En Vogue: Fashion and French Culture, 1800 to Present
In what ways did fashion inform the cultural life of the 19th and 20th centuries? How does it continue to do so in the 21st century? How does fashion mediate our understanding of a literary text? Why is France synonymous with fashion and luxury? This course will answer these questions by exploring key French literary and theoretical texts on fashion from the 19th century to the present. At once social, economic, political, and aesthetic in nature, fashion provides us with a unique lens through which to examine French literature and culture. During the semester, we will study how fashion creates meaning and how this meaning is communicated in literature and the visual arts. Following a loose chronological order, the course traces fashion’s emergence as a perpetual force of change and innovation in society starting with the 19th century and the rise of the modern fashion system. We will examine how literary and artistic movements in these two centuries were shaped by fashion and conversely, how fashion informed some of these movements. We will also explore the rich French philosophical engagement with fashion, from Honoré de Balzac to Jean Baudrillard to Roland Barthes, as well as different sociological, historical, and anthropological readings on fashion. This course is interdisciplinary in nature. We will examine not only literary texts, but also paintings, photographs, and film. All discussions and written work will be in French.