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This selection of engravings by William Hogarth and his contemporaries explores the delusions of fashion: the ways in which adherence to the latest trends in the eighteenth century bred delusion in its pursuers. Commonly, current fashions would be dictated by the wealthier, aristocratic classes. Fashion did not strictly apply to attire, but extended to interior design, art and social manners as well. Each individual engraving picks apart and criticises these fashions and those people - be they aristocrat or plebeian - who adhered to them so diligently through a remorseless combination of slapstick and satirical humour. These engravings ridicule the aping of aristocratic and (certainly in Hogarth's case) foreign fashions, but also of outmoded, no longer acceptable social trends. Through fashion, characters in these plates deceive themselves and others by adopting social roles and manners that are inappropriate to their true social stations. These comic pieces deal with the fantasy-like element within man, regarding his self-image and his aspirations, which are shown to be a kind of masquerade. These are "modern moral subjects" that confront us with the simultaneously grand and pathetic pursuit of being in fashion.

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All images © Trustees of the British Museum

1.William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress, Plate II, engraving (1735)
2.Anthony Walker, The Beaux Disaster, engraving (1747)
3. John June, The Lady's Disaster, engraving (1746)
4. Gérard Jean Baptiste Scotin after William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode, Plate I ("The Marriage Settlement"), engraving (1745
5. J. Jarvis after William Hogarth, Taste in High Life, engraving (1746)