Fashion and the Rise of Capitalism

I know not one Article that makes Money circulate better than Hoop-petticoats’. This passage by an unknown writer opens up an epistemic space for this fashionable invention of early eighteenth-century England. The innovation in artificial shape enhancers, that resembled the sixteenth-century Spanish farthingale, provided a break from the stagnant design competition in fashionable silks which had started and intensified in the preceding decades. This paper articulates the co-evolving secular trends in fashion and money over the first half of the eighteenth century. It addresses the points of take-off and saturation, firstly through cultural representations of financial bubbles and voluminous skirts, and secondly with liberal supply and demand for whale fins, whale oil and boned petticoats. The socio-political corollaries of the South Sea project, covering the northern fishery, and the ideology of hooped petticoats, supporting the woollen producers, are shown to have developed in parallel. The paper combines analysis of household budgets, import and price data on commodities used in creating fashion, and documentary sources to provide fusion of economic history and cultural economy. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was a period of consumption-led economic growth, or fashion-led commercial growth.