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    Fashion and modernity – correlative phenomena

    Alina Duduciuc (“Dimitrie Cantemir” University, Bucharest)


    Enunţarea acestei tematici în spaţiul editorial al unei reviste de psihologiei politică poate părea surprinzătoare. Totuşi, moda – înţeleasă ca transformare continună şi ciclică a preferinţelor membrilor unei societăţi – oferă o serie de aspecte sociale relevante pentru domeniul de studiu al psihologie politice: schimbarea sistemelor sociale (în special, modificările structurale) şi modul cum sunt reglementate aceste schimbări (controlul so¬cial); emergenţa şi difuzarea inovaţiilor; moda ca resursă identitară a cercurilor sociale care deţin puterea; moda ca formă de comportament colectiv. Sunt teme de reflecţie consacrate în primele decenii ale secoloului trecut prin scrierile unor sociologi clasici precum Herbert Spencer, Gabriel Tarde, Émile Durkheim, Georg Simmel. Acest articol este o încercare de reconstituire a traseului ştiinţific al fenomenului modei în ansamblul de studiu al sociologie clasice.


    Enunciation of this subject in the editorial space of a psycho-political journal might seem surprising. However, fashion – as a continuous and cyclic transformation of the preferences of a society – offers a series of social aspects relevant for the study of the political psychology: the change of the social systems (especially structural changes); the way in which are settled these changes (the social control); the emergence and the spread of the innovations; fashion as identity resource of the social groups that have the power; fashion as a form of collective behavior. These are subjects that have been de¬voted to acknowledgement in the first decades of the last century through the writings of classical sociologists Herbert Spencer, Gabriel Tarde, Émil Durkheim, George Simmel. This article is an attempt to reconstruct the scientific tract of the fashion phenomenon in the study of the classical sociology on the whole.

    Key words: Fashion, modernity, habitus, consumption

    Gabriel Tarde: Imitation theory
    In the sociological approach of fashion phenomena one can distinguish two orientations: one which relationed to socio-political events and cultural events of the beginning of the XXth century, denominated by the generically term of “modernity” and the other corresponds to the collective behavior, developed mainly after the 60s. Other recent directions of fashion reflect theoretical and empirical acquirements afferent to consumption sociology, body sociology and cultural studies.
    In a theoretical plan, sociological conceptions about fashion are claimed by the thematic interest at the beginning of the XXth century, corresponding to the debate over modernity. As phenomena, fashion and modernity are correlative, in the sense that both illustrate the search and institution of the new (L.Vlasceanu, 2007, 28), but, in a systematical plan, the equivalent of this notions would be an error, as Matei Calinescu (1934-2009), literary critic and analyst of modernity concepts, notifies us. The etymology of the words “fashion” (which derives from modus, manner) and “modernity” (modo, now), indiquate the difference of sense between these two notions (M.Calinescu 1987/2005, 354).
    From an historical point of view, the emergency of the fashion phenomena has been started by the progressive urbanization at the beginning of the industrial era (M.-L. Rouquette, 1994/2002, 47). “The great fear of modernity – emancipation” (P. Sloterdijk, 2000/2002, 11) – which comprised all the different aspects of the society at the beginning of the XXth century, has drown the interest of some classic sociologist, like Gustave Le Bon, Gabriel Tarde, Thorstein Bund Veblen, Georg Simmel. The climate of modernity – often signaled by the “force” of crowds, by the behavior of masses, by the loss of traditions or by rapid changes of fashion – has been explained by the before mentioned authors through the notions of “contagion” and “imitation”. In his multiple choices, the individual does not do anything else that act under the impulse of imitation and of mental contagion, performing behaviors that he observes at his neighbors. This was the dominating conception of the scientific discourse between the XIXth and the XXth century, under the influence of some famous works dating from the same period: Les lois de l’imitation (1890) of Gabriel Tarde and Psychologie des foule (1895) of Gustave Le Bon.
    Anterior to Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon, some observations and discoveries from biology had already provided arguments concerning the imitative behavior of some species of animals. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is showing that “sometimes, animals imitate their actions between them: Wolves which are raised by dogs have learned to bark, baby birds imitate the chant of their parents and sometimes the ones of other birds, parrots imitate any sound that they often hear” (apud S. Moscovici, 1981/2001, 85). As well, it is possible that the similarity between the physical state of the individual within the crowd and the hypnoses state, that Gustave le Bon has proposed as an explication for the uniformity of behaviors, to come from the results of the hypnotically analyze and from the suggestion in medicine, used for the first time during the same period as the savant Ambroise Liébeault (cf. S. Moscovici, 1981/2001, 85).

    The imitation, to which one grants a great influence within social phenomena, is in real life, just a simple effect of contagion […]. Like animals, the human being is by its nature an imitator. For him, imitation is a need, with the condition that this imitation be handy; this kind of need represents the spring for fashion. Either it is all about opinions, ideas, literary manifestations or just simple clothing, how many people dare to withdraw from its domination? Fashion lead masses, and not arguments (G. Le Bon, 1895/2003, 65).

