Consumerism and Dress

  • S. A. M. Adshead


In the history of consumption, dress forms a natural transition between food and shelter. All three relate to thermoregulation and choices in one affect choices in the others. Thus Europe’s option for the heavy house, with its insulated microclimate and high diffused heat, affected European dress with its distinction of indoors and outdoors. Similarly, Chinese dress with its multiple layers in winter was related to the Chinese option for the light, uninsulated house with its low heat concentrated in the k’ang or thermo-bed. Consumerism, however, is more than consumption. It is consumption directed by mentalité: mind mattering in an incarnation of values. In the period 1400 to 1800, dress was the leading sector of consumerism in this sense, because, more than food or shelter, it was surcharged — in Europe strongly, in China weakly — by fashion, especially feminine fashion. Whereas in food, the Chinese were as consumerist as the Europeans, possibly more so, in dress comparison leads to contrast: a China dominated by male protocol, a Europe dominated by female fashion. Although the contrast requires attenuation, if only because the Chinese really invented fashion in dress, it remains true that Lipovetsky’s empire of the ephemeral — an empire not only over the ephemeral but by it over other departments of life — went further in Europe than in China.


Cotton Cloth Eighteenth Century Material Culture Sixteenth Century Woollen Cloth 
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Copyright information

© S. A. M. Adshead 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. A. M. Adshead
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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