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A Strategic Pause


Fairy Tales, Digital ID 1259304, New York Public LibraryAll good writers of novels or lively nonfiction know that it’s crucial to pause their story at a certain point. Perhaps this can apply to the blogger, too. What have we learned so far in examining the path of Western fashion from antiquity to the nineteenth century? We know that clothing was modified for important class distinctions, that masculine bodies were celebrated while feminine bodies had to be concealed beneath numerous draperies, and men were given greater leeway with fashion. We’ve seen that rulers and their nobles protected the use of fine fashions as their prerogative, enacting sumptuary laws when necessary to enforce that privilege, despite those laws being broken again and again. Fashion could be used for social mobility, ideological identity, and social conformity. Fashion could even signal social control or a break with convention. To my Valentine., Digital ID 1588478, New York Public LibraryI never intended to impose a long-winded costume history lesson on you readers. What I want to get across is the fact that as we grow closer to our modern era, fashion changes in several important respects. Fashion trends grow closer together, signaling quicker changes in popular culture. Men settle on a unified look, while women seek variety in a multiplicity of forms. Clothes now develop their own language. I want to resume my story of fashion by looking more closely at the nineteenth century when everything changed. And most of all, let’s have fun! When we start scrutinizing what happened to clothing in the 1800s, our contemporary choices look better and better. Are we going somewhere? Yes. All my efforts to explore the rise of modern clothing and fashion in last year’s posts will be brought home by the discoveries we make in the months ahead. As this excellent title in the Library collection suggests, we need to learn more about Dress, adornment, and the social order so that we may understand our own craving for fashion better. Cupid's message., Digital ID 1588468, New York Public LibraryWe also need to see exactly what kinds of dress we freed ourselves from in order to become what we are now. And what we are now can be epitomized by the most recent cover of Vogue featuring our lovely First Lady. And, like any hopeful blogger, I’d love to draw reactions out of you as I proceed with this new story… p.s. Happy Saint Valentine’s Day! I’m keeping an eye on New York Fashion Week, where the parties and glitz have been toned down, along with expectations.


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We say a lot of things with

We say a lot of things with the benefit of hindsight :) You suggest we, "...see exactly what kinds of dress we freed ourselves from in order to become what we are now." I'm not sure about this notion of freeing ourselves. I'll give an example. In the short period of history through which we live, with its media images of the recent past readily available, we're given to looking at them and reflecting - "did we really look that silly?" when looking at fashions of, say, the 1970's (you have to be of a certain age to appreciate this :) ) As fashions change, we always seem to see ourselves as ridiculous, "back then." Yes, we can laugh at it but aren't we're still on the same treadmill; the fashions still change, carrying us along, driven by the forces of economics and human desires? So, do we ever free ourselves from the past fashions and do we ever "become" what we are now - or are we trapped in a hamster wheel of apparent change, driven by the forces of economics and human nature?

Ah, but you haven't seen the

Ah, but you haven't seen the clothes I'm talking about when I speak of "freeing ourselves!" Whta I'm hoping to do in the weeks ahead is showing us what the 1800s meant for male and female dress. And it's women's clothing that is particularly making me cringe. But, yes, I think you have a real point about the hamster wheel. Still, the thing that really drives me is how much clothing changed for women. I can smile or sneer at what New York Fahsion Week offers me to wear. But am I relieved that I never, ever, ever have to wear the voluminous pettitcoats, skirts and other emcumbrances that the woman of the 1840s through 1890s had to wear. How could I do my job? But then, that's the whole point... There used to be a Virginia Slims cigarette commercial and ad when I was young in the 1970s, "You've Come A Long Way, Baby." Boy, have we ever. So let's see if I make any useful points in future posts. Economics and human nature seem more kindly viewed from this new century's perspective. But the 19th century did a lot of psychic damage...

I have been enjoying your

I have been enjoying your posts for nearly a year now. What a task you've undertaken! While I really can't argue with your concept of there being a sense (and reality) of freedom in clothing in most of the 20th c., I do want to point out the existence of different kinds of freedom in dress. For example, there is freedom in anonymity, especially in clothing that covers the face, e.g. 17th c. venetian masks). Or the freedom from body-consciousness that voluminous clothing can give, e.g.out-of-doors dress of the 1850s-60. I occasionally wear figure-covering capes and long skirts when walking on the streets of NYC, for a taste of these freedoms rare in the 21st century.

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