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Towards A Sociology Of Dress

I suggested in this journal2 that, if we exclude the numerous histories of clothes, the majority of which merely repeat each other, then works on clothing overall are rare; and since this is a vast subject, barely explored, and in which there is a permanent temptation towards futility, any serious attempt or claim to synthesize clothing is eagerly seized upon. There is no lack of such intentions in Fr.

Kiener’s work.3 But I doubt whether this study provides anything really new for those who have read the work by Flügel which, despite (or, perhaps, because of) its bias, is unrivalled to this day.4 To understand Kiener’s tentativeness we have to remind ourselves of Flügel’s bias. Flügel located himself clearly within a psychoanalytical perspective; he has used the lexicon of Freudian symbols to describe human clothing as the ambiguous expression, both mask and advertisement, of the unconscious self.

Even if we reject Freudian symbolism, his work remains doubly valuable: first, because he has brought together the essential elements of clothing phenomena, pulling them out of history, folklore, literature or contemporary society, in short putting order into what everyone more or less knows (for here there is a subtle difficulty for all work on clothing: how to give objective value to something which seems insignificant because it is experienced subjectively);

Second, because he has explicitly conceived clothing as a value-for, that is as a form of meaning (where the signified is the deep psyche); for the first time, clothing was now liberated from the Chapter 3 Towards a Sociology of Dress1 32 The Language of Fashion triangle of motivations (protection, modesty, ornamentation) in which it had been locked, and reached the status of message, an element in a semiological system: in this sense, and in spite of his strict obedience to analysis, Flüge

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