan-Jacobean Period the modes in male and female dress were loosely characterized as the Spanish style because in color and somewhat less line and silhouette, their major inspiration came from the fashions of the formal Spanish court.” Russell, Costume History and Style , 218.

Ronald M. Berger, The Most Necessary Luxuries . The Mercers’ Company of Coventry, 1550–1680 (University Park, PA: 1993), 23.

Men adorned their doublets and cloaks with lace, ribbons, buttons, and gold and silver thread…. Starch, which Puritans called “the devil’s liquor,” was used to fashion exotic cambric and lawn ruffs…. Complaints of wasteful spending on clothes increased dramatically after the mid-sixteenth century.

As Ronnie Mirkin points out,

It is evident that Elizabethan and Jacobean costume was built so as to enforce the body to act according to correct rules of conduct. Right behaviour would strike the spectator with awe; wrong deportment would have a comical or grotesque effect. The most important items of clothing to determine the correct position of the body were the rigid whaleboned doublet and the stayed corset—stiff instruments for encasing the torso of both men and women and setting it upright. (Ronnie Mirkin, “Performing Selfhood: The Costumed Body as a Site of Mediation Between Life, Art and Theatre in the English Renaissance,” Body Dressing , ed. J. Entwistle, E. Wilson [Oxford & New York: Berg, 2001], 155.

Douglas Russell describes this change in dress as following:

Compare, for example, the qualities of dress in the Evening Ball for the Wedding of the Duc de joyeuse, dated about 1581, with those in the famous The Garden of Love by Rubens, dated about 1632. It is as if the ruffs had suddenly melted into soft lace collars and the boning, padding, and forcing of the body had relaxed into an easy expansion of the clothing away from the contours of the body. The tortured, excessively decorated fabric surfaces have been replaced by an interest in the natural character of the fabric itself. Like architecture, sculpture, and painting in the Baroque era, the costumes moved, expanded, and spread out into space to create a sense of size and grandeur. (Russell, Costume History and Style , 237)

Also see Douglas Gorsline, What People Wore: 1800 Illustrations from Ancient Times to the Early Twentieth Century (New York: Dover Publications, 1994), 66.

Refer to James Harvey Robinson, An Introduction to the History of Western Europe (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1903), 465.

For the origin of the nickname see Georgiana Hill, A History of English Dress from the Saxon Period to the Present Day, Volume 1 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), 281.

Also see Gorsline, What People Wore , 66.

Douglas Russell notes that the dress shape became much bulkier and heavier toward the end of the seventeenth century. This coincides with the theoretical development of diving-right monarchy.

The costume fashions after about 1685 in all the countries of Europe were much heavier than those in the 1660s and 1670s and often remind one of a great upholstered chair. (Russell, Costume History and Style , 260)

Also see Toby Reiner, Divine Right of Kings in Encyclopedia of Political Theory , ed. Mark Bevir (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010), 399–340.

However, toward the close of the rein of Louis XIV, interest in the aesthetics of dress and private life, not from the court but from elite individuals, increased, resulting in the different fashion cultures of la cour and la ville . See Jennifer Michelle Jones, Sexing La Mode : Gender, Fashion and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France , (Oxford: Berg, 2004 ), 41.

For example, Fukuyama writes:

And yet this realm of consciousness in the long run necessarily becomes manifest in the material world, indeed, creates the material world in its own image. Consciousness is cause and not effect, and can develop autonomously from the material world: hence the real subtext underlying the apparent jumble of current events is the history of ideology. (Fukuyama, “The End of History,” 6)

Alice Mackrell, “The Dress of the Parisian Élégantes with Special Reference to Le Journal des dames et des modes from June 1797 until December 1799,” MA thesis, Courtauld Institute, 1977, 45; cited in Alice Mackrell, Art and Fashion: The Impact of Art on Fashion and Fashion on Art (London: Chrysalis Books Group, 2005), 40.

Even the cotton fabric used for the dress gave off some sort of sensation having political resonance synesthetically ingrained in the mind as Walter Benjamin’s quotation from Edouard Foucaud elucidated:

“Cotton fabrics replace brocades and satins,… and before long, thanks to … the revolutionary spirit, the dress of the lower classes becomes more seemly and agreeable to the eye. Edouard Foucaud, Paris inventeur: Physiologie de l’industrie française (Paris, 1844), p. 64 (referring to the Revolution of 1789) [B 6a,3]” (Benjamin, The Arcades Project , 75).

See Phyllis G. Tortora and Sara B. Marcketti, Survey of Historic Costume (London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1989 /2015), 329.