    Fashion appears like a type of imitation which is largely spread in real day life. Gabriel Tarde, who’s taught to be the father of imitation theory, considers that fashion does not do anything else than illustrate the principle of imitation, this one being characteristic to social life. The human being is by his essence a social being who imitates ideas, customs, standards, social values, fashion, and behaviors. There are two types of imitations: imitation-tradition (custom imitation, ancestors’ imitation), which ensures the connection between generations and imitation – fashion (imitation of contemporaries, of strangers), which ensures the cohesion between the same generation. It seems that between the two, the prestige of the predecessors beats the one of recent imitation, “because imitation that exists in the currents of fashion is just a weak torrent compared to the powerful river of customs, and it must necessarily be that way” (G. Tarde, 1890/1895, 47). In agreement with imitation law from the superior to the inferior and with imitation law from the exterior to the interior (ad interioribus ad exteriora), formulated by the French psychologist, the lower classes of the society first copy the ideas, wishes, manners and then the behaviors, styles of clothing, language, customs of higher classes. The third law that of degradation of the social model of imitation is responsible for the continuous propagation of imitation and the maintenance of social stratification (idem, 235).

    Georg Simmel: Trickle down theory
    The essay of the German sociologist Georg Simmel about fashion phenomena, published for the first time in 1904, in the magazine International Quarterly (vol. X) in New York, has marked the theoretical destiny of fashion sociology for approximately sixty years. The reception of this article took place in the context in which, only four years before, in 1900, Georg Simmel published the volume Philosophie des Geldes, and in 1889 he was ending his PhD thesis concerning the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Not by chance, at a first reading, the text of the essay concerning fashion illustrates very well the Kantian influence over Georg Simmel’s work, by appealing to the concept of “form”. In the light of such considerents, we notice the meaning of the affirmation that fashion represents “a social form with a finality worth admiring” (G. Simmel, 1911/1998, 50), the means of which the man can experiment, simultaneously, the connection with the community, with the group that he is a part of, but also individual liberty and the tendency for differentiation.
    The adoption of fashion by the individual reflects the particularity of the standard that this one generates. “Women, men, undecided individuals, old-fashioned ones, fashion slaves” – in order to recur only to the typologies exemplified by Georg Simmel – conforms differentiate to the standard that regularizes fashion, but having the same finalities: of accentuation, concomitantly, of individualization instinct, but also of social acceptance. So, the fashion objectivises in the same the currents which are contrary to life: individualization versus conformation (G. Sim¬mel, 1911/1998, 51-57).
    Another stage of lecture of this essay aims the predilection theme of sociology, at the confluence between the XIXth and XXth century. As Georg Simmel (1911/1998, 34) affirms, the phenomena of modernity have created some favorable premises for the manifestation of imitative impulses, during the society of high esteem, fashion being present in different sectors of activity: political, religious, scientific, artistic, vestimentary, etc. Even of socialism and individualism were fashion aspects, as the author mentions. In such an environment, “fashion has became more ample and agitated” (G. Simmel, 1911/1998, 53), simply for the fact that modernity puts on scene a tension between lower classes, less mobile, with a slow evolution and this ones fear any type of movement and appeared to the first one. In this situation, the higher class permanently recreates distinctive signs, as an expression of the symbolic unity of the status and the differentiation of the lower class, this last one imitating and adopting the fashion of the upper one, destroying the limits fixed by this one (idem, 34). As masses start to imitate the fashion of higher classes, these ones adopt a new fashion that differentiates it from the masses, and, by consequence, the process is a continuous one. “Fashion is always the fashion of classes, and the fashion of the higher class distinguishes from that of the lower class, being left from the first moment in which this one is adopted” (G. Simmel, 1911/1998, 31) – this is the explication written in the sociological tradition as being the trickle down theory.
    The whole fashion history illustrated the will of the individual to differentiate and the will to observe a social standard. This is the fact in which consists the feature of the fashion, as Georg Simmel underlines. So, in the terms of the George Simmel’s theory (1911/1998, 52), we can distinguish a personal fashion, as an expression of the individual’s necessity to differentiate and a social fashion, as a fashion of classes. Fashion means “the imitation of a given pattern and satisfies the need for social support, and it also directs each person on the way passed by all, it gives a general note which makes the behavior of each individual to be extremely simple. It satisfies, not in a little measure, the need for diversity, the tendency to differentiation, variation, reliefation of the self” (idem, 31). The essential functions of the fashion ensure, o none hand, the connection between the ones that can be found on the sale social stage, and on the other hand, fashion acts as a differentiation between the members of higher classes and the members of masses: “To tie and to differentiate – these are the two essential functions, reunited here in an indissoluble manner, of which one represents the premise for the achievement of the other” (G. Simmel, 1911/1998, 32). According to Georg Simmel, fashion exists when the two conditions are met: the necessity for unity and the necessity for diversity. So, fashion offers in the same time an individual distinction and group cohesion.
    As well, the idea of fashion as an imitation of social “marks” of elites is adequate for the explication of fashion evolution during the XVIIIth, the XIXth and the first half of the XXth century. Almost all museums and history books of clothing have exclusively illustrated and traced the vertical flux of fashion initiated by aristocracy. Starting from these historical precedents, it is easy to sum up that fashion has belonged, in a traditional sense, to the upper class, this meaning to a small and famous group (cf. G. B. Sproles, 1981, 119). Personally, I consider that ulterior researches have not done anything else then infirm or confirm this theory. The theoretical exposure from this article will argument that the trickle-across theory, formulated as an explicative alternative to the mechanism of fashion propagation, has also supported the democratization of consumption, but has not succeeded in having a decisive role in fashion sociology.
    The multiple exegesis over the writings of George Simmel, enframe him as a marcant personality in the scientific fundamentation of sociology (D. Frisby, 1984/2004, xiv; R. Sassatelli, 2000, 42; S. Dungaciu, 2003, 18) and maybe the most important classic sociologist (D. Frisby, 1984/2004, 3). Not by chance, Georg Simmel’s conception over the fashion phenomena has been valorified in the sociology of communism, in the analysis of collective behaviors, in aesthetics and in philosophy. But the text of the essay has been interpreted in a divergent manner. In fashion sociology, George Simmel’s arguments are relationed with the ones of his behavior, the American sociologist and economist Thorstein B. Veblen and gathered under the name of trickle-down theory, even if there is no clue of the intellectual influence between the two sociologists (cf. R. Tillman, 1999, 282). Even if we are able to find a check point for unitary interpretation of the two conceptions, this meaning the itinerary of fashion describes the structure of the society in which it manifests – although, during the article, I will separately present the assimilation of Torstein’s ideas.
    B. Veblen in sociology, producing a distinct direction, identified by the themes of consumption society. Another definitory note, which separates the two conceptions, would be that to Georg Simmel, the mechanism for the propagation of fashion is an imitative one, while the main idea on which Thorstein resides, B. Veblen develops, is the conspicuous consumption, by the means of which the upper class conserves its identity and social position.

