Sex, Culture, and the Politics of Fashion in Stuart England

Emilie M Brinkman, Purdue University


This dissertation is the first full-length study to analyze the politicization of dress and material objects, exploring the manner in which fashion served as a site for political discourse and agency, during the seventeenth century, specifically from 1603–1702, an era characterized by profound political, religious, and social turmoil as well as increased international trade and luxury consumption. This dissertation demonstrates how fashion, which encompassed clothing, accessories, hairstyling, and cosmetics, was an important facet of political culture within Stuart England and, furthermore, was absolutely fundamental to how the English understood themselves, others, and the turbulent world they lived in. I argue that dress often figured, in both a rhetorical and material sense, at the center of political debates during the Stuart period, particularly in regards to issues of foreign influence, the threat of Catholicism, regicide, the problem of succession, “party” politics, and conceptions of “Englishness.” This study analyzes a variety of primary sources including cheap printed works, royal household records, state papers, personal correspondence and diaries, as well as extant objects and court portraiture, in order to reveal how political and material culture were deeply entwined. While current histories of early modern dress emphasize the continuities of fashion during this period, this dissertation offers a reinterpretation of this traditional perspective but demonstrating how, while some styles and garments certainly changed over time, the particular political attitudes associated with such garb, such as anti-French and anti-Catholic sentiment, remained constant threads within the rich tapestry of Stuart politics. Furthermore, this dissertation contributes to not simply the cultural and political history of Stuart England, but also important scholarship on the political agency of early modern women, seventeenth-century notions of “whiteness” and “blackness,” the development of Britain’s trade empire, and the concept of an English national identity.




Zook, Purdue University.

Subject Area

European history|History

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