Also see Russell’s account in Costume History and Style (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1983):

Female gowns, even in the very last days of the Empire, had added many ruffles and much lacy trim, and by 1820 the high waistline began to drop from just below the bust to just above the waist, the corset now returned; sleeves began to expand in size; skirts began to flare out in many folds over layered petticoats to the ankle; and appliqué, ruching, embroidery, and lace ruffles began to trim all edges of the gown … (334)
Later in the 1820s the sleeves gradually took the focus of attention as they continued to grow in size until they had to be stiffened with special linings. Some were still puffed at the top and then pleated into a slim sleeve below, but the majority were of the tapering, leg-o-mutton variety…. Skirts became even wider at the bottom during the 1820s, with more ornamentation and definition toward the bottom of the skirt such as tucks, pleats, ruffles, appliqué, or loops of silk or fur. (341)

According to Robert Crego in Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2003, 67), the first rudimentary bicycle, “little more than a saddle atop a bar connecting two wheels,” was introduced by Baron von Drais to the public in 1816. However, not until the mass production of the modern “safety” bicycle in 1890s did a large number of women begin to ride. See the following remark by Zack Furness:

Elite women in Europe and the United States were the first to utilize cycling technologies, though most were excluded from riding the high-wheeler, or “ordinary,” bicycle (the one with the big front wheel) as well as most models manufactured prior to the modern “safety” bicycle, which is essentially the bicycle as we know it today. “Ordinaries” were incredibly difficult to operate and both clothing and behavioral restrictions made it nearly impossible for women to ride them…. Women could thus operate tricycles without dramatically challenging the dominant social norms of the period. Following the mass production of the safety bicycle in the 1890s, many women took up cycling and found in it a renewed sense of freedom and mobility. (Zack Furness, One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010], 19)

Van Cleave writes:

“Eventually, however, the public ridicule attracted by the reform costume proved too much for women’s rights advocates, who felt that the attention paid to their appearance detracted from their ideas on other issues.... By the following year (1855), most women’s rights leaders had given up dress reform, choosing to focus instead on issues such as suffrage, marriage reform, and education.” (Kendra Van Cleave, “Moral and Dress Reform Movement, 1800–1869.” Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, Vol 1. (ed.) Immanuel Ness. [Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003], 270).

See the following comment by Benjamin:

Who still knows, nowadays, where it was that in the last decade of the previous century women would offer to men their most seductive aspect, the most intimate promise of their figure? In the asphalted indoor arenas where people learned to ride bicycles. The woman as cyclist competes with the cabaret singer for the place of honor on posters, and gives to fashion its most daring line. [B1,8]

New York World interview, February 2, 1896. Scribner’s Magazine ( 1896 ) in the same year also wrote:

It [the bicycle] has given all women practical liberty to wear trousers if they want to, and indeed, to get themselves into any sort of decent raiment which they find convenient for whatever enterprise they have in hand…. Three years ago, no modest American woman would hardly have ventured on the street in New York with a skirt that stopped above her ankles, and leggings that reached obviously to her knees. To-day she can do it without exciting attention. ( Scribner’s Magazine 19, (1896): 783). The words in square brackets are my own addition.

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History of fashion – A brief story of the evolution of fashion

I wanted to study fashion and started to read everything and anything about the evolution of fashion. But that proved to be as if I have fallen into a suck hole  –  It was drawing me in and not letting me out. So much to look at and absorb and everything appeared so complicated.

I had to ask my kids to eat cake instead of bread (and feel like a highly fashionable but conscienceless queen Mary Antoniette) because only cake was there in the kitchen – mama is studying fashion and had forgotten to cook. 

Why would I study Fashion History?

Fashion refers to the styles of clothing that are currently popular – ‘currently’ being relative. It is always evolving and changing and going back. Every style and trend in fashion keeps coming back at one time or the other. So a study of the evolution of history is very important for any fashion design student

To learn about people is to learn about their fashion. So if you are interested in learning about humanity, history of fashion is an important part.

But I knew I have to simplify the story. I dislike complicated. And here it is – the evolution of fashion in straightforward terms as  I understood it.

Related post : A List of best Reference books for learning vintage fashion history.

Evolution of Fashion down the history- A timeline of fashion

In this article I will cover:

Fashion in the Roman Era ( 500 BC – 323 AD)

Fashion in the middle ages ( 400 – 1200 ad), the renaissance period ( 1350-1520), fashion during the period between 1600-1900, fashion in the 1910s, fashion in the 1920s, fashion in the 1930s, fashion in the 1940s , fashion in the 1950s, fashion in the 1960s, fashion in the 1970s, fashion in the 1980s, fashion in the 1990s, fashion in 2000.

