chapter  3
14 Pages

A Question of Nation: Foreign Clothes on the English Subject

This essay examines the reaction in print to foreign textiles as they are brought into England and worn on the English body. Although there is precious little in the way of material artifacts of the clothing of the day, there is ample textual evidence that English people of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were rather fixated on the luxury goods imported from the continent. This essay is a study of the rhetorical thrust of these writings. I focus specifically on the texts of satirists and moralists, unlikely bedfellows in their common project of lambasting the ostentation of those men and women who choose to don silks and satins from France, Spain, and Italy. Implicit in their critique is the lament that these fashionistas are also clothing themselves in the various immoral attributes of those continental countries and, worse yet, disrupting the notion of what it means to be English. As a literary critic, I am interested specifically in how an analysis of the language of these texts can help us gain a better understanding of the concerns and preoccupations of early modern subjects vis-a-vis the culture of cloth.