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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

5 - Fashioning Distinctions

Summary

Having established a generational transformation in attitudes towards childhood, and the interrelated changes in the experiences of youths, shifting the focus of the investigation to consider the adult world reveals the socio-political nature of this transition. Novel rifts were developing within society during the 1760s and 1770s between a younger cohort and their middle-aged and elderly contemporaries, which brought the distinctiveness of these life stages to greater prominence. In Chapter 6 attention will be turned to age-based tensions in the political arena. First, exploring trends in fashionable cuisine and coiffure exposes the cultural articulation of these generational divisions. This reveals close links between age relations and the concepts of gender, rank, and place, while allowing the chronology of change seen in earlier chapters to be viewed from an adult perspective.

Hair and food have an intrinsic value to the cultural historian. As Lorna Weatherill points out, the preparation and consumption of food is a physical necessity, but at the same time it is both a personal and social expression of taste. Contemporary cookery writers were clearly aware that this was not an impartial topic, and their culinary guidance was blatantly flavoured with a liberal sprinkling of cultural mores. Such fashionable cookbooks cannot be assumed to directly reflect what was being eaten, but they did embody idealised projections of ‘good taste’ that people were buying into. Consequently, as cooks debated the relative merits of French cuisine and English cookery, this developing genre illuminated cultural trends beyond the confines of the kitchen. Likewise, the hair that grows upon the head is a potent social signifier. It is both a natural attribute and a malleable aesthetic adornment that offers a highly visible method of expressing belonging and differentiation. It also provides a prominent indication of age, as hair loss and grey locks mark the passing of time. Yet, the eighteenth-century penchant for wigs severed the connection between the innate and the culturally ascribed aspects of hair, and can be said to epitomise the social artifice associated with polite society. The decline in wig wearing, therefore, presents a tangible indicator of the growing emphasis that was placed upon innate qualities during the second half of the eighteenth century.

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