    Thorstein Bund Veblen: Consumption theory
    The expression “consumption society” – emblematic for the characterization of the economical order and of every day life in the contemporary society (G.Lipovetsky, 2006/2007, 17) has made its debute in the sociological discourse of the XIXth century, by the work of the American economist and sociologist Thorstein Bund Veblen (1857-1929), The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). The repeating of the theme homo consumericus by the ulterior generations of sociologists has meant the delimitation of an area of theoretical and empirical preoccupations, named “the sociology of consumption behavior” or “the consumption sociology” (J. I. Nelson, 2007, 178).
    Starting from the premises that free time is a differentiated resource of men, Thorstein B. Veblen manages to describe a society based on economical principles, in which the consumption pleasure, conspicuously characterizes the upper class, this meaning the inactive elite of the ones that are involved in the industrial work process and that dominate the social hierarchy by reputation (T. B. Veblen, 1899/2009, 81). So, at the level of the society can be distinguished to big classes: the upper class, that of loisir, “without pecuniary concerns” (T. B. Veblen, 1899/2009, 81), who’s members are permanently employed in the public presentation of the own status and the lower class, which practices the consumption by “mandate” (ibidem), imitating the manner of living of the ones mentioned above.

    Class without concerns in the top of the social structure, from the point of view of respectability, and the manner in which it lives and its value standards, this meaning, a scale of good reputation for the entire world. Observing these rules, with a certain degree of approximation, represents an obligation for all classes which can be found on the lower social scale. In modern civilized societies, the demarcation lines between the classes have become vague and over passing; anywhere in the world this thing happens, the respectability standard imposed by the upper class extends its influence without any obstacle by the social structure, to the lowest stages. The result is that the members of each stage accept the ideal right of decadence for the way of living which is up to date among the members of the respective class and which consecrate their energy over the aspiration t olive according to this ideal (T. B. Veblen, 1899/2009, 81-82).

    The phenomena of clothing fashion would exclusively look at the members of luxury class, whose consumption is conspicuous (conspicuous consumption) and has become a symbol for the wealthyness and social status. Elegant clothing represents not only a consumption label, but also a consumption mark of the upper class (T. B. Veblen, 1899/2009, 150), this meaning of those who consume without producing. In the opinion of the mentioned author, fashion develops itself on two levels. This one appears by innovation within the class of loisir, whose members continuously create new articles of clothing, accessories and ornaments in order to reaffirm their position that they occupy within the social hierarchy and in order to distinguish the “pecuniary aesthetics” (idem, 120).

    Especially, the rule of conspicuous waste of goods finds its expression in clothing, even if, like all the others principles which are related to the pecuniary reputation, can be exemplified in the same type of articles. “Expenses on clothes represent an advantage before all other majorities that the things that we wear are always on view and offer indications to our pecuniary range, to all that can notice it, from the first view” (T. B. Veblen, 1899/2009, 148).
    […] the standard of conspicuous waste exercises a restrictive surveillance over all the questions concerning clothing, in such a manner that any change in fashion must get under the exigencies of waste (T. B. Veblen, 1899/2009, 153).

