Loathing Of Clothing
You have to wear clothes, at least enough to cover your private parts. It’s generally the law, in most civilized places. In fact, such laws almost define civilization. “Naked savages” populate the lowest level of the social pyramid. But the garb of those on the upper levels, especially (for some reason) the female of the species, is determined by a strange eternally capricious ethos called “Fashion.” In comparison with those of women, men’s fashions change glacially. But there is a story, which might indeed be true, that, little more than a century ago, English men rather suddenly began to wear trousers with cuffs – after King Edward VII, at a race track, was seen turning up the bottoms of his trousers to avoid getting them spattered with mud.
But, no matter who sets the trend, the way we dress is about more than fashion. It is also about status and pride. It is said that there was once a Spanish nobleman who was so poor, but so proud, that when all but one of the fingers of his gloves had worn through, he would go about with just that one well-gloved finger protruding from his cape.
Reason would suggest that, whatever other qualities one’s garb may have, it should at least be comfortable. But since when did reason ever rule fashion? The torments of tight bodices and corsets, of stifling wigs and high-heeled shoes – to say nothing of tattoos, piercing rings, and encrustations of cosmetics, surely belong in one of Dante’s circles of Hell. And all this before we step outside our own culture to witness foot-bindings, infant swaddlings, masking and virtual concealment of women, and any number of other abominations in the name of apparel.
At the time of the French Revolution, it was legwear which distinguished the classes. Upper-class Frenchmen wore breeches, or culottes – so the revolutionaries became known as those who didn’t, i.e. the sans-culottes. I myself have had my own troubles over such distinctions. In a place like California, where the climate lends itself to airiness in clothing, I have always felt more comfortable in shorts than in long pants. But this, among other instances of bizarre behavior, soon earned for me the reputation of an odd-ball – or, perhaps a little more kindly, an “eccentric.” Being in a situation like this helps me to have some sympathy for people like Amelia Bloomer, whose odd but practical attire has immortalized her name.
I am probably not alone in having a body which for some reason does not lend itself to standard sizes. If I buy pairs of packaged pajamas, the tops may fit, but not the bottoms – or vice versa. My feet have always been a shoe salesman’s nightmare. My waist has, since time immemorial, been a size 35 – but the places I have customarily patronized don’t have size 35s – they only have 34s and 36s. Trying to buy things online only adds a new dimension to the horror – the dimension of Time.
Am I exaggerating? Why should I care about a good fit anyway, when my ruling value is comfort? One clothier who doesn’t have to worry about the comfort of his clientele is the person who dresses the newly departed for display before burial. Among his own major worries is the increasing popularity of cremations.
But then there are itching, and bunching, and tangling, and all the other ways in which clothing can be a curse. Whoever coined the expression (possibly still mainly heard in the UK) of “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” I’m sure knew whereof he or she spoke.
Nor must we overlook the often-stifling garb of the privileged. Shakespeare’s observation (in Henry 1V, part II) that “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” need not be taken too metaphorically. All the special garments of eminence and prestige, from the chokingly stiff collars (with their special studs) to the varicose-inducing gartered leggings, seem designed to prove that refined raiment is not a matter of pleasure, but simply of pomposity.
But finally, we must come down to what Rupert Brooke would have called “the rough male kiss” of underwear – known only to women as the very French “lingerie” – a word to whose correct pronunciation (unless you parlez Francais)the spelling gives no clue.It has been said of feminine vesture that, like a good fence, it should protect the property without obscuring the view. Let us agree, however, that this depends entirely on the condition of the property.