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Fashioning Change

The Trope of Clothing in High- and Late-Medieval England

andrea Denny-Brown

Publication Year: 2012

Medieval European culture was obsessed with clothing. In Fashioning Change: The Trope of Clothing in High-and Late-Medieval England, Andrea Denny-Brown explores the central impact of clothing in medieval ideas about impermanence and the ethical stakes of human transience. Studies of dress frequently contend with a prevailing cultural belief that bodily adornment speaks to interests that are frivolous, superficial, and cursory. Taking up the vexed topic of clothing’s inherent changeability, Denny-Brown uncovers an important new genealogy of clothing as a representational device, one imbued with a surprising philosophical pedigree and a long history of analytical weightiness. Considering writers as diverse as Boethius, Alain de Lille, William Durand, Chaucer, and Lydgate, among others, Denny-Brown tracks the development of a literary and cultural trope that begins in the sixth century and finds its highest expression in the vernacular poetry of fifteenth-century England. Among the topics covered are Boethian discourses on the care of the self, the changing garments of Lady Fortune, novelty in ecclesiastical fashions, the sartorial legacy of Chaucer’s Griselda, and the emergence of the English gallant. These literary treatments of vestimentary variation—which develop an aesthetics of change itself—enhance our understanding of clothing as a phenomenological and philosophical category in medieval Europe and illustrate the centrality of the Middle Ages to theories of aesthetics, of materiality, and of cultural change.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press

Series: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-9


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pp. ix-10


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pp. x-11

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pp. xi-xiii

I would like to express my first thanks to Christopher Baswell for his unwavering confidence in me since my years as an undergraduate and in particular for his discerning eye and his invaluable suggestions with regard to this project when it was in dissertation form. I would also like to thank Timea Szell, ...


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pp. xiv-15

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pp. 1-16

The “experience” of clothing in late-medieval England, to borrow John Lydgate’s wording, was the experience of change. Clothing, as his Fall of Princes (1431–39) reminds us, marked not only Adam and Eve’s radical turn from the static state of grace and innocence—thei stood in staat—into the falling, erring, mutable material realm of “deth and pouerte” ...

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1. Fortune's Habits: Boethian Lessons on Clothing and Being

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pp. 17-49

Local spectators attending the morality play Bien Advisé et Mal Advisé in Rennes, Brittany, in 1439 would have beheld the dramatic introduction of four kings costumed in different stages of wealth and status and named, respectively, Regnabo, Regno, Regnavi, and Sine regno: I shall reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without reign. ...

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2. Fashioning Change: Wearing Fortune's Garments in High- and Late-Medieval England

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pp. 50-81

The vestimentary habits of thought and practice outlined in Boethius’s Consolatio provided writers throughout medieval Europe with a theoretical structure through which to explore the pleasures and dangers of materialism. As I discussed in chapter 1, while Boethius was interested in examining the allure of material objects in general and clothing in particular, ...

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3. The Case of the Bishop's Capa: Vestimentary Change and Divine Law in the Thirteenth Century

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pp. 82-113

The luxurious episcopal capa (cape or cope) that emerged at the center of Church ceremony in the thirteenth century came under the scrutiny of two very different texts, Bishop William Durand’s monumental liturgical treatise, the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum (Rationale for the Divine Offices), and a little-known macaronic satirical poem, ...

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4. In Swich Richesse: Povre Griselda and the All-Consuming Archewyves

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pp. 114-147

The late-medieval fascination with naked Griselda and her changes of clothing is, at its heart, according to modern critical discussion, a fascination with translation. Most influential in this respect have been the studies of Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale by Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace, which have deepened our comprehension of Griselda’s sartorial symbolism ...

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5. English Galaunts and the Aesthetic Event

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pp. 148-178

Lesser-known precursor to the fop and the dandy, the English galaunt (gallant), or “man of fashion,” is perhaps best known as a socioliterary type in early modern English drama.3 Scholars of this period have pointed out the important role that the early modern gallant plays in processes and notions of both social and theatrical performance, ...

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pp. 179-182

The chapters of this book have treated the symbolic function of clothing in medieval literature and culture by examining the theoretical roots and the material circumstances of a single multifaceted trope—vestimentary change—in high- and late-medieval Europe. ...


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pp. 183-226


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pp. 227-245


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pp. 246-252

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 272-273

Back Cover

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p. 274-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270257
E-ISBN-10: 0814270255
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211908
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211909

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 7 halftones
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture