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Title: Sophistication  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Fashion, Philosophy of culture, Applied aesthetics, Sophism, Aesthetics
Collection: Aesthetics, Culture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Tamara de Lempicka, the art deco painter who epitomised urbane sophistication in the 1920s

Sophistication is the quality of refinement — displaying good taste, wisdom and subtlety rather than crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity.[1] In the perception of social class, sophistication can link with concepts such as status, privilege and superiority.[2]


  • Scope of sophistication 1
  • History 2
  • Types of sophistication 3
  • Acquiring sophistication 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Scope of sophistication

In social terms, sophistication can be seen as "a form of snobbery".[3]

A study of style conveys an idea of the range of possible elements though which one can demonstrate sophistication in elegance and fashion, covering the art of "[...] the shoemaker, the hairdresser, the cosmetologist, the cookbook writers, the chef, the diamond merchant, the couturieres, and the fashion queens, the inventors of the folding umbrella ... and of champagne."[4]


In Ancient Greece, sophia was the special insight of poets and prophets. This then became the wisdom of philosophers such as sophists.[5] But their use of rhetoric to win arguments gave sophistication a derogatory quality.

The system of modern Western sophistication has its roots in France, arguably helped along its way by the policies of King Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715).[6]

The English regarded sophistication as decadent and deceptive until the aristocratic sensibilities and refined elegance of Regency dandies such as Beau Brummell (1778–1840) became fashionable and admired.[7]

Types of sophistication

Recognised varieties of sophistication include:

  • cultural sophistication[8](or culturedness)
  • intellectual sophistication[9]

In the analysis of humor, Victor Raskin distinguishes "two types of sophistication: limited access, or allusive knowledge, and complex processing".[10]

Acquiring sophistication

Methods of acquiring the appearance of personal sophistication include:

  • educational travel - note the function of the traditional Grand Tour for European aesthetes[11]

On a societal level commentators can associate various forms of sophistication with civilization.[13][14]


  1. ^ Faye Hammill (2010), Sophistication: A Literary and Cultural History 
  2. ^ Note for example: Firat, A. Fuat; Nikhilesh Dholakia (2003). Consuming people: from political economy to theaters of consumption. Routledge interpretive marketing research series. Routledge. p. 52.  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ DeJean, Joan (2003). The essence of style: how the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafes, style, sophistication, and glamour. New York: Free Press. p. 193.  
  5. ^ Mark Backman (1991), "The Roots of Our Sophistication", Sophistication, Ox Bow Press,  
  6. ^ For example: DeJean, Joan (2003). The essence of style: how the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafes, style, sophistication, and glamour. New York: Free Press. p. 3.  
  7. ^ Deborah Longworth (2 Sep 2010), "Sophistication: A Literary and Cultural History",  
  8. ^ For example: Holt, Douglas; Douglas Cameron (2010). Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands. Oxford University Press. p. 352.  
  9. ^ For example: 
  10. ^  
  11. ^  
  12. ^ Mackintosh, Prudence (January 1986). "Little Women".  
  13. ^ Callahan, Mary P. (2004), "Making Myanmars: Language, Territory and Belonging in Post-Socialist Burma", in Migdal, Joel S., Boundaries and belonging: states and societies in the struggle to shape identities and local practices, Cambridge University Press, pp. 99–120,  
  14. ^ Hernández, Mark A (2006). Figural conquistadors: rewriting the New World's discovery and conquest in Mexican and River Plate novels of the 1980s and 1990s. The Bucknell studies in Latin American literature and theory. Bucknell University Press. p. 39.  

Further reading

  • Litvak, Joseph (1997). "Kiss Me, Stupid: Sophistication and Snobbery in Vanity Fair". Strange gourmets: sophistication, theory, and the novel. Duke University Press. 
  • M. Christman, Henry (1970). "Sophistication in America". A view of the Nation: an anthology, 1955-1959. Ayer Publishing. pp. 62–69. 
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