Romans and Egyptians took great interest in their appearance and spend a lot of effort and currency on fashion and style. Wearing a particular type of clothing communicated status, wealth and occupation. During the 15th century, Burgundian Court of Philip the Good emerged as a center of fashion in Europe. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the fashion focus shifted from Burgundy to Italy and then to France.

In the western world, fashion was important all throughout history. The Dark Ages, the medieval period, the Tudor and Stuart times, the Renaissance era, the Georgian Period, the Victorian era, Edwardian age – The important periods in the history of Britain were also critical parts in the aisles of world fashion history. Britain and other European countries influenced world fashion – colonial rule brought their dressing styles to a global audience and made them popular all around the world.

During all these times, it was the royal courts that dictated fashion. Aristocratic people dressed elaborately and stylishly. Poor could not afford to change their clothes according to the whims of fashion.

Clothes made of natural fibers mostly in neutral colors were the costumes of choice of the masses while the rich flaunted their wealth in the form of clothes and accessories. Clothes were used to separate people into groups.

In vintage fashion history the main periods according to politics were Greek Period 500 – 146 BC ; Roman period  500 BC – 323 AD; Middle Ages 400 – 1200 AD; Early Gothic 1200 – 1350 AD ;  Early Renaissance 1350 – 1425 AD ; Italian Renaissance 1485 – 1520 AD; Tudor England 1500 – 1550 AD; Elizabethan England 1550 – 1603 AD; Cavalier Period 1620 – 1660 AD; The Restoration 1660 – 1700 AD ; The 18th Century 1715 – 1790 AD; Revolution & Empire 1790 – 1815 AD; Romantic 1815 – 1848 AD ; Victorian 1837 – 1901 AD ; La Belle Epoque 1890 – 1899 AD ; Edwardian 1900 – 1913 AD

Related post : Clothing styles in Ancient Greek .

People in Rome dressed with a cultural bias – their clothing used to denote their social status, wealth, etc.

thesis history of fashion

In Rome, the woman wore a palla ( a shawl draped over her head) over her stola ( a long dress). The Roman man used to wear a Toga over a tunic. The toga was a semi-circular cloth draped over the body and was a mark of Roman citizenship. The draped style of clothing was popular then and their tunics were as close to modern dresses as any.

Read More here 

This is the period after the Romans exited England. During the reign of the Anglo-Saxons, the men and women used to wear a belted tunic. The women’s tunic was ankle length and over this, a shawl covered their head. The color of the clothes used to denote the financial status of the people.

There were also clear distinctions between the garments of the rich and the poor. The rich women wore layers of dresses. The rich men wore tunics that were sewn up on the sides in contrast to the poor who had their tunics open from hem to waist.

Read more on Anglo-Saxon clothing here

After the Norman Invasion , fashion in England changed slightly. Clothes became more close-fitting and elegant.

By the beginning of the 14th century, men and women started to wear a different style of clothing, a big change from the tunics used earlier by both genders.

Women wore close-fitting gowns with long sleeves and a full skirt. Tight-fitting hose made of wool or linen were worn under short tunics by men. Older men wore long gowns with full sleeves. 

Sometime later tunics were replaced by short jackets over padded doublets.

This is a very important period in fashion history, because of the high interest in fashion among the aristocrats.

A lot of money was spent on clothes. It is said that Henry VII, King of England, spend a fortune on clothes and the aristocrats followed him in everything he did and spend.

Other than the aristocrats a new cultural order emerged who imitated the aristocrats in their clothing- the traders and merchants (the middle class). The clothing during this period  reflected the social standing of the wearer

You can learn more about Renaissance fashion here and  here 

Elizabethan era ( 1558-1603), Restoration (1660 – 1700 AD) Victorian Period (1837–1901), all these periods have their own place in the evolution of fashion. But nothing groundbreaking happened in changing the clothing styles.

Gowns for ladies and trousers and jackets for men – this was established as the dress code. Men’s fashion consisted of buckled shoes, waistcoat, a shirt, and an outer coat. Seamstresses and tailors designed clothes for the aristocrats and everyone else followed suit as much as they could afford.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (1770-1789) dictated the fashion of the period that she reigned. Rose Bertin, the dressmaker of the queen had a lot of influence during that time. French Revolution of 1789, which overthrew the French royals, is a historical event that caused some upheavals in the history of fashion.

Another major development during this period was the Industrial Revolution in Britain (1760 to 1840). Textile manufacturing flourished in Britain during this period. Till this time everything was handmade – now machines took over production and tailoring. Knitted and woven fabric of fine gauge was produced by these machines.

