In Kate Haulman’s Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America, the author endeavors to describe how fashion, that is, how individuals dressed in the aforementioned time period carried deeper social connotations, for example, reflecting gender roles and political authority. Fashion, in other words, becomes a real material reflection of a social discourse and, furthermore, the power that exists at the center of all social discourse.
Choice in fashion namely does not become a wholly autonomous decision, but instead reflects various currents of power in society. In so far as a woman thus will be dressed in a particularly overtly feminine way, considered to be acceptable by the general population or higher classes, this reflects a precise gender role and what was expected of women in this time period by the dominant social strata.
Phrased in this manner, however, this does capture the depth of the author’s thesis in this book, to the extent that such a reading could be applied to any historical period. Haulman’s concerns are more précised. For example, Haulman develops an account of fashion in the context of the imperial crises of the 1760s and the 1770s. Namely, the author wants to understand how fashion choices were symptoms of where Americans sided in the debates about autonomy or being part of the British empire. The regulation of fashion, in other words, reflected hierarchies of power and also controlled gender identities. Shifts in fashion, accordingly, marked shifts in power structures in the America of the time.
The author thus provides a compelling account of how a seemingly mundane and individual choice, such as fashion decisions, ultimately possesses a deeper sociological significance. This is an entirely logical to the extent that fashion is, as the author states, an immediate impression made on others, it exists in a social space and thus carries with it a network of meanings. Haulman’s account establishes the relevancy of this model and also explains its meaning in the American context of the eighteenth-century.