Taking Stock: 16th-century German accountant started style blogging and selfies

‘FASHION’, ‘style-blogging’, ‘selfies’ and ‘accountancy’ are words rarely uttered in the same breath. But this apparent 21st century obsession actually owes its origins to a 16th-century German accountant, Matthäus Schwarz.

That’s the somewhat bizarre claim behind an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge – ‘A Young Man’s Progress’. It centres on what historians have dubbed the “first book on fashion”, devised and commissioned by Schwarz, which has inspired a new series of photographs of fictional male dandies, by artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead.

Born in 1497, Schwarz earned his living working as an accountant for a wealthy merchant family. And like most dedicated followers of fashion, he spent a generous chunk of his income on clothes, and over four decades, beginning in 1520, he commissioned artists to capture and chart his threads.

The Independent charts how he had the paintings bound into the Trachtenbuch (Book of Clothes) and instead of Instagram, Schwarz’s blogging medium was watercolour on parchment.

Some of his outfits reflected social or political events such as a red and yellow number that echoed the Holy Roman Emperor’s flag to mark Charles V’s return to Germany, to champion his Catholic allegiance.

TS, however, is unsure what he would have made of the onesie.

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