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Accessories to Modernity

Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France

By Susan Hiner

Publication Year: 2010

Accessories to Modernity explores the ways in which feminine fashion accessories, such as cashmere shawls, parasols, fans, and handbags, became essential instruments in the bourgeois idealization of womanhood in nineteenth-century France. Considering how these fashionable objects were portrayed in fashion journals and illustrations, as well as fiction, the book explores the histories and cultural weight of the objects themselves and offers fresh readings of works by Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola, some of the most widely read novels of the period.

As social boundaries were becoming more and more fluid in the nineteenth century, one effort to impose order over the looming confusion came, in the case of women, through fashion, and the fashion accessory thus became an ever more crucial tool through which social distinction could be created, projected, and maintained. Looking through the lens of fashion, Susan Hiner explores the interplay of imperialist expansion and domestic rituals, the assertion of privilege in the face of increasing social mobility, gendering practices and their relation to social hierarchies, and the rise of commodity culture and woman's paradoxical status as both consumer and object within it.

Through her close focus on these luxury objects, Hiner reframes the feminine fashion accessory as a key symbol of modernity that bridges the erotic and proper, the domestic and exotic, and mass production and the work of art while making a larger claim about the "accessory" status—in terms of both complicity and subordination—of bourgeois women in nineteenth-century France. Women were not simply passive bystanders but rather were themselves accessories to the work of modernity from which they were ostensibly excluded.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Tilte Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-8

In nineteenth-century France, modernity often operated precisely through what was most easily dismissed—the seemingly negligible fashion accessories of women. A cashmere shawl might obliquely refer to imperial conquest in Algeria but openly indicate married status in Parisian society. A silk parasol could whisper racial and cultural ...

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1. La Femme comme il (en) faut and the Pursuit of Distinction

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pp. 9-44

Alexandre Dumas fils’s 1848 novel La Dame aux camélias opens with the auction of the dead courtesan Marguerite Gautier’s worldly goods. In her luxury apartment, prurient curiosity and rampant consumerism, combined with the practical reality of debt collection, produce the most jarring and scandalous of juxtapositions. The gasps are nearly audible...

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2. Unpacking the Corbeille de mariage

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pp. 45-76

In September 1874, in the first issue of the fashion magazine La Dernière Mode, Marguerite de Ponty wrote ecstatically and meticulously about the ideal corbeille de mariage. Her fantasy corbeille would contain a wide assortment of diamonds and other jewels to befit every social occasion; fine laces, sprung “des mains des fées elles-mêmes” (from the...

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3. “Cashmere Fever”: Virtue and the Domestication of the Exotic

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pp. 77-106

A satirical piece published in La Silhouette in 1830 entitled “Monologue du cachemire” depicts a young girl nearly swooning with rapture as she receives a long-coveted cashmere shawl from her lover, who is stationed in the new French colony of Algeria (Figure 8). A military metaphor is...

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4. Mademoiselle Ombrelle: Shielding the Fair Sex

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pp. 107-144

As Emma Rouault enters the foreground in the opening sequences of Madame Bovary and makes her play for the country doctor, she is enveloped in the soft glow, the special effect, of an “ombrelle, de soie gorge-de-pigeon, que traversait le soleil, [et qui] éclairait de reflets mobiles la peau blanche de sa figure” (parasol, made of marbled silk...

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5. Fan Fetish. Gender, Nostalgia, and Commodification

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pp. 145-177

When Emma Bovary makes her début at the Vaubyessard ball at the end of the first part of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), she gains valuable insight into the social class to which she yearns to belong by reading the material objects of fashion through which the aristocratic ball-goers communicate and construct their identities. She learns, for example, that although provincial ladies do not drink at dinner and...

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6. Between Good Intentions and Ulterior Motives: The Culture of Handbags

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pp. 178-210

Jean-Luc Godard’s scathing indictment of acquisitive bourgeois culture and “serial consumption,” the 1967 film Le Week-end, channels Balzac through intertitles like “Scène de la vie parisienne” and through its commentary on the sham of bourgeois propriety, embodied in the self-centered couple Roland and Corinne. As they travel to the country...

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Epilogue. The Feminine Accessory

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pp. 211-214

“Je pense que la femme a la mission d’être belle pour idéaliser la vie de l’homme, et que le besoin de se parer lui est un sentiment inspiré par la nature. Toutefois, je n’ai pas écrit ce livre pour développer chez elle un goût qui n’est déjà que trop accusé, et qu’elle devrait savoir enrayer dans certaines conditions de vie, et aussi par compréhension de la véritable...


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pp. 215-252


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pp. 253-272


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pp. 273-278


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pp. 279-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205336
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242591

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700574
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Accessories to Modernity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- France -- History -- 19th century.
  • France -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Fashion -- France -- History -- 19th century.
  • Clothing and dress -- France -- History -- 19th century.
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