Fashion Foundations: Early Writings on Fashion and Dress

Fashion Foundations: Early Writings on Fashion and Dress

Fashion Foundations: Early Writings on Fashion and Dress

Fashion Foundations: Early Writings on Fashion and Dress

Synopsis

Although it can be difficult to think of fashion in anything other than a contemporary context, as a concept it is hardly new. Costume historians trace the birth of fashion back to the thirteenth century and writings on fashion date back as early as the sixteenth century when Michel de Montaigne pondered its origins, thereby setting in motion a chain of inquiry that has continued to intrigue writers for centuries.This key text reprints classic fashion writings, all of which have had a profound if perhaps untrumpeted impact on our understanding and approach to modern day dress - from the psychology of clothes through to collective fashion trends. Why do we wear clothes? What do they say about our self-awareness and body image? How can we 'fashion' new identities through what we wear? Seminal fashion statements by Montaigne, William Hazlitt, Herbert Spencer, Thorstein B. Veblen, Adam Smith, Herbert Blumer, and Georg Simmel answer these questions and many more. Full of vital fashion treasures that have often been ignored, this book fills a major gap in the history of the discipline and will serve as an essential teaching text for years to come.

Excerpt

… Discriminating and applicable though these theories may be it is obvious that no one of them adequately accounts for the fact of clothing nor sufficiently explains its complexity and variety. It may be, as one writer suggests, that the ancient Britons painted the body with earthy pigments to check the cooling effect of free evaporation from the skin; that the Andaman Islanders plaster themselves thickly with mud in order to resist the attacks of insects; the skin mantle of the Fuegian, shifted to meet the varying winds, and the elaborately fitted fur garments of the Eskimo, are obviously worn in deference to rigorous climate; the gourd or sling of certain South American tribes probably serves as a protection from injury, and the exceedingly small pearl-decorated apron of the Kafir belle is doubtless worn as a means of attraction; vanity, aesthetic feeling, the desire for distinction and the motive of comfort play their part. But as the primitive clothing impulse manifests itself in such varied forms we are justified in retreating beyond these partial hypotheses to one more profound and fundamental which underlies and includes them all.

Too great stress must not be laid on the factor of use, on an assumed end determining the particular form taken by the primitive impulse to decorate or clothe the body. The doctrine of use as a factor in evolution finds less favor than formerly. In the language of Professor William Patten of Dartmouth College, “The use made of an organ can not be the cause of its origin, for the organ must be present in the first place, in some form or other, before any use can be made of it:” and while to-day we find man by reason of his acquired equipment of reason and foresight working toward definitely conceived ends, it is hardly reasonable to attribute to the primitive creature at the outset of the human career clearly defined motives which determined his acts. As has been pointed out by the naturalists Geddes and Thompson, human nature can not be rightly understood apart from the biological approach, and even in a matter apparently so far removed from the natural as that of clothing there will be found many analogies to zoological and biological facts. Primitive psychological attitudes from what has been termed physiological thought and the instinctive inner urge prompting the acts of primitive man may be not inaptly compared to those special internal conditions which biologists recognize as determining local growths, organs and structure, lower down in the scale of life.