The invention of the sewing machine (1790) enabled speedy and less labour intensive manufacturing of garments. Learn more about the timeline in the history of sewing machines here

During the earlier times, the common man was not concerned about fashion. Fashion was more of a cultural thing than showcasing a personal style.  It was only by the 16th century or to be precise from the 1770s that fashion evolved as a mainstream thing. So the evolution of fashion as we know it today starts from there. But not as much changed till the beginning of the 20th century.

By the 20th Century things changed a great deal in fashion history. There was a large scale adoption of fashion by the masses.

The evolution of the entertainment industry and its massive growth led to people being influenced by fashion in the films and the music scene. The introduction of synthetic fibers and the availability of cheaper and practical clothes that were mass-produced changed the fashion scenario like never before.

Vintage fashion style

Fashion in the late 1800s-1900s

From the middle of the 19th Century, world fashion was dictated by designers of the fashion capital of the world, Paris. Whatever Parisians donned the world followed and copied. London also influenced fashion to a lesser extent.

In the late 19th century there was a revolution in the fashion scene- a designer was born. Charles Frederick Worth (1826-95, Britain born but based in Paris) may be called the first fashion designer of the world – In all the period dramas and historical novels that I read the aristocratic beauties were all custom dressed by Worth. He can be credited with the start of fashion designing in the true sense.

The ladies of the court vied among themselves to wear his best creations. The house of worth founded by the designer replaced the unknown seamstresses and tailors who sew clothes till then.

Many other designer houses were established to cater to the members of the royal court.

Earlier the seamstresses were at the mercy of their clients and they decided what they wanted to wear but the arrival of Worth and other designers changed this scenario and the designer was able to dictate terms – which fashion should stay and which should be out was decided by the designer.

The prewar period of fashion from the 1890s to the first world war is known as La Belle Epoque and clothes consisted of extravagantly decorated evening dresses and tailored day dresses with corsets shaping the female body to regressive proportions. The clothing was elaborate and ornate and very expensive. No one could dress by herself- there were many layers and petticoats and tightly laced corsets under their gowns. 

Corsets which were tightly laced at the waist and chest made the waist seem tiny and the hips were forced back. Hats and parasols were a major part of the elaborate dressing style of this period. Check out the post on the different types of corsets here.

illustration of corsets

But towards the beginning of the 20th century more practical clothes were preferred by many women and it coexisted with the elaborate style of dressing of earlier.

Fashion magazines started to be popular and influential. These magazines started to cover the fashion scene accompanied by photographs and this had a great impact to spread the word on new trends in fashion. 

La Gazette du bonbon was one of the first French fashion magazines and a very popular one. In 1863 Ellen and Ebeneezer Butterick created the first sized patterns for dressmakers. 

This period saw a major change in women’s dress silhouette. The S bend silhouette that made the waist very narrow with corsets gave way to a slim and straight silhouette.

Famous Designer Paul Poirot (1879-1944 ) had some hand in this change. Paul Poirot designed the first outfit that a woman can wear on her own, and more clothes that did not include a petticoat or a corset. He came up with the famous “flapper” style which replaced the tight fitting corsets and voluminous skirts.

Another fad during this time was orientalism with pantaloons, turbans and kaftans. 

Designers of the period: Jeanne Paquin (The first fashion show was organized in 1910 by Jeanne Paquin who is known as the first female couturier) Jacques Doucet (He made clothes with a fluid silhouette in diaphanous materials),  Mariano Fortuny 

World War 1 started in 1914 and ended in 1918. The war had a great effect on fashion as people were forced to adopt austere measures to cut costs. Elaborate styles of dressing had to give way to more practical dresses. Monochromatic and darker colors were used for clothes. Social activities had to be curtailed and hence the dressing for the parties was less.

This period between the two world wars is known as the golden era of French fashion . America started to be very prosperous. Other than royalty and aristocracy, a new set of clients emerged for fashion houses – wives of Industrialists, American entrepreneurs, film stars.

Women gained more independence and even got the right to vote and started to join the workforce more than ever.

This period saw the androgynous looks gaining acceptance – people abandoned the elaborate dressing style for a more sporty flat-chested look. Bob cuts (Short hair cuts) instead of long hair and short skirts instead of long trains were fashionable. Corset was more or less replaced by a straight silhouette. By 1925 this became the norm.

The waistline dropped. Flapper style with no-waist gained unprecedented popularity during this period. 

a picture of a lady wearing a drop waist clothing of the 1920s

In men’s wear also there was a major change. The formality of the past years was replaced by clothing that gave more emphasis on relaxation and youthfulness- sports clothes gained acceptance. Wide grey flannel trousers called Oxford bags became popular. Short jackets replaced long stiff jackets. Knickers ad sweaters gained popularity. The tailcoat was replaced by a short tuxedo.

