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Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860 1st Edition

2.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226977935
ISBN-10: 0226977935
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Editorial Reviews


"A marvelous work of history, imaginatively conceived, scrupulously researched, and gracefully composed." - Jean-Christophe Agnew, Yale University"

From the Inside Flap

"The marvel of Michael Zakim's work is its interweaving of the technical and commercial side of men's clothing production with the ideological and political consequences in a period of radical democratization. From his book we learn the meaning of dress from head to toe."—Richard Bushman, Columbia University

Ready-Made Democracy explores the history of men's dress in America to consider how capitalism and democracy emerged at the center of American life during the century between the Revolution and the Civil War. Michael Zakim demonstrates how clothing initially attained a significant place in the American political imagination on the eve of Independence. At a time when household production was a popular expression of civic virtue, homespun clothing was widely regarded as a reflection of America's most cherished republican values: simplicity, industriousness, frugality, and independence.

By the early nineteenth century, homespun began to disappear from the American material landscape. Exhortations of industry and modesty, however, remained a common fixture of public life. In fact, they found expression in the form of the business suit. Here, Zakim traces the evolution of homespun clothing into its ostensible opposite—the woolen coats, vests, and pantaloons that were "ready-made" for sale and wear across the country. In doing so, he demonstrates how traditional notions of work and property actually helped give birth to the modern industrial order. For Zakim, the history of men's dress in America mirrored this transformation of the nation's social and material landscape: profit-seeking in newly expanded markets, organizing a waged labor system in the city, shopping at "single-prices," and standardizing a business persona.

In illuminating the critical links between politics, economics, and fashion in antebellum America, Ready-Made Democracy will prove essential to anyone interested in the history of the United States and in the creation of modern culture in general.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226977935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226977935
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,080,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By C. V. on September 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As I finish this book, my head is fairly spinning. I'm left with the distinct impression that Zakim is a rather brilliant man; if the same can be said of his book, however, I am less certain.

Ready Made Democracy attempts to trace the development of the modern American capitalist society through a close examination of the men's ready-made clothing industry. In this respect, the book's subtitle, "A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860, is distinctly misleading. More correct, I think, would be "A History of the American Republic in Men's Dress." The book looks at the difficulties American had in coming to terms with their country's rapidly changing identity. As Zakim writes at one point, "Clothing really did constitute a link between self and society." (125) The business suit represented, in its smart ubiquity, capitalism's promise of plenty and profit. At the same time, its sober monochromatic restraint affirmed the old republic morality. In this way, the crowds of identical men swarming Broadway each morning "constituted an industrial spectacle that brought social order to an otherwise disordered situation." (126)

Zakim argues that Americans struggled to come to terms with what their young country represented. Was it the abundance of the thousands of cheap, mass-produced items of clothing that poured out of East Coast cities-an abundance coming at the hands of the country's most exploited and unequally compensated workers? Zakim argues that Americans of the nineteenth century also struggled with this contradiction, wanting to restore the republican values of industry and equality represented by homespun, yet unwilling to give up the wealth and promise of capitalism.
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By NJ Sekela on November 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchsed this solely based upon the fanfare that others had given it. This thickly written book, has too much loftiness and not enough real world practicality to be a quotable resource. Having worked in the tailoring trade, as well as being an intense student of 19th century tailoring, I disagree with the conclusions that author made about an international subconsious sensitivity within the trade. It is not more likely that there was an invisibile spiritual connection among tailors back then, then among brick layers today. The author's perspective NOT is that of a tradesman, but an academic, which has the danger of being myopic. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and was told by several tailors, that there are things you learn in school, things you learn from books, and things you learn on the job.

Unfortunately, being completely disconnected from the trade, there isn't much to learn from THIS book.
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