cover image The Language of Fashion

The Language of Fashion

Roland Barthes, , trans. from the French by Andy Stafford. . Berg, $17.95 (183pp) ISBN 978-1-84520-380-1

As part of his edgy 1960s cultural criticism, French sociologist Barthes wrote extensively on fashion, culminating in The Fashion System . British academics Stafford and Michael Carter have assembled a smattering of the early interdisciplinary essays that haven't been translated before, originally published in publications as diverse as Revue Française de Sociologie and Marie Claire . The essays reveal the chronological development of Barthes's thinking, from 1957 to 1969, which essentially aimed to apply Saussure's semiology to clothing forms to show how "the signifying function of dress makes it a total social object." In the early "History and Sociology of Clothing," for example, Barthes equates the Saussurian linguistics distinctions "langue" and "parole" to fashion; that is, "langue" is dress, while "parole" is the act of getting dressed. "Language and Clothing" delves into fashion history, extracting the nugget that men's current anti-dandyist style derives from the austerity of Quaker dress. "From Gemstones to Jewellery" is one of the few essays for lay readers, as is a consideration of classic versus modern style entitled "The Contest Between Chanel and Courrèges." There's a lot of padding and explication in this slender volume, necessary to navigate Barthes's fairly difficult system. (Apr. 5)