Film stars like Louise Brooks, Gloria Swanson, Collen Moore were influential in shaping fashion sensibilities of the era.

Designers of the era – Coco Chanel, Jean Patou, Jeanne Lavie. Among them, Coco Chanel was the most popular. An iconic designer, she popularised the little black dress, her signature jacket, use  of knit fabric in making clothes.

Learn a little more about the 1920s fashion in this post.

The Wall Street crash of 1929 had a major impact on the fashion scene also – the frivolous dressing made way for a conservative style of dressing

During this period there was a re-emergence of feminine fashion – to recapture sophistication and elegance in dressing. Ankle length skirts, evening dresses all became popular once more. At the same time, the girls started to wear trousers.

Sportswear was gaining popularity and women started to take an interest in sports and gained a more athletic figure.

Designers of the times: Elsa Schiaparelli ( the most famous fashion designer between the world wars), Madeleine Vionnet, Main Rousseau Bocher.

Learn a little more about the 1930s fashion in this post .

After world war 11 everything changed in the fashion industry. A booming consumer society with the common man at the center stage emerged and changed the fashion scene in its entirety.

Mass manufacturing gained popularity along with ready to wear clothes. Many fashion houses in Paris had closed during the world war and they never opened. The fashion scene shifted from Paris to London and New York.

Handmade clothes became unaffordable to the now impoverished aristocracy, so fashion houses lost favor with them. Common man adopted factory made clothes.

The wealthy who had enough of austerity during the world war started to be interested once more in the elaborate dresses of earlier times. The age also saw the return of the corsets. Ready to wear dresses was adopted by modern women as they were deemed as elegant and modern.

Polyester and Nylon had just been discovered and this was revolutionary. The discovery of Nylon led to it replacing silk to make leggings and cheaper clothes.

Designers of the period: Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior and Jacques Fath were the 3 most dominant fashion influences of the post war period. Christian Dior emerged as a front runner with his first collection in 1947. The post-war clientele who had enough of the austerity of world war lapped up his la epoch style dresses with enormous skirts.

Other important names were Nina Ricci, Maggy Rouff, Marcel Rochas, Jeanne Lafaurie, Madeline Vramant,  American designers Claire McCardell, Anne Klin Tina Leser, Cristobal Balenciaga (Spanish designer) Hubert de Givenchy (Audrey Hepburn was this designer’s most famous client)

High disposable income along with a booming economy meant young invested more in fashion than ever before, and in great numbers. The ready to wear mass market found favour and Brands like Marks and Spencer became great success stories.

American Movie star James Dean popularized blue jeans in the movie Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. A combination of T-shirts, Jeans and leather jackets as worn by him became hugely popular.

Another major change in men’s fashion occurred in the 1950s with the introduction of Italian tailored clothing with single-breasted suits, tapered pants, narrow ties and pointed shoes.

picture of statues of film stars -Marilyn monroe

Film stars of the times like Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelley, Marlon Brando started to influence the fashion styles of people. When they wore a garment in a movie that became an instant rage. 

Designers of the period: Christian Dior, Jaques Fath , Hubert Givenchy . Hollywood costume designers like Orry Kelly (winner of three Academy Awards for Best Costume), William Travilla (Who designed clothes for Marilyn Monroe) 

Read more on fashion in the 1950’s here.

During this period ready to wear clothing brands established themselves as big players in the fashion scene.

Unisex clothes were all the rage in this period. The A-line dresses without much body definition started to be popular. Mini skirts came to be in 1965. Young working middle-class girls with financial independence started to be a major force to reckon with.

Tight trousers and brightly colored military jackets and patterned shirts were favorites of men.

Designers like Yves Sait Laurent came up with modern clothes for modern youth. Designers Andres Courreges and St. Laurent made clothes with the theme of modernism and futurism and space-age themes. Jeans started to be accepted as  daily wear.

Designers of the period: Mary Quant (English fashion designer), Barbara Hulanicki (Polish fashion designer) Pierre Cardin (French) Andre Courreges, Yves Saint Laurent (French) , Emanuel Ungaro, Rudi Gernreich, (American) James Galanos, (American) Emilio Pucci (Italian),   Paco Rabanne (Spanish)

Read more on fashion in the 1960’s here.

Vivienne Westwood opened her boutique catering to customers who loved Punk clothes in this decade. Punk was defined by ripped t-shirts, chains and weird hairdos.

a girl with a punk hairstyle

In the 1970s there was a fashion preference for flared trousers. Hippy clothes with maxi skirts, wide-legged trousers  (bell-bottomed denim), hot pants, tie and dye clothing, kaftans along with platform shoes, all were popular.  

Nostalgia for the past can be seen in the creations by some designers.

