The Rise and Fall of the Luxury Debates

  • Maxine Berg
  • Elizabeth Eger


Luxury is no novelty of our own times. The shifting divide between need and desire, necessities and luxuries, was a guiding preoccupation of statesmen and intellectuals at the birth of consumer society in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Luxury was the defining issue of the early modern period. A newly experienced and perceived world economy brought greater access to Asian consumer societies and to the exotic foods and raw materials of the New World. This new trade in luxuries was to stimulate innovation in technologies, products, marketing strategies and commercial and financial institutions. Asian consumer goods — cottons, especially muslins and printed calicoes, silk, porcelain, ornamental brass and ironware, lacquer and paper goods — became imported luxuries in Europe, and were later to become indigenous European consumer goods. The widespread trade in these goods coincided with a new civility in middling and upper-class society, which was conveyed in new ways of eating and socialising. Domestic dining and tea-drinking complemented public leisure in coffee houses, shops, pleasure gardens, assemblies and the theatre.


Eighteenth Century Moral Sentiment Luxury Good Universal Opulence Early Modern Period 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maxine Berg
  • Elizabeth Eger

There are no affiliations available

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