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Book Review - 'The Beau Monde'

One of my favorite parts of historical costuming is learning about the wider social history of a time period, exploring the who and why behind the clothing I'm recreating to get a better sense of its meaning, conscious or unconscious, to the wearer. Admittedly, I focus on the glittery world of the aristocracy and upper classes when recreating and researching my costumes. I make no excuses. I like shiny things.

Keeping that in mind, I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London.  The author, Hannah Greig, attempts to define the ever-changing meaning of what it meant to be considered fashionable in the 18th century. Just who exactly inhabited the world of beau monde and what constituted its membership? Members of the beau monde weren’t just interested in living a life of hedonistic pleasure. Rather, Greig asserts that living a fashionable life was a tightly controlled expression of societal and political power. Conspicuous consumption and exclusivity combined to form a powerful political force.
I found the book fascinating. I thought the author did a good job acknowledging the limitations of her research and theory while still presenting a credible argument. I particularly enjoyed the section discussing what roles the seasonal rounds of social activity played in defining the fashionable set. The author explored how the opera, the theater, the pleasure garden, and the private party all served to establish and reinforce membership in the beau monde.
My only complaint would be the lack of pictures. I’m a visual person, what can I say? There were a few portraits and caricatures reproduced in black and white, but I felt the book could have benefited from more and in color, especially more illustrations depicting all the fashionable spots the beau monde frequented. But maybe that’s a subject for an entirely different book.

Posted: 12/19/2013 3:47:55 PM by Aubry | with comments
Filed under: books
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