During this time pants were preferred by most women.

Designers of the period: Kenzo Takada, (Japanese-french) Sonia Rykiel (French designer, called Queen of knits), Laura Ashley also called Mountney , (British designer) Calvin Klein (American)  Ralph Lauren American) Pierre Cardin (French)  Valentino Capucci (Italian) Giorgio Armani (Italian) Nino Cerruti (Italian)

Read more in detail about the 1970s fashion here and the Punk fashion here .

Jeans became a staple in every wardrobe. Women of the 80s wore tailored suits with wide padded shoulders to the office.

Fitness was big during this period. Sports brands like Nike, Reebok, Adidas came up with athletic clothes and were very popular. Fashionable sportswear with tracksuits, training shoes, leggings and lycra / stretch body-hugging clothes became popular.

Madonna, Boy George and Michael Jackson were music icons as well as fashion icons and their styles were taken up by their millions of fans. Celebrities like Princess Diana also held a lot of influence in fashion sensibilities of the period. What they wore became fashion.

Read more on fashion in the 1980’s here.

Famous Designers of the period: Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Jean Muir (British) Paco Rabanne, Yves Saint Laurent and Ungaro (Paris). Bill Gibb (Scottish) Zandra Rhodes . (British) Japanese designers like Kenzo and Issey Miyake . American designers Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein Vivienne Westwood , Azzedine Alaïa

The main change in fashion during this time was that the glamourous dressy style of the early decades gave way to more simplistic styles.  Fashion shows gained immense popularity.

Globalization led to international influences in fashion. Fashion images spread through the internet and television led to fashion adopting international influences. You may hear of this as cultural appropriation (the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture) in a negative sense (misappropriation) or as global fashion influences in a positive sense.

Subcultures started to gain high traction in fashion – this refers to a group of like-minded people dressing in a similar fashion. They developed common fashion styles – egs. are rockers, hippies, grungers. You can learn about the different types of styles thus developed here

Synthetic materials like lycra, spandex and viscose became popular fabrics for making figure-hugging clothes. Luxury brands like Prada, Gucci and sports brands like Nike became hugely popular.

Read more on fashion in the 1990’s here. ; Also elements of Grunge fashion

Designers of the period: American Fashion designers Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Gianni Versace (Italian) Vivienne Westwood (British), Thierry Mugler (French), Claude Montana ,  (French) Angelo Tarlazzi (Italian) 

In this century, the economy and profit drive fashion. Another important element is comfort. The very popular fashion style called ‘Streetwear style” has its base on comfortable clothes that people like to wear. Read more on Streetwear fashion style here.

Brands are big, much bigger than designers and most of them have a presence in major countries of the world. They are collaborating with designers to become even bigger.

Till now the 5 countries which drove the most fashionable ideas and innovations were America, Britain, France, Japan, and Italy. All the rest of the world looked up to them for inspiration. But today countries in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa are emerging as major markets for the fashion industry and fashion is changing to cater to these changing audiences and designers from these areas are gaining global attention.

Fast fashion, online selling platforms and shops, mobile obsessed consumers, economic uncertainty, ethical concerns and sustainability, emerging markets (other than the established markets in western parts of the world) are the watchwords of this century. These are the drivers of fashion forecasts of this period.

Notable Designers of this period: British designers Alexander MacQueen, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, American designers Alexander Wang,  Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Christian Louboutin (French)

Learn more about this period – Fashion in the 2000s .

The key takeaway in studying the history of fashion has been that fashion changes periodically as a result of a revolt. Whenever there is a fashion going on strong there is a tendency to oppose it. A style then develops that completely changes the previous one on its head. For the corset there was a flapper, for the princess gowns there was a punk. This attitude of protest inherent in humans changed fashion trends.

Today everyone wants to be unique, where once people wanted to look alike. Fashion has evolved – from being a response to cultural changes to being a reflection of a person’s individuality. Social ‘conformation’ is no longer the goal of fashion.

One thing is common for fashion through the centuries and holds still to this day – those with wealth and influence continue to hold the power to influence the course of fashion history. Earlier it was the royals, today it is the celebrities and big corporations and brands. But the common people also have a larger say than ever in the history of fashion – their tastes drive the market for fashion.

Related posts :  History of skirts ; History of jeans ; History of bra ; History of mini skirts ; History of corsets

100 Books to learn more about vintage fashion ; What is vintage fashion or retro style ; 40 Fashion Subcultures ; Fashion terminology

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thesis history of fashion

Author: Sarina Tariq

36 thoughts on “History of fashion – A brief story of the evolution of fashion”

you ate that girly pops!! slayyyyyyyyy

I had to look it up in the dictionary 🙂 thanks

I am trying to date the approximate era of a one-piece girl’s undergarment that I assume belonged to my mother. Is there an online contact that I could send a photo to? The era is perhaps between 1910 and 1920 – but that is just a guess, and it was possibly worn as part of a dance costume. .

