Anyone who’s been paying attention to the flurry around the French economist Thomas Piketty’s 2013 Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century (Le Capital au XXIe...

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the flurry around the French economist Thomas Piketty’s 2013 Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century (Le Capital au XXIe siecle) knows how a la mode the economy is at the moment. Contemporary ideas and debates about capital, debt, and austerity are only part of what makes Clare Crowston‘s Credit, Fashion, Sex: Economies of Regard in Old Regime France (Duke University Press, 2013) such an interesting read in 2014. In this detailed study of the varied economic, political, social, and cultural meanings and practices of “credit” from the seventeenth through the eighteenth century, Crowston draws our attention to mutually constitutive worlds and systems of circulation. At once a genealogy of credit; an economic, social, and cultural history of fashion; and an examination of the roles of gender and desire in Old Regime France, Credit, Fashion, Sex makes an important contribution to our understanding of the origins of the French Revolution while respecting the historical integrity of the period that came before.

In addition to its conceptual and historiographical insights regarding credit and the complexities of Old Regime society, the book offers readers a fascinating and extensively-researched analysis of the everyday practices and systems of exchange that operated “behind the scenes” of more familiar stories. For example, the book illuminates the mythology and critiques surrounding Marie Antoinette, the queen who embodied like no one else the intersection between ideas about credit, fashion, and sexuality in the era before 1789. At the same time, Crowston gives us a glimpse of other figures and social actors who played vital roles in the society of the period: Rose Bertin, the queen’s dressmaker; the fashion merchants who made so much luxury and refinement possible, as well as all those wives not married to Louis XVI who traded on/in their husbands’ credit, participating in multiple economic and cultural systems of circulation and power.

 

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