    At a first view, there is no noticeable difference between the Georg Simmel’s expression and that of Theorsten B.Veblen, from the moment in which fashion infiltrates to the base (trickle down), in order to maintain the social distance and differentiation. This acknowledgment has determined the grouping of these arguments under the denomination trickle-down theory. As I have mentioned before, Thorstein B. Veblen thesis differentiates from that of Georg Simmel by the origin of vehicle concepts but as well by the directions of study that it has ulteriorly imposed. For Georg Simmel (1908/2000, 9) the imitation of fashion of upper class represents an effect of social interaction, while in the work of Thorstein B. Veblen (1899/2009, 31), the mechanism of differentiation between the fashion of the upper class and the lower class is determined by the ownership or control over production means, and, implicitly, by the adoption of some conspicuous consumption behavior.
    Today, it seems that the consumption of dynamics has changed (G. Lipovetsky, 2006/2007, 35). The main function of this one does not represent the illustration of the opposition between the dominant class and that of dominants. As well, in our societies, the purchase of these ordinary products does not illustrate social inequalities, even if these ones have became more subtle ones. In Paris of the years 1963-1968, clothing fashion and data concerning the purchase of clothing articles still indicate social inequalities, if we are to take into discussion the research lead by Pierre Bourdieu (1979) on 1271 subjects. More recently, the interviews performed by Virag Molnar (2002, 94) with black persons, showed the fact that these ones represent a significant percent of consumers from shops of the famous American commercial street Fifth Avenue, respectively 41% compared to the 32% noticed at white Americans. Starting from this, the authors formulate the hypothesis according to which the consumption has became a form of collective behavior whose standard consists in “driving an expensive car, drinking the best scotch and being dressed according to fashion” (ibidem). The research has revealed the fact that for the majority of the subjects, conspicuous consumption represents a form the social appreciation from of the approach with the population and to contracarate stereotypes connected to black people and ghettos.
    Fashionable clothes, as well as luxurious cars or mansions in residential areas, spending the vacations in exotic places of frequenting some selected clubs, is a part of the category of “positional goods”, that have the function to signal the upper position of the ones that owns them, differentiating them from the rest of the population. While the societies become more wealthy – as Fred Hirsch (1977, mentioned by A.G. Johnson 200/2007, 52) – the number of positional goods increases, fact that can generate conflicts, due to their unequal distribution.
    Pamela N. Danziger (2005, 8) considers that the 80s of the past century have marked the passing from the conspicuous consumption to luxury consumption, not only at the level of distinctive valences, but as well as an expression of the equal individualism. The buying activity, the style of life and source of happiness have been emphasized by a scientific research developed on the territory of the United States by Pamela N. Danziger (2005, 277) in 2002 (N=866) and respectively 2003 (N=443). The profile of the American consumer of luxurious goods would be the following: this one has annual revenue of over 100 000 dollars; has graduated academical studies;
    Owns a house of over 250 000 dollars; invests approximately 2500 dollars on purchasing activities, 380 dollars on beauty products, 46% on purchasing some new clothes and jewelry or clothes; on average, the fashion consumption reaches 2000 dollars annually (idem, 123). One of four American who participated in the study, declare that the purchase of some personal objects, like clothes, watches, accessories, jewelry and vehicles represent a major satisfaction source. At the question “When you think at the luxury goods purchased by you during the last year, which one of these has brought you the biggest satisfaction and happiness?” – 28 percent of the subject have chosen the personal goods, and not the experimental ones (voyages, theater performances; treatments of body maintenance; esthetical surgeries) or objects for house decoration (art paintings, electrical devices for kitchen equipment, cameras, etc.) Not by chance, young consumers, with ages comprised between 28 and 34 years are the best represented in the group of the honest hat pronounce themselves in favor of personal goods as a stimulant. As well, celibately persons express their adhesion to the purchase of personal objects as a style of life and source of pleasure (P. N. Danzinger, 2005, 117).

    Norbert Elias: Theory of the civilization process
    In one sense, fashion is synonym with the rules of conduit considered accepted at a certain time in the society, and this fact is not greatly true not only for the period before the XIXth century, but also today, because until the fashion of naked breasts, which has dominated the beaches of Saint-Tropez and then spread all over the world “it integrates into an evolution that aims to an intimate control of emotions” (J.-C. Kaufmann, 1995/2009, 24). The affirmations from clothing history harden this affirmation: in some social standards of the exposure of different parties of his body, or, of covering these ones, we can find a part of the exterior constraints transformed in auto-constraints (cf. N. Elias, 1939/2004, 211).
    The thesis for the addiction between the transformation that took place at the making of the society and the transformations that took place at the making of the psychical attitude and conduct of men has been mentioned for the first time in the sociology of the years 1938-1939 by Norbert Elias (1897-1990). The name of this author appears for many times in his classic paper Uber den Prozefi der Zivilisation. Soziogenetische und psy- hogenetische Untersuchungen, published initially in Germany of the year 1939, but less consecrated in the English literature until the publishing of the first edition in English, in London, in 1978, with the title The History of Manners (R. Kilminster and S. Mennell, 2002/2003, 178).
    The process of civilization, as Norbert Elias (1939/2004, 211) sustains, represents a modification of the conduct and of the human sense in a precise direction. , that of civilization. But the essential problem that resides from the explication of the causes of change of conducts all over historical evolution, and the establishment of the origin of behavior standards. In reality, nothing from the history does not indicate the fact that this modification has been made in a rational manner by a conscient education, initiated by individuals or individual groups, as the author considers (idem, 212). This has been performed totally unplanned, but, with all these, they were not made outside the particular order. How is this possible? The course of historical transformation, the fundamentals of the process of civilization, is determined by the social interrelationship.

