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Georgian homes were filled with an entire world of goods. Not only were types of furniture increasingly customised to suit a particular function or area in the house, but it was also used as an expression of status, fashion, and individuality. Exemplary is the role of domestic textiles in tying the house interior together since few other household goods played such a key role in expressing one’s fashionability towards peers. At the same time, this development also received criticism for being the textbook example of indulgent consumption by Enlightened philosophers in the well-known luxury debates.

Eighteenth-century London was an environment where a group of people operated within, amongst other things, a polite society with many unwritten rules. Status, in part, depended on being seen properly consuming the right things. Auctions were one of the places where the middling sort went to procure items with this goal and to make their homes more comfortable. Textiles prices were relatively affordable, so incorporating second-hand fabrics became a conscious choice rather than a necessity. It goes without saying that a – clean – look, smell, and texture were vital when buying second-hand domestic textiles. Auctioneers had limited space to communicate the material quality (e.g., silk and calico), fashionability and state (e.g., to the latest fashion, neat) to sell fabrics.

It is precisely the consumption of fashionable and extravagant fabrics in clothing and the furnishing of one’s home that was considered as reaching the burden of proof for frivolous, indulgent, and unnecessary consumption by many Enlightened thinkers. By looking at both the occurrence of the different types of domestic textiles and how they were described throughout the researched period, this paper examines the centrality of ideas of cleanliness, fashionability and indulgence. The theory in the intellectual debates will be measured against the practice in the advertisements. Digital text analysis will be supplemented by a close reading of the descriptions of various fabrics in the auction advertisements themselves, dictionaries, philosophical treatises, furniture manuals and other eighteenth-century printed materials.


Alessandra De Mulder is PhD Candidate at the Centre for Urban History (CSG) at the University of Antwerp where she works on a project about value constructions in eighteenth-century London auction advertisements under the supervision of Bruno Blondé, Bert De Munck, Mike Kestemont and Ilja Van Damme. She is currently in the fourth year of her project and spending the Spring Term at the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies (CESC) at York University. Her research focuses on second-hand household goods and examines the continuity and change in the metropolitan consumer mentality by combining digital and more traditional heuristic methodologies. 

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