Between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, western Europe witnessed a tide of novelty in textiles. Jan de Vries’s ‘industrious revolution’ offers a compelling framework for understanding these changes in early modern consumption and production. De Vries insists on the dynamism of the early modern consumer economy. He argues the lure of attractive new consumer goods, from textiles to tea, enticed rural women and children out of idleness and underemployment into new forms of manufacturing, home-based, but income-generating. Yet the evidence he offers depicts an industrious revolution anchored in the eighteenth century and propelled chiefly by engagement with goods from the world beyond Europe. The history of textiles and fashion between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries indicates that, on the contrary, the dynamism of the continent’s early modern consumer economy was chiefly driven by new developments in European-made textiles. Nevertheless, in a market for textiles that was becoming increasingly diverse, product innovations often complemented household self-provisioning, rather than competing with it.
Prof. John Style is Professor Emeritus in History at the University of Hertfordshire and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
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