    From the oldest times of the occidental history and until the present time, social functions are differentiated more an more under the concurrential pressure. As this differentiates more and more, the bigger the number of functions and their type and the one of people on which this one depend, the individual constantly becomes constant in all his actions, from the most simple and daily ones to most rare and complex ones (N. Elias, 1939/2004, 213-214). Progressive differentiation of social functions represents the first and the most general of the social characteristics that are perceptible and here appears the problem of the causes of modifications of psychical attitudes in the sense of civilization. This functional division is accompanied by a reorganization of the social structure («idem», 215-216).
    As the interrelationship and division of labor progresses into the society, more and more addicted the upper classes become from the other classes and the social force of these classes has more and more potential (idem, 25).

    The demarche of the thesis – of the argumentation of the connection between the changes on a long term which are produced at the level of the society and the modification of human conducts in the sense of one civilization – is performed by produce data in an original way, if we do not report to the sociological thinking of its time, in which the macro sociological analyze is predominant. The first volume debuts with the revision of the semantic history of the words Kultur and Zivilization, sustained with examples by the codes of manners at the end of the Middle Ages until the XIXth century.

    This concept (civilization – n.n.) as an expression of own conscience of the world. One could even say that: of national conscience. The concept synthesizes all the elements by which the society of the last two or three centuries considers that is superior to anterior societies or to the contemporary ones which are “primitive”. By this concept, the society tries to characterize the elements which grant it the specificity which makes it is so pride: the level of its techniques, the type of its manners, and the development of it’s scientifically knowledge or of the conception on life and many other (N. Elias, 1939/2002, 49). The convention concerning a certain style, the behavior rules in the society and the modeling of emotional reactions, the appreciation of courtesy, the importance of speaking and conversation, the way of articulating talking and many other, that will register, by a continuous extension movement, a transformation of the social character in a national one (N. Elias, 1939/2002, 80).

    Starting from these considerents, the second part of the book proposes an explicative pattern of the process of formation of the states in Europe, on the same chronological marks. As I was mentioning earlier, the basic idea consists in the existence of a connection between the structural development on a long time and the changes in the structure of human personality, of the habitus (1). In some other words, as the structures of the society become more complex, the manners, the culture and the personality change in one particular and distinct direction, firstly in the upper stages of the society than gradually to the other ones.

    In each wave of spreading the means of behavior of a circle to a bigger one, which is in ascension, we can distinguish two stages: one stage of assimilation or colonization, in which the more ample stage, the inferior one, which is in ascension is evidently subordinated to the superior one, and is oriented evidently after the model of the superior one and whose status is superior, or it intends or not, to inoculate the manner of behavior. And, in the second stage, of rejection, of differentiation and emancipation, in which the group which is in ascension wins a social power and self consciousness, in which, the superior group is constrained to a powerful isolation and in which there is an emphasis of contrasts and tensions of the society (N.Elias, 1939/2002,283).

    Fashion has accompanied social circles that are in ascension at a certain moment in the history. In the following paragraphs I will sustain the precedent affirmation, correlative to the theory of Norbert Elias, by some examples of the history of vestimentation.
    After approximately three centuries of domination of the absolutism in Europe, until the end of the XVIIIth century, in the saloons and in the multiple stratification of the French society starts to individualize the social type of the bourgeois (Girolamo de Michele, 2004/2005, 239), who knows the principles of the fashion in order to oppose to the regime of Ludovic the XVIth. Women also make their appearance on the public scene: “Ladies from Paris organize saloons and participate, not only as simple actors, to the debates that are developed within these ones, figurating the clubs of the Revolution, but following in fact a fashion that has been started with a century before, by the discussions from the saloons over the nature of love” (Girolamo de Michele, 2004/2005, 259). This will be a phases of ascension of bourgeoisie which, in the terms of Norbert Elias, consists in the orientation after the dominant social stratum. The free citizen, that citoyen of the French Revolution, had to be a human being who’s “dignity and moral aspect will make the kings fall into contempt” (A.-W. Asserate, 2003/ 2005, 31). The partisans of the revolution – those inconceivable and incroyables that might be identified by the red color of the redingote, by the enormous ties that were until the chin, by the by conic hat – were launching a new fashion by which there was an accentuation of the contrast against the ones that had the power, marking a second phase of conduct manners. Not by chance, one of the first decisions of the Third State has been the abolition of the costumes imposed by Ludovic the XVIth of deputies of the three strata. A decree dates from that period stipulated the fact that “no person of one sex or another will not be able to constrain a citizen to dress in a certain manner, under the punishment to be considered suspect and followed by the derangement of the public silence; everyone is free to wear the clothes corresponding to their sexe, the clothes that they like” (apud F.-M. Grau, 1999/2002, 66). This emancipation movement manages to manifest itself also in art: mervielluses (the feminine equivalent for incroyables) put in evidence the naked breasts, sometimes gave up the corset and combed their hair; this is what comes out from the paintings of that era, in which the ladies are replaces by less sensual women, but more free like morals (Girolamo de Michele, 2004/2005, 259).

