Skip to main content

Dressing the Undressed: Clothing and Social Structure in Old French Fabliaux

  • Chapter
Comic Provocations: Exposing the Corpus of Old French Fabliaux

Part of the book series: Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures ((SACC))

  • 35 Accesses

Abstract

Even when clothing is not central to the plot of a given fabliau, descriptions of cloaks, leggings, tunics, gowns, and various items abound. This fascination with clothing across the fabliaux is distinct from other literary representations. In the romance tradition, which normally features noble characters, clothing often serves a revelatory purpose, displaying virtue and status even before characters demonstrate these qualities. In other instances, clothing, or the change of it, represents a transition from one social position to another. Fabliau images of clothing, by contrast, challenge social rank and values, even if these comic tales maintain social order at a “surface” level. Many traditionally dispossessed characters use clothing to challenge culturally prescribed hierarchies in the fabliau (e.g., in Boivin de Provins, 2.7); yet in this paper I will examine the ways that women use clothing to undress the stability of social order. Although these stories maintain a superficial allegiance to patriarchal cultural control, the ways in which women circulate clothing reveals that gender hierarchy is a costume that women manipulate to hide and therefore maintain their agency.

Clothing re-dresses gender roles in many fabliaux, even if these tales maintain a superficial allegiance to patriarchal order. The ability of women to circulate clothing illustrates and conceals their power in a domestic economy where the vulnerability of men becomes evident.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 39.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 54.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 54.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. Françoise Piponnier and Perrine Mane, Dress in the Middle Ages, trans. Caroline Beamish (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997 ), p. 155.

    Google Scholar 

  2. James Hunt, “The Governance of Consumption: Sumptuary Laws and Shifting Forms of Regulation,” Economy and Society 25.3(August 1996):412 [410–427].

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity ( New York: Routledge, 1999 ), p. 164.

    Google Scholar 

  4. R. Howard Bloch, The Scandal of the Fabliaux ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986 ), p. 125.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Copyright information

© 2006 Holly A. Crocker

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Leech, M.E. (2006). Dressing the Undressed: Clothing and Social Structure in Old French Fabliaux. In: Crocker, H.A. (eds) Comic Provocations: Exposing the Corpus of Old French Fabliaux. Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230601178_6

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics