In a book full of playful irony and striking insights, the controversial social philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky draws on the history of fashion to demonstrate that the modern cult of appearance and superficiality actually serves the common good. Focusing on clothing, bodily deportment, sex roles, sexual practices, and political rhetoric as forms of "fashion," Lipovetsky bounds across two thousand years of history, showing how the evolution of fashion from an upper-class privilege into a vehicle of popular expression closely follows the rise of democratic values. Whereas Tocqueville feared that mass culture would create passive citizens incapable of political reasoning, Lipovetsky argues that today's mass-produced fashion offers many choices, which in turn enable consumers to become complex individuals within a consolidated, democratically educated society.
Superficiality fosters tolerance among different groups within a society, claims Lipovetsky. To analyze fashion's role in smoothing over social conflict, he abandons class analysis in favor of an inquiry into the symbolism of everyday life and the creation of ephemeral desire. Lipovetsky examines the malaise experienced by people who, because they can fulfill so many desires, lose their sense of identity. His conclusions raise disturbing questions about personal joy and anguish in modern democracy.
Praise for the French edition: "It is no easy thing to find an intellectual who succumbs to the futile charm of fashion, who is turned on by the seduction of the ephemeral and mocks the 'beautiful souls' who crusade against rock music and channel surfing. Now, we have finally met that rare bird, that apostle of the postmodern: his name is Gilles Lipovetsky."--Le Monde
"This book makes sense of what might otherwise appear derisory, a book that permits us to understand what blinds us by being right before our eyes."--Esprit
"[Lipovetsky's] is an undifferentiated celebration of modern narcissistic freedom: a defense of bourgeois individualism without the constraints of bourgeois morality. . . . [Lipovetsky is] engaged in the contemporary predicament. He sees the sophistication of modern advertising: he is alive to the social possibilities of our cultural transformation. . . And because he embraces, rather than merely dismisses, the new age, he understands it better."--Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic
"Like all books that really count, Lipovetsky's possesses the virtue of breaking the commonplace consensus. . . . [It is a] savory analysis of the infinite detail of the meanderings in the ephemeral. His thesis is fundamentally the following: if it is clear that fashion is a mix of conformity and of individual choice, its very emergence as a historical phenomenon manifests a global and typically Western logic, that of the break with tradition."--Luc Ferry, L'Express
"This books will entice scholars but is also readily accessible . . . and of interest to many general readers. This makes it a rare find among its kind."--Library Journal
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