Have your tried asking on reddit pages/ facebook groups on vintage fashion like

Hi, I wanted to say how interesting and informative this text is!! Sory for the odd question, but on what date was this text published? I would like to use this text as reference, but therefore I need a concrete date…

Thanks Frieda, Happy to know you liked it; It was published on Jun 2, 2019

Thankyou for this article and very helpful yo me

Nice to know that Fiza

Wow this is great!!!

Hi, I’m currently writing a research paper on fashion history and I just happen to stumble upon this amazing paper. I just wanted to say that this has helped me a WHOLE BUNCH!!! It gives me lots of interesting fact to include in m paper!!!

Thank You!!!

Very happy to know that the post helped you, Crystal

Thank you for this interesting and well-informed article.

This is a great article, I learned a lot! I am currently writing a research paper on the topic of the fashion industry and would love to refer to this article of yours in it. However I cannot find the information necessary to cite it correctly. Could you tell me when this article was originally published and if you feel comfortable, your full name? I completely understand if you are not comfortable with sharing your full name, I will cite it as an anonymous author in that case.

Looking forward to your response

Hi Loore Vau, Thanks for the appreciative words and for wanting to refer the article in your study. No problem citing my name : ) who would have. I am Sarina Tariq and the article was published on 2nd June 2019

Thank you for such a quick response! This will be very helpful for my paper!

All the best

Oh my goodness! Thank you soo much Sarina. This has told me so much

Hi Mona Thank you too for letting me know that it was useful

Amazing article, really helped me with my research paper. Please could I get your full name and the year you published this article? So that i can reference you properly

Great explanation about fashion

Hello great article. I want to use this in my dissertation. Can you give me the main sources so I can make accurate references? Thanks

This was highly helpful and enlightening. Very short and yet very detailed.

Hi, Sarina,

This is excellent. Can I reference this in my academic essay? But when I referred to you, it is better to have your family name and the year of published.

Hey, I’m using part of this article as a reference within my school work. What is your full name so I can reference you properly.

Hi Amelia, That is nice; Can you mention as ‘[email protected]’. This way, the site gets some much appreciated exposure Thanks

great article and very helpful. but, Marie Antoinette is actually from the Georgian era (1714-1830). the Victorian era is completely separate from 1837-1901

Hi Oh, Let me go back in history : ) Will look into and correct. Thanks for explaining

A fantastic write up.

Love the article and how you able to break it down to simple terms. Am writing a project on the fashion of the 1980s, would you mind giving more information on the fashion of that time. I would really appreciate that. Thank you.

Thank you Faith – glad you like this one; Here is the article on 1980s fashion

Thank you Sarina, really appreciate .


Thank you for this article. One suggestion: move the purple haired photo to the 80’s or 90’s section. Definitely not what we were doing in the 70’s.

Hi Sue Thanks for the input – but I found this detail that coloured punk existed in 70s -check out this post

I loved this capsule! Thank you!

It’s always amazed me that when items were made with so much hand labor, the fashion was yard upon yard of fabric and elaborate decorations. Remember too, all the other “must-haves” such as gloves, handkerchiefs, and outerwear. Now that we’re more affluent and industrial, fashion is overall quite simple and minimal. You would think that in the very early years, one would wear only the most basic coverings given the time required to make the thread which made the fabric which made the garment.

Hi Gaye Thanks for the appreciative comment and your insight. It must have taken so many hours to dress up so.

Wow!! thank you for a great short history. Makes me want to read more and learn a lot.

Hi Eleanor evolution of fashion is fascinating, isn’t it? Thanks for leaving a comment

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History of Fashion Installations as Art Exhibitions and Their Impact on the Public’s Perspective on Culture and Community

Arabella Riley

Date of Award

Document type.

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Art Business

First Advisor

Judith Prowda

Second Advisor

Devon Zimmerman

The current study targeted the problem of the relationship among the notions of fashion, art, and culture. The study aimed to determine the potential role of fashion brands and artists in the transformation of modern culture. Additionally, the study sought to analyze the forms of collaboration between fashion and arts, and their commercial and conceptual value. As to the research methods, qualitative secondary data review using thematic analysis methodology was utilized. The research findings included the recognition of the significant role of modern fashion and arts in the transformation of the public culture. Furthermore, it was revealed that different formats of collaboration between fashion and arts bring about substantial commercial and conceptual benefits that could be generated for both spheres of creative work. Finally, opportunities for further research and means of constructive cooperation among artists and fashion designers were determined.