    Pierre Bourdieu: Theory of social tastes
    In the end, the men looked at Raskolnikov and told with a loud voice:
    «- Can I, my gentlemen, to talk with you? Under the modest cloth, my eye reads in your person a cultivated man […] (F. M. Dostoievski, 1999, 17).»
    The general opinion is that of intellectual who do not care of appearances. There is persistence in the popular culture of the romantic image of the intellectual in its ivory tower, far from the trends and futile perceptions. Indeed, there exist also some intellectuals that confirm this judgment, but the majority uses their clothes to underline the appartenance to a culture or another, to a certain ideology or purely a statement. Intellectuals like to believe that they are intellectuals, and are often a source of powerful motivation when they chose they clothes […] (I. Calen, 3rd of April 2008, «Cotidianul»). The denomination of the fair of luxurious products: Bespoke, fair organized in the city fashion with the objective declared to promote all types of particular wellbeing. […].
    It has been the ideal meeting place of those which make collections of special unique objects. All the products exposed have been attentively studies and personalized for each buyer prepared to take out 190 000 EUR from his account for a perfume from the same company producing for the Queen of England, 75 000 EUR for a crocodile leather jacket or 100 000 EUR for a gold plated watch and with diamonds […]. The extravagancies of the client are divided in two categories: style and epatation. The elitist public orders all the products according to tastes, and so we can find out that the Italian Silvio Berlusconi carefully chooses his shoes from one well known brand, Stivaleria Savoia, paying over 2000 EUR for a pair. The producer of perfumes for the Queen of England, has exposed at Bespoke, uniquely created fragrances especially for characters like Andy Warhol and, in the present, for Elton John, de starting price being of 70 000 EUR (D. Vitelaru, 25th of November 2008, «Cotidianul»).

    The examples above, illustrate very well the differences in the clothing style between individuals who have a cultural capital and the ones who have an economical capital. Is there a correspondence between the forms of capital, social position and implicitly, the clothing style of these ones? The answer to this question illustrates the manner in which I have taught to structure the section dedicated to the contribution of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) to the theoretical fondamentation of fashion sociology.
    I have mentioned in the previous phrases, a theme (social stratification) and a concept (capital) which have made a carrier in sociology, especially in the works of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Max Weber (1864-1920). At the middle of the past century, through the means of a theoretical and empirical research, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu – characterized in a compendium of contemporary social theories as “the most original and influent French sociologist from Durkheim and until today” (C. Calhoun, 2000/2003, 274), was signaling the differences between the taste from the structure of the French society of the years 1963-1968, providing new explicative concepts for the delimitation of the social stratification: “cultural capital”, “taste”, “habitus”.
    The thesis of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu about cultural tastes resembles with the one of Georg Simmel by the Kantian origin of concepts that it vehiculates. Compared to Georg Simmel who used the philosophical concept of “form” in order to define fashion, Pierre Bourdieu transposes in sociological interrogations the concept of “taste”. The manner in which we consume (we manifest our tastes, so we prefer) some cultural products – from the most upper ones, like books, theater performances, opera shows, painting expositions, until the ones that are inscribed in the order of necessity – food, clothes, decoration of the interior – “are indicators of the educational level, and afterwards some of social origin” (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 1). The manner in which the culture has been procured, illustrates the manner in which we use it, in some other words, the goods, this meaning consumption and its use, describe the manner in which the culture has been acquired. The cultural capital, not only the economical one, classes the individual within the social hierarchy. This thesis, present in the work La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement (1979), has been emphasized by a large series of enquires and great ethnographical studies, developed by the French sociologist for a period of approximately five years, respectively from 1963 until 1969.
    The research has been developed in two stages, initially, in the year 1963, on a sample of 692 subjects, of French origin, having their residence in Paris and Lille, as well as in the suburbs nearby. Firstly, the study confirmed the heterogeneous structure of tastes to some individuals that composed different socio-professional groups, contained in research population: teachers in high schools and universities; managers; small enterprisers; general managers; engineers; liberal professions; art producers (middle class); employees in the medical and social field; art dealers, assistant managers and second managers (small bourgeoisie, new middle class); functionaries, technicians, sellers, employees in workshops (working class). Ulterior, in order to obtain significant statistical data in report with the total number of the population in France during the years 1968 – 1969, the sample has been extended to 1217 persons (P.Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 504-505).

    The questionnaire (2), conceived on the basis of the hypothesis of the uniformity of tastes, included 26 questions, formulates in order to collect information on the preferences of the subjects concerning some interior decorations, clothing, music, movies, pictures, photography, gastronomy (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 506). The results have revealed the fact that, within this kind of manifestations of tastes, the preferences of persons with an economical capital were different from the ones who had some cultural capital (idem, 261). The analysis of indicators for the culture of the middle class has registered differences between the employees’ tastes from the commercial and industrial field and the ones of university professors. So, in the interior of each social class, according to the economical and cultural capital that the members of the same social class own, distinguish some fraction of classes, as the author mentions.
    The cultural capital, as it has been mentioned by Pierre Bourdieu, takes many forms. Firstly, it includes the qualifications obtained by the means of education, than the knowledge and understanding of some artistically and creative aspects of the culture, like music, drama, art and cinematography. In this sense, the French sociologist distinguishes three stages of tastes, corresponding to the educational level (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 16):

    (1) The legitimate taste, dominant, represented for example by the paintings of Breughel or Goya, increases the educational level and manifests itself within fractions of dominant classes with a higher level of education.
    (2) The taste of middle class, that puts it attention on minor works, but popular ones of important artists, like the «Blue Rhapsody»; this being common to middle classes;
    (3) The popular taste- represented here by the choices made by workers and the so called “light music” or classical music which is highly advertised, like the «Blue Danube – La Traviata» – these ones being characteristic for labor classes and it is different from the educational capital.

