Saturday, July 21, 2007

Barthes: That French dude We Love to Hate

Ok, for those of you who are not familiar with him, Barthes was one of those dense abstract "intellos". Sometimes when I read his stuff I feel like my brain has had a real work out and it's a great achievement when I finally understand what he is getting at. At other times I think it is complete and utter merde.* But I just picked up a book this morning "The Language of Fashion" and what I read made complete sense, AND it was quite interesting. Here is the thread of it:
"For centuries there were as many clothing items as there were social classes. Each social condition had its garment and there was no embarrassment in making an outfit into a veritable sign, sinced the gap
between the classes was itself considered to be natural." (65)
"We know that in the aftermath of the French Revolution men's clothing changed drastically, not only in its form... but also in its spirit: the idea of democracy produced a form of clothing which was, in theory, uniform, no longer subject to the stated requirements of appearances but to those of work and equality." (65)
"So clothing had to cheat, as it were, the theoretical uniformity that the Revolution and Empire had bequeathed it; and within a universal type of clothing, there was now a need to maintain a certain number of formal differences which could exhibit the difference between social classes.
It is here that we see the appearance of a new aesthetic category in clothing... the detail. Since it was no longer possible to change the basic type of clothing for men without affecting the democratic and work ethos, it was the detail...which started to play the distinguishing role in highlight the narrowest of social differences." (66)

So the reason I started thinking about all this was that my friend Peta was telling me about a 3 hour meeting held by her colleages to decide what they should wear during a meeting with their chairman on a casual Friday. It's intersting to ponder how important people perceive clothing to be, and what kinds of messages it might be sending that we may or may not be aware of.

In conclusion, I can't break the habit of referencing, so Barthes,Roland "The Language of Fashion", Power, Sydney: 2006

oh, a PS from SP - pronounciation guide... this blog seems to be fixated on Simpsons, and the way to pronounce 'Barthes" is like another famous Simpson; Bart.

*Before a moderator or killjoy typre attempts to remove this word, I would like to point out that in French, it is used the way "break a leg" is used in English. Additionally, and completely aside from that, because it is French it is therefore cultural and thus by definition not rude, crude or insulting in any way.

No comments: