For every fashion lover, there is a time when all you have to do is take a picture of your outfit. It’s too flying, too dripping wet, too boiling not to include it for the homies and posterity (e.g. the grid on your Instagram). In the year of COVID, Fit-Images went from being a vain narcissist’s hobby to a fairly universal medium of visual expression. Since we couldn’t see each other’s impressive dresses in person, we relied on group chats and Insta stories to fill in the void. Predictably, there were haters who viewed the rise of the fit image as yet another example of frivolous millennial behavior. In fact, the matching picture is reminiscent of an old and venerable tradition that was literally invented at the beginning of modern times by a whipped duo of father and son who lived in 16th century Germany in Augsburg. This year her fashion endeavors are published in The First of Book Fashion (as a paperback by Bloomsbury), a detailed color facsimile of 178 pictures by Matthäus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg, as well as scientific introductions and analyzes by early modern European historians Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward.
The cover of the new edition of The First Book of Fashion.
Like many stylish guys today, the Schwarzes were middle-class nerds hoping to jump a rung or two in the social hierarchy. Both father and son were accountants for the famous Fuggers, a family of merchants and businessmen who financed the Habsburgs and other European empires, and were among the most prolific patrons of the art of their time. As the brains behind a powerful capitalist company, Matthäus and the young Veit Konrad mixed with Augsburg’s nobility, but they did not belong to the upper class themselves. To make up for their lack of royal blood, they spent huge sums on absolutely insane clothing. At the same time, they couldn’t be too extravagant so as not to violate medieval laws. These were rules that expressly forbade the lower classes from wearing certain extravagant and expensive textiles (such as velvet or the color purple) that were reserved for kings. However, the envelope pushing outfits from Schwarzes paid off, so that the family could rise into the ranks of Augsburg society and ultimately be ennobled.
As a teenager growing up around the turn of the 16th century, Matthew showed an interest in the clothing of his elders, whose costumes he found equally fascinating and ridiculous. When he began working for the Fuggers in 1519, he commissioned a local artist, Narcissus Renner, to record his life. Matthäus Schwarz hoped that one day his children could look back on the once cool but now completely tragic seizures and their father’s joy in the changing fashion. Who of us hasn’t toasted our father or grandpa while leafing through a family photo album? But instead of taking photos that haven’t been invented for about 300 years, Schwarz had these portraits painted on parchment. They resembled the illuminated religious manuscripts of the Middle Ages, but were secular and private, intended only for those lucky enough to see them. Today scholars regard his book as a key example of the emerging concept of selfhood and identity that flourished in trading hours: the same moment that Montaigne’s lavishly self-indulgent essays and the works of Shakespeare that literary critic Harold Bloom said invented the concept of Humanism. Matthew in particular was also deeply involved with astrology and is believed to have popularized the concept of birthdays – including several illustrations in his book of special outfits worn on his birthday. Father of the Fitbild and inventor of the birthday!