Agency through Fashion. Aristocratic Women as Consumers in the Vienna Biedermeier Period

In early 19th century Vienna, aristocratic women used fashion as a means to shape norms and negotiate gender-specific ideas. As consumers they ordered and bought fashionable clothes and accessories from Viennese dressmakers and milliners, often made according to French patterns. By promenading in certain parts of the city, such as the Prater grounds or the Bastei, and visiting shops near St. Stephen's Cathedral, these women claimed public space for themselves. The project examines the appropriation of fashion as a field of action and analyses it as a marker of social and gender-specific hierarchies.

Imports of trends and patterns were interrupted in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, when social fears and anti-French propaganda led to the establishment of the so called "Viennese fashion" [Wiener Mode]. This new "brand" was intended to reduce the influence of "foreign", especially "French" clothing. The research investigates associated buying habits as well as the design and development of travel and sportswear for women, reflected in contemporary fashion magazines.

Using perspectives from women's and gender history and approaches from the history of consumption, the project traces the extent to which aristocratic women participated in social change in Vienna and how they helped shape corresponding transformation processes in fashion. The extensive correspondence between the sisters of the countly Hoyos-Sprinzenstein family is the main source for the project. Archival holdings of aristocratic families have been so far underexplored for Viennese urban history. Similarly aristocratic women as actors have received increased research attention in the last twenty years.  Due to their social position, noblewomen often had both visibility and economic means at their disposal and as consumers and trendsetters played a decisive role in shaping the social life of the Viennese Biedermeier period.

Project leader

Dr. Waltraud Schütz


Julia Czachs, BA

Project term



Kultur, Wissenschafts- und Forschungsförderung der Stadt Wien