Il vestito forma la persona – “clothes make the man”: Fashion morality in Italian nineteenth-century conduct books
Using a corpus of 40 influential conduct books published in Italy in the long nineteenth century, we apply current insights in the role of values for the emergence and maintenance of conventions developed within the pragmatics of politeness to the prescriptive discourse on fashion, because in these sources norms for verbal and non-verbal behaviour are justified in a similar way. We argue that fashion choices are always said to communicate moral values. Most conduct books reinforce fashion norms by anchoring them in moral values because the authors expect their readers to be morally evaluated in terms of the clothes they wear. We will give an overview of rules regulating bodily hygiene, adornment, dress choice and fashion, and analyse which values are explicitly cited to justify the rules. The positive values such as diligence and parsimony show that fashion morality is seen as a means of self-improvement for the petty bourgeoisie whilst excesses (avarice and laziness on one end and vanity and frivolity on the other) lead to poverty. Our sources predominantly regulate fashion with personal, ego-centered values. This is markedly different from the current debate on sustainable fashion, led by social values such as compassion and altruism. With this historical paper we hope to contribute to the discussion of new approaches for the analysis of moralising discourse in fashion communication.
Copyright (c) 2019 Annick Paternoster, Francesca Saltamacchia
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