Ready-Made Democracy explores the history of men s dress in America to consider how capitalism and democracy emerged at the center of social life during the century between the Revolution and the Civil War. The story begins with the elevation of homespun clothing to a political ideology on the eve of Independence. Homespun clothing tied the productive efforts of the household to those of the nation, becoming a most tangible expression of the citizen s attachment to the public s happiness.
Coarse dress did not long remain in the wardrobe, particularly not among those political classes who talked most about it. Nevertheless, exhortations of industry and simplicity became a fixture of American discourse over the following century of industrial revolution, as the mass-produced suit emerged as a badge of a uniquely virtuous American polity. It is here, Zakim argues, in the evolution of homespun into its ready-made opposite, that men s dress proves to be both material and metaphor for the rise of democratic capitalism—and a site of the new social arrangements of bourgeois life.
In thus illuminating the critical links among culture, ideology, political economy, and fashion in antebellum America, Ready-Made Democracy will be essential to anyone interested in the history of the United States and the construction of modern life.