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"If you want to understand how things really worked in the world of French Queen Marie Antoinette, then read this book. Behind the glitter and the glowing beauty stood the fashion designer who provided style and most important, credit, for the rich rarely settled their debts. With this masterful and fascinating study, Clare Haru Crowston lays bare a whole cultural system in which economics, fashion, marriage, and social distinction were intertwined in brilliant and ultimately fatal ways."—Lynn Hunt, author of Inventing Human Rights: A History
"Credit, Fashion, Sex is one of the most remarkable books that I have read in the past decade. It is a virtuoso performance that marshals interest in a staggering array of interconnected themes, among them gender and sex, capitalism and nonmaterial levers of power, the role of information and the pretensions of absolutism, the consumer revolution and stark inequality, fashion and anxiety, confidence and deceit. It shows us how understanding credit systems inflects the way we fathom everything else."—Steven L. Kaplan, author of Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France des années oubliées, 1945–1958
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In Old Regime France credit was both a central part of economic exchange and a crucial concept for explaining dynamics of influence and power in all spheres of life. Contemporaries used the term credit to describe reputation and the currency it provided in court politics, literary production, religion, and commerce. Moving beyond Pierre Bourdieu's theorization of capital, this book establishes credit as a key matrix through which French men and women perceived their world. As Clare Haru Crowston demonstrates, credit unveils the personal character of market transactions, the unequal yet reciprocal ties binding society, and the hidden mechanisms of political power.
Credit economies constituted "economies of regard" in which reputation depended on embodied performances of credibility. Crowston explores the role of fashionable appearances and sexual desire in leveraging credit and reconstructs women's vigorous participation in its gray markets. The scandalous relationship between Queen Marie Antoinette and fashion merchant Rose Bertin epitomizes the vertical loyalties and deep social divides of the credit regime and its increasingly urgent political stakes.