The southwestern German state of Württemberg in the 18th and 19th centuries presents a unique opportunity for the analysis of the interactions between global fabric markets and local socioeconomic conditions. Combining a history of local protoindustrial fabric production with increasingly important fiber imports from North America and Asia, Württemberg also has the unique advantage of having had a system of governance that placed an emphasis on recording transfers of property. These recordings, in the form of dowry inventories of newly married couples, were detailed down to the level of individual items, allowing for in-depth analysis of the entry of imported fabrics into locally-owned items. For this study, nine inventories, across the mid 18th century, the late 18th century, and the early 19th century, and across low, middle, and high wealth couples in each respective period, were studied, in Gruorn, a village transitioning from an agricultural economy to one based on a combination of farming, handicrafts, and proto-industrial linen production. It was observed that across dowries, the percentage of the dowry’s value represented by clothing items containing some imported fabrics tended to increase over time. This increase is especially noticeable and persistent across time in inventories of goods belonging to couples in the low wealth category. In particular, the count of items that are both inexpensive and highly visible experience some of the most dramatic growth in low wealth inventories. The striking increases in the number of Halstücher (kerchiefs) and Strümpfe (socks) with imported fibers in low wealth inventories may indicate that the rise in imported fabrics provided a means for cheap self-expression, or accessible fashion, among the lower classes of Gruorn.
This research was supported by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
Local and Global Markets, Class-Cultures, and Imported Fabrics in Southwestern Germany, 1750-1850.
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