Denis Diderot’s humorous essay, Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown, has much to say about the nature of eighteenth-century consumer society. Delighted with the purchase of a beautiful scarlet dressing gown, Diderot discards his old one, only to find the elegance of the new gown at odds with the humble study of a philosophe. Finding himself unsatisfied with his surroundings, he sets about replacing the contents of the entire room – first the straw chair and simple table, substituted by a luxurious leather chair and bureau, then his plain wooden bookshelves find themselves usurped by antique armoire, and the bare walls are covered with mirrors, paintings and damask hangings. Alas, Diderot is left unhappier with the result than he was in his simple study, with his old gown. ‘Why didn’t I keep it? It was used to me and I was used to it… I was the absolute master of my old robe, I have become the slave of the new one.’ Continue reading
Hannah Rose Woods
Hannah Woods won a Beresford distinction for her BA dissertation on Eighteenth century economic thoughts and fashion. This article is based on her research.
The late seventeenth century witnessed a pivotal moment in the democratisation of fashionable dress: the East India Company’s importation of printed Oriental Chintzes and Calicoes stimulated a ‘Calico craze’, which saw the take-up of these textiles spill down the social hierarchy, allowing broader sections of the population than ever before to engage with fashion. Continue reading