The Fashion SystemPaperback
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- Publisher: University of California Press
- Format: Paperback | 351 pages
- Dimensions: 150mm x 226mm x 25mm | 431g
- Publication date: 1 September 1990
- Publication City/Country: Berkerley
- ISBN 10: 0520071778
- ISBN 13: 9780520071773
- Edition statement: Reprint
- Sales rank: 92,973
In his consideration of the language of the fashion magazine--the structural analysis of descriptions of women's clothing by writers about fashion--Barthes gives us a brief history of semiology. At the same time, he identifies economics as the underlying reason for the luxuriant prose of the fashion magazine: "Calculating, industrial society is obliged to form consumers who don't calculate; if clothing's producers and consumers had the same consciousness, clothing would be bought (and produced) only at the very slow rate of its dilapidation."
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Roland Barthes was born in 1915 and studied French literature and classics at the University of Paris. After teaching French at universities in Romania and Egypt, he joined the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, where he devoted himself to research in sociology and lexicology. He was a professor of the College de France until his death in 1980.
"Barthes's treatment of fashion in "The Fashion System is his most elaborate attempt to reveal the little worlds of meaning enclosed in each nuance of social life. . . . In a magisterial effort that has been superbly translated by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard, Barthes certainly draws our attention to some fascinating aspects of fashion. . . . One is able to hear the voice of a sensitive and sensible critic who was alive to the symbolic vitality of the world."--Flint Schier, "New York Times Book Review
In Mythologies, Barthes hinted that fashion magazines might provide a ready field for semiological analysis. In The Fashion System (published in France in 1967), he appears at his semantical worst - and, ultimately, some of his perceptive best - analyzing the written fashion descriptions in Elle and Le Jardin des Modes, instead of their visual presentation, because "it is not the object but the name that creates desire; it is not the dream but the meaning that sells." He divides clothing items and details into "species" and "genera"; he takes seemingly innocent phrases such as "prints win at the races" and finds hidden transformations occurring from the rhetorical code to the terminological to the vestimentary. Fashion signs can contain explicit references to the world or implicit references to the ideology of fashion itself. In the first instance, the dominant metaphor is work, the curiously inactive activity of dressing up. "To dress in order to act is, in a certain way, not to act, it is to display the being of doing, without assuming its reality." When it is fashion itself which is signified, it assumes the guise of natural law, imperative and agentless. "What is decided on, imposed, finally appears as necessary. . . for this to take place, it is enough to keep the Fashion decision secret; who will make it obligatory that this summer's dresses be made of raw silk?" Thus, answering his initial question, "Why does Fashion utter clothing so abundantly," Barthes succeeds in revealing how fashion language draws a veil around the fashion object, "a veil of images, of reasons, of meanings; a mediating substance of an aperitive order. . . substituting for the slow time of wear a sovereign time free to destroy itself by an act of annual potlatch." Linguists may appreciate his precise dissection of codes and matrices; most other readers may suffer through the semantics to enjoy the closing and far more anarchic perceptions. (Kirkus Reviews)
Back cover copy
The object of this inquiry is the structural analysis of women's clothing as currently described by Fashion magazines: its method was originally inspired by the general science of signs postulated by Saussure under the name semiology.