Power and Style: A World History of Politics and Dress

Image of Power and Style: A World History of Politics and Dress
Release Date: 
March 5, 2013
Reviewed by: 

“. . . a fascinating read. . . . about the semiotics of fashion . . .”

Power and Style
is not the usual photo heavy fashion volume but a serious study of what one can call an encyclopedia of “silent signals” that pertain to how a person presents themselves in matters of style.

The point of the study is simply that no matter what era of history is discussed, there have always been codes or visuals that served as an announcement to the public of what your hierarchical position was in a given society.

The Gaulmes have exhaustively covered from prehistoric times to present and have explored items of apparel that this reviewer has never read about unless with some sociological or historical references involved. The categories are vast and at times quite exotic.

Power and Style is chock full of esoterica about fashion as well as just facts that one might have never known and enough of both that the fashionista should find the book truly enlightening.

For example, Cartier was the jeweler of choice when platinum first became available, going so far as to reset the crown jewels from yellow gold to platinum—just because. And did you know that red shoes can signify royalty and that heel color and height once indicated your social standing? What about the fact that fringed garments originated in Mesopotamia or that Nero dispensed a mist of aromatic scents from a ceiling contraption onto his guests in his home to mask either the smell of food or the odors emanating from his guests? Do you know what a sarapech is or that Louis XV wore a 56-carat diamond as a hatpin or that there is such a thing as a red diamond?

So much fascinating information abounds in this exquisitely illustrated volume.

The “dress” that is spoken of covers everything from penis sheaths to diamonds, tail coats to cufflinks, loafers to All American style and who wore it, far enough back in time to include loincloths and fur pelts, tattoos and scarification.

The Gaulmes omit no thread, gewgaw, or button when considering, for instance, the difference between what we know as a flip flop sandal to a sandal that wraps around the ankle.

The reader of Power and Style must have a curiosity about the semiotics of fashion as well as an abiding interest in the sociological implications of what we demonstrate when we dress. Not your usual frivolous fashion coffee table book, Power and Style is a fascinating read.