On Apes and Aping: Fashion, Modernity and Evolutionary Theories in Nineteenth- century Greece

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During the nineteenth century, dress constituted one of the main and most visible fields of modernization in Greece. “Frankish” clothes became gradually widespread and symbolized the participation in urban modernity and the rejection of a traditional, rural past. Exaggerations in dressing habits, as well as in other manifestations of imitating the “West,” were often a source of derision. This critical attitude is exemplified by the novel The Ape Xouth of 1848, its main character being a man turned ape who acts as a relentless satirist of Athenian reality. The novel’s plot, connecting the human species with other members of the animal kingdom, echoes evolutionary (Lamarckian) theories to which the educated Greek public had already been introduced through a number of publications. The interest in evolutionary theories further increased after the publication of articles related to Darwinian evolution. Evolutionary theories provided a background against which social phenomena, including fashion, were discussed and analyzed. The Greek word for aping was used extensively to describe a state of blind imitation, as opposed to innovation or creative transformation of foreign influences. The interaction between fashion and evolutionary theories in nineteenth-century Greece reflected shifting ideas about the biological other or cultural outsider. Emerging evolutionary theories deeply affected the meaning of authenticity, of the “true self,” and touched on the issue of cultural identity, which was already problematic and highly contested in the young Greek state.

Keywords: Greece; evolution; fashion; modernity

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175174109X438127

Affiliations: Email: artemis@yagou.gr

Publication date: September 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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