Debora Silverman's "Selling Culture in Reagan's America"
by Sydney Kipen
In her article “Selling Culture: Bloomingdale’s, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan’s America,” Debora Silverman begins with a description of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Yves Saint-Laurent exhibit organized by Diana Vreeland. Silverman explains the success of Vreeland’s show as an advertising campaign for French haute couture in America and “as a glorification of woman as and objet d’art,” for whom life consists of displaying different extravagant outfits (305). Silverman asserts that the Saint-Laurent show was part of an important movement of “aristocratic posturing” in America, leading (maybe “pushing” high society individuals, engrossed in cultural and political aspects of life, to care about how they look. Silverman contends that the movement held direct links to the epicenter of power in the White House; Ronald and Nancy Reagan initiated a new regime of aristocracy, connecting politics and fashion.
The Reagan White House attempted to portray itself as a member of an exclusive elite class, despite its dependence on the American public of consumers for their success. Silverman makes the argument that the Reagan’s continuously combined “fashion, politics, high-culture and consumerism,” insinuating something, perhaps unflattering, about the values of the Reagan house and their hedonism. Silverman goes on to describe the socializing skills of the Reagan’s and their high-society friends. This was eventually illustrated through their aristocratic tendencies, on a consumerist level at Bloomingdale’s and an elite level at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Known as “twin centers of aristocratic invocation,” Silverman takes on a theoretical and argumentative approach as she asserts that Vreeland’s projects at the Met which glorified “social distinction and female decoration,” coincided with Nancy Reagan’s devotion to the life of luxury, especially fashion. The “Reagan elite,” as Silverman deems it, exemplified the consumerist elite, using political standing and power to pave the way for the aristocratic class. “Reagan’s politics and aristocratic fashion culture share a fundamental in-authenticity, a reliance on fabrication, and a glaring disparity between symbolism and reality” (307). Fashion made its debut in the highest of powers as a presidential formality, but as Silverman argues, was not quite deserving of its aristocratic place above other national necessities.
Silverman, Debora. "Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America." Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America. New York: Pantheon, 1986. 3-11. Print.