The Language of Fashion

The Language of Fashion

Tailor and Baker

"...[S]ince the Renaissance there have been works on clothing: these either had archaeological aims (with ancient clothing for example), or else they were inventories of clothes governed by social conditions: these inventories are veritable lexicons, linking vestimentary systems very tightly either to anthropological states (sex, age, marital status) or to social ones (bourgeoisie, nobility, peasantry, etc.), but it is clear that this sort of lexicon of clothing was possible only in a society which was starkly hierarchical, in which fashion was part of a real social ritual. On this subject I would like to cite an important work— Larmessin’s seventeenth-century Costumes grotesques—because it represents an imaginary state not unlike the superlative case that is this vestimentary lexicon. For each profession Larmessin composed a form of dress whose elements were borrowed as if in a dream from the tools of the relevant activity, which were then arranged into a sort of general line or signifying gestalt (the process is not dissimilar to the paintings of Arcimboldo): it is a kind of frenetic pan-symbolism, a creation which is both poetic and intelligible, in which the profession is represented by its imaginary essence: calm forms for the pastry-maker, serpentine for the apothecary, pointed for the fireworks manufacturer, rounded and humped for the potter, etc.: in this fantasy, clothing ends up absorbing Man completely, the worker is anatomically assimilated to the respective instruments and in the end it is an alienation which here is described poetically: Larmessin’s workers are robots avant la lettre."
- Excerpt from The Language of Fashion, Roland Barthes, (compiled posthumously from Œuvres complètes 1993, 1994, 1995). 

It would be a great exercise to revise these costumes to our current professional landscape. I have a hunch that our costumes will mostly consist of computers, laptops and computerised technology, fulfilling Larmessin's prophecy.

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For other text visit this collection of Barthes work
More images of Costumes grotesques