Recommended Citation

Riley, Arabella, "History of Fashion Installations as Art Exhibitions and Their Impact on the Public’s Perspective on Culture and Community" (2022). MA Theses . 121.

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Those $399 Gold Trump Sneakers Are About a Lot More Than Shoes

What is Trump really selling when he is selling footwear?

Former President Donald J. Trump stands onstage at a microphone. Before him on the podium is a gold hightop sneaker with an American flag at the ankle.

By Vanessa Friedman

Of all the merch hawked by the former president and current presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and related entities over the past few months — the gold (chocolate) bars, the wines , the superhero NFTs — is any of it more Trumpian than the $399 Never Surrender sneakers unveiled over the weekend at Sneaker Con in Philadelphia ? They are like a road map to Mr. Trump’s value system and electoral strategy in sartorial form.

Gilded hightops as shiny as the chandeliers at Mar-a-Lago, they have an American flag wrapping the ankle like the forest of flags that spring up behind Mr. Trump whenever he takes a stage. They have red soles made to match his trademark red ties (and the flag) and perhaps as a sly nod to Christian Louboutins and the semiology of luxury footwear. Also, there’s a large embossed “T” on the side and on the tongue.

While they are “bold, gold and tough, just like President Trump,” according to the Trump sneakers website, allowing potential owners to “be a part of history,” they boast zero technical performance attributes. While they have a shape similar to Nike Air Force 1s (get it? Air Force One!), they are unabashed imitations of the original.

It’s tempting to dismiss the offering as all flash and marketing with little substance. That’s what Michael Tyler , a spokesman for the Biden campaign, did, saying, “Donald Trump showing up to hawk bootleg Off-Whites is the closest he’ll get to any Air Force Ones ever again for the rest of his life.”

Or to think of them as Mr. Trump’s answer to the Biden campaign’s TikTok presence : an effort to associate himself with the cool embedded in the whole idea of sneaker culture, not to mention the energy and athleticism implied by the “Just Do It” model. Despite the fact that Mr. Trump himself is almost never seen wearing a sneaker, or doing much exercise.

Yet the merching of the moment is more dangerous than it may initially appear.

There has been a lot of eye-rolling since the sneakers’ debut, and jokes about the fact that, given the millions of dollars in penalties levied on Mr. Trump in his various civil cases, he has to make more money somewhere. And there was a lot of focus on the boos that met his appearance at Sneaker Con. (To be fair, the sneakerhead community is not the market for the kicks since there’s nothing original about them; it’s the MAGA market.)

It’s easy to get distracted by the sheer absurdity of it all — a former president, selling sneakers!

There are so many ways Mr. Trump has challenged the norms of the presidential system that such merch can seem the least of the matter. What is selling NFTs with pieces of a mug shot suit compared with the indictment that necessitated the mug shot? What is offering $99 Victory47 cologne in a gold bottle with a gold Trump head as a stopper (another product available on the sneaker website) compared with offering to throw NATO allies to Russia like little pieces of red meat? Besides, realistically, there’s no way the sneakers will provide much of a financial boost to Trump World.

The sneakers are being created by a company known as 45Footwear LLC and are not officially “designed, manufactured, distributed or sold by Donald J. Trump, the Trump Organization or any of their respective affiliates or principals,” according to a disclaimer on the sneaker website. That company licenses the Trump name and image from one called CIC Ventures LLC , which happens to have the same address as the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. The Trump sneaker website looks a lot like the Trump NFT website, and as with that arrangement, Mr. Trump most likely receives a licensing fee. He did present the sneakers at Sneaker Con himself.

Despite the fact that, as of Sunday, the website claimed that the 1,000 pairs of numbered Never Surrender sneakers had sold out, leaving the somewhat less exciting T-Red cherry knit sneaks and Potus 45 white knit sneaks available at $199 each, it’s hard to imagine a circumstance in which the shoes provide any meaningful source of income.

What they offer is something else.

Like Mr. Trump’s tendency to turn every courtroom appearance into a form of entertainment that can be used as a campaign op, his effort to commoditize his legal jeopardy is a long-term strategic play. In reducing his indictments to a slogan on a consumer good, he is reducing their gravity.

It’s a form of insidious trivialization, the sort of tactic that plays perfectly in the landscape of late-stage capitalism in which everything is a product for sale. Oh, those old federal charges? They’re not serious; they’re a style choice. He’s transforming indictments into accessories, a language everyone speaks. The more product he sells, the more he makes a mockery of his situation. That’s where the real profit lies.

Vanessa Friedman has been the fashion director and chief fashion critic for The Times since 2014. More about Vanessa Friedman

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