Friday, July 27, 2012

Donna Bohanan's "Fashion beyond Versailles"

Donna J. Bohanan is the Joseph A. Kicklighter Professor of History at Auburn University. She is the author of Old and New Nobility in Aix-en-Provence, 1600–1695 and Crown and Nobility in Early Modern France.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Fashion beyond Versailles: Consumption and Design in Seventeenth-Century France, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine finds the reader of Fashion Beyond Versailles midway through “Á Table,” a chapter about food and sociability among the noble families of late seventeenth-century Dauphiné. Specifically, it addresses the popularity of certain cookbooks and the rise of haute cuisine among French and European elites. I see this as part of their larger patterns of consumption, which is the subject of my book.

Fashion Beyond Versailles examines the households of elites, mostly those of judicial families, in late seventeenth-century Grenoble and its environs. Far from Versailles and Paris, the epicenters of style and innovation, the material world of these provincial consumers changed rapidly during the reign of Louis XIV. What was fashionable or state-of-the-art in Versailles soon gained sway over the imaginations and purses of provincial consumers as well, suggesting a closer relationship between center and periphery than economic historians have often argued – this because consumption of decorative items had little to do with traditional market forces and much to do with fashion. Social imperatives, local politics, and style spurred elite families in their acquisitiveness, and publications of the period showed them exactly what to buy.

By the seventeenth century consumption and display had become for provincial nobles an essential means of defining their rank in society. For the Dauphinois their efforts took on even greater meaning in the aftermath of the procès des tailles. The region’s great conflict over taxation and tax exemption had been resolved by mid-century, but not easily and not without lingering effects on provincial society. Among Dauphiné’s elites, the collective memory of social conflict and challenges to their claims of social rank and privilege contributed to a clearly defined style of interior decoration and the popularity of certain domestic and decorative items. Consumption for them in particular became a crucial means of defining their position.

What their consumer purchases verified was the rise of a more modern interior that was decorated and accented by the strategic placement of splendid and fashionable goods. The household also included goods designed to promote comfort and convenience. And, as modern, it was equipped to entertain heeding new forms of sociability. By their consumer choices, the Dauphinois were participating in a gradual shift in lifestyle. And, through these selections, they bought into an emerging French national style, and perhaps national identity.
Learn more about Fashion beyond Versailles at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue