Tag Archives: Joan DeJean

Francophiles and Fashionistas

StyleCoverAn amusing book entitled “The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour” by Joan DeJean is a must read for students of French culture, historians, and those obsessed with style.  The title of the book really says it all, but if you want to learn more, DeJean–one of the foremost authorities on seventeenth-century French culture–provides detailed insight into the contribution of the French in almost every facet of style, from food to footwear to perfume and beyond.  DeJean explains how the charismatic Louis XIV began his reign when the nation had no particular association with elegance, but soon changed all that  to the point that the  French became synonymous with luxury and “the arbiters in matters of taste and style” the world over.  DeJean no doubt has the historical credentials to take this work on, but also writes in a light, sometimes tongue-in-cheek style about the excesses of the time.  The book, illustrated with seventeenth century drawings, takes on the historical roots for why champagne cork pops are synonymous with celebrations, why diamonds are the chosen gem stone to symbolize wealth and status, and why fashion slaves would pay a fortune for a designer accessory…(that one still eludes me.) The various chapters on hairstyles, fashion, food, jewelry, and parties can be read independently depending on your interests, each one written like a little historical mystery into the topic.  But I have to confess, taken as a whole, reading the book was a little like eating a steady diet of creme brulee, Dom Perignon, and sugar-covered beignets—in other words, it made me kind of sick;  The descriptions of the excesses of the court of Louis XIV were outlandish, but the slavish devotion of ordinary people today to the arbitrary concept of “style” in their pursuit of the “glam soiree” or the five-thousand dollar clutch purse was, after a while, a bit much. snootywaiter

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