Quoted: Valerie Steele

Ages ago, I borrowed Paris Fashion: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele from the library. Steele's book was enjoyable, instructive, and well-written. I kept smiling to myself when I came across quotes that resonated with me; I marked them with Post-Its so that I could share them with you. Enjoy!

On the transcendent, transformative power of fashion in the 19th century:

"The people who were best placed to exploit fashion to alter their apparent identity were often those who belonged to new social strata, people whose class positions were ambiguous, because people like them had not really existed before. The new white-collar workers, people like office clerks and shop assistants, entered into the fashion game often more wholeheartedly than the members of the old bourgeoisie. Although deep class divisions still existed, individuals had far greater freedom to present themselves as they wished to be seen. Fashion served both to maintain the hierarchy and, subtly, to weaken it--as anonymous individuals were increasingly judged on the basis of their appearance, of who they appeared to be."

Harem pants and pajama looks aren't new to SS09:

"By the Twenties, Oriental robes had led through harem pants to lounging pyjamas, providing another prototype for women in trousers. In this respect, Poiret was far more radical than Fortuny, since Poiret scandalized Paris by showing his harem skirts on the street and at the races."

On clothing as a means of expression:

"The idea of a language of clothes may be too simplistic. Some types of clothing (such as, perhaps, the business suit) communicate a fairly direct message. But most clothing messages are more like music: They are expressive in an indirect and allusive way. Indeed, it may be embarrassing if clothing messages could be easily decoded and observers could identify exactly what the wearer was trying to say: 'I am rich,' for example, or 'I am sexy.'"


  1. I LOVE that last quote. So much there ... I'll have to mull it over a while. But the main idea - style as music - really appeals.

  2. Ooh thanks for sharing those! I really love Valerie Steele. Love the idea that she created an academic niche for herself, too. Fashion historian! I read some article on her and her husband is also a historian, though not of the sartorial variety. I've got to read that book!

  3. I've never thought of fashion like that before. I like it! :)

  4. Ooh thanks for mentioning this book! It looks interesting so I'm definitely going to read it!

  5. love the quote about clothing as means of expression! Sounds like I may need to add another book to my fashion library.

    Also, loved her quote about Orientalism! I feel so much more educated about fashion history now that I've had my 20th Century Design class.

  6. Thanks for posting this! I've really been getting into fashion history lately - just fascinating to read where certain things have its origins.

  7. Love it!

    I really like the part about fashion and music, and the part about decoding really made me think about some of my outfit choices! Thanks!

  8. She's an awesome fashion expert.


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