    The third form of cultural capital consists of corporal practices, like clothing, hair style, and make up, maintenance of body structure. Which is the manner in which clothing gestures of individuals are indicators of the cultural and economical capital own by these ones? In the theory of Pierre Bourdieu, the taste represents the capacity to bring closer (from a material and symbolic point of view) a certain social class, a generically formula of the life style, expressed as an unitary combination of preferences in the clothing area, furniture, language and appearance, in the author’s words, “the same expressive intention in the specific logics of each symbolic space” (P. Bourdieu 1979/1984, 173). These tastes are illustrated in the daily rhetoric by “affirmations of one inevitable difference, being formulates purely negative, by the refuse of the tastes of some others” (idem, 56). For this reason, the choice of a clothing elements is an opportunity to experiment or to affirm the social position of the one that adopts its own range, but, in the same time to maintain the distance between the social hierarchy against other groups, as Pierre Bourdieu sustains (1979/1984, 57). Starting from these arguments, one could notice a distribution of clothing preferences, according to stages of manifestation of some social gestures: some determined by the structural conditions of social actors, this meaning at the level of necessities, vulgar, common ones and other that are at a distance from necessity and are “objectified by gratification” (idem, 175).
    Workers give to clothes realist function, in agreement with the gesture for necessity (P. Bourdieu 1979/1984, 200-201), searching for the substance and the function, the styles that last are the ones whose procurement reflect the invested money. Ignoring the bourgeoisie preoccupation to introduce the formality and informality of clothes, and these ones adopt a “uniform behavior”. . In such a manner, these ones mark the distinction between the visible and invisible clothes or hidden ones (underwear), compared to the middle class, who manifests a degree of anxiety concerning the physical appearance, and to the one that are exposed in the public space. The distinctions between the clerks’ employees are marked in the clothing area by the grey color or white color of combination suit (of working classes) and blue, between footwear in town and relaxed footwear. The specific consumption of administrators and directors is known to workers is a distinctive sign for fashion which is represented by the working combination suit. When they were asked how will they dress as if they would be invited to dinner by the chief’s wife, 33 percent of the managers’ wives and of public functionaries, have chosen the best clothes that they have, compared to 19% of the wives of employees in the commercial and industrial field and the wives of engineers, who in a proportion of 81% have given a response that they will change their clothes, but without adopting clothing articles – the most elegant pieces of clothing that they have (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 249).
    The research data have demonstrated the fact that the number of clothing acquirements will increase directly proportional with the ascension on the social hierarchy (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 201). From here, it derives the conclusion of the author that “the change of the clothing style is consonant with the social mobility, that the clothes become classic, more informal and more serious as the individual rises on the social hierarchy” (idem, 202).
    The proportion of women who have given the answer “I do not take into account fashion” – more raised among unemployed women (59%) – is significantly higher in the category of workers (61%), farmers (62%) and manual workers (55%). The wish to be in tone with fashion is an important among the wives of managers and the ones functionaries (43%). The place where they buy things is different: the workers’ wives buy their clothes from the market or from the most popular shops, while the wives who belong to the middle class chose well known shops from the market (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 378). From these percents, one can observe the different objectives of social classes: Saving of time resources, money and effort is a characteristic of classes with a socio-economical reduced level, in exchange, the fight for adequate the symbols of the class (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 249) is an objective of the ones who want be situated on a higher social structure. These differences are explained by the French sociologist, by the concept of habitus, understood as a “form of internalization of class conditions” (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 101), often converted into a series of dispositions, schemes of perception and appreciation (idem, 170). This I show Pierre Bourdieu (1992/2007, 243) explains the origin and the meaning of this concept in another works Les regles de l’art (1992): “the habitus is, as the word itself attests it, something acquired, a good that can function in certain cases like a capital”, firstly expressing “the refusal of an alternative series in which the social science has been enframed (and more generally, the whole anthropological theory): Conscience (or subject) versus inconscient, finality versus mechanism etc.” (P. Bourdieu, 1992/2007, 242).
    The habitus consists of the subjective manners to understand the differences of class and to perceive the world, in the preferences and tastes that the individuals have. A habitus produces a lifestyle. For example, will influence the manner of spending the free time, clothing style, seeing movies, reading newspapers. Some anthropologies chose expressions like “Habitus of wearing clothes” (A. Bălăşescu, 2007/2008, 79) or “habitus of clothes” (J. Entwistle, 2006b, 51) in order to underline the manner in which the habitus makes the individuals to chose a certain type of clothes: For example, the middle class will valorify quality and not quantity (ibidem).

    Social classes distinguish by the type, and by the quantity of capital that they have. The groups that have risen on the social hierarchy by education can lack the good taste with the ones that can be found on the same position of more than one generation. The groups that have a risen cultural capital, but less economical capital (like teachers) have different life styles compared to the ones that have a risen economical capital, but s lower cultural one (like individual that administrate small business). It is clear that each class or fraction develops the own «habitus» (M. Halarambos, M. Holborn and R. Heald, 1980/2008, 67).

    The translation in English of the research of Pierre Bourdieu has risen many polemics and interpretations, among which, the most virulent ones, have invoqued the fact that the work La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement is a declaration of adhesion of the author and of French intellectuals to the left policy (cf. B. M. Berger, 1986, 1451). In the United States of America, the study was received as “a typical French ethnography”, in the sense that it offered radiography of the political and cultural environment of Paris in the sixth decency of the passed century, this meaning a frame of research designed political and socio-cultural context, without a side of applicability in other cultures (ibidem). Even tough, until the date of publication of the first American edition of the volume La distinction, respectively until 1986, some research (P. DiMaggio and M. Useem, 1978, 156) performed in the north Atlantic space, indicated that the rate of the cultural consumption variated according to the social class of individuals. Symphonic performances, ballet performances and opera shows were audited especially by the Americans of high range, and persons who graduated universities.
    After 1984, the study of the French sociologist has alimented a series of ample research concerning the reception of cultural goods that were engage to infirm (R. A. Peterson şi R. M. Kern, 1996; P. DiMaggio 1987), or to confirm (J. Galille, 2002; A. Warde et al, 1999; D. B. Holt, 1997) the social stratification of tastes. In this sense, by the examination of the origins and consequences of consumption inequalities, Paul DiMaggio (1987, 157), professor of sociology at the University of Yale, showed that the persons with a superior educational qualification involved themselves in the reception of a higher culture, but as well in consumption activities specific to popular taste, like listening to jazz music, folk or blues music. Starting from these evidences, in 1996 American socialists Richard A. Peterson and Roger M. Kern, comparing the data of some research made for a period of ten years (1982-1992) and which declared changes in the preferences of individuals, the snobbishness being replaces by the omnivorousnes, this meaning that individuals are opened to all types of cultural consumption, this one manifesting itself in the consumption of fashion (cf. R. A. Peterson and R. M. Kern, 1996, 905). The authors explain these transformations by the increase of the life style of the population, the presentation of art in media programmes, migration, social mobility, and these ones being responsible for the mediatization of the taste of social elites to the segments of the lower population (ibidem).
    The analysis of the production field of fashion represents another theme reflected by sociologists (J. Entwistle, 2006b; J. Entwistle, 2002; E. Wilson, 2007) based on the results of the research of Pierre Bourdieu. A variable which interferes in the differentiation of signification practices and consumption practices is, in the opinion of the French sociologist, the field of production, this meaning the fashion industry (P. Bourdieu, 1979/1984, 232), “a perfect example of the meeting between the history of production field, which has its own laws of change and the history of the social space, which determines some social tastes” (ibidem). The clarification of the relation between habitus, cultural capital and production field means the return to the text of the work Les regles de l’art, the following citation being illustrative in this sense:

    […] from the simple object made, tool or cloth, until the consecrated art work – the production work does not mean anything in the absence of the production work for the value of the made object; that “the court cloth” evoqued by old economists, does not have a value due to the court, which, producing and reproducing itself, reproduces all that composes court life, this meaning all the system of agents and institutions involved in the production and reproduction of the habitus and of court clothes, with the satisfaction and, at the same time, the production of the will to wear clothes, will that the economist regards as a data. As an almost experimental verification of this fact, the value of the court clothes disappears together with he court and with the habitus associated to this one, the aristocrats decayed do not show anything else than becoming the dance masters of Europe … P. Bourdieu, 1992/2007, 236).

    Having in view the main ideas of the theory of social tastes previously exposed, the empiric and theoretic merit of the work La distinction: Critique sociale du jugement remains uncontested: We owe to Pierre Bourdieu the provision of some explicative and empirical frames for the “effect of infiltration” (trickle-down) of fashion in the different strata of the society.


    As I have shown in this article, from Gabriel Tarde to Pierre Bourdieu, the sociologic study of fashion has represented a constant of the classical period of sociology. At the confluence of the XIXth and the XXth century, under the signature of some well known sociologist of the time, like Gabriel Tarde (1843-1904), Thorstein Bund Veblen (1857-1929), Georg Simmel (1858-1918), fashion made its debute in the sociological discourse. Today, the reaffirmation of the interest for the adoption of these phenomena needs a theoretical legitimating, for the fact that, previous to the developments issued by the emblematic figures of the sociology of the beginning of the XXth century “fashion had a marginal status among individuals” (cf. G. Lipovetsky, 1987/2002, 25). The reflection for this theme can be integrated to assembly of knowledge of the political psychology, for the discovery of some authors and classical works, as I have arguments for all the content of the article, as like for the fact that fashion can constitute a terrain of application for theories like: Theory of habitus, theory of domination, theory of symbolic interactions, theory of social identity.

    (1) Habitus in fact the word used by Norbert Elias in German, in the first edition of the book, the translation in English giving the sense of personality make-up; the concept of habitus will be later used by Pierre Bourdieu, who has been a great admirer of the work of Norbert Elias (cf. R. Kilminster and S. Mennell, 2002/2003, 192).

    (2) The questionnaire conceived by Pierre Bourdieu for the determination of the esthetic taste of social classes has been brought into the public attention in the field of socio-human sciences in Romania, by Septimiu Chelecea in the work “Methodology of sociological research. Quantitative and qualitative methods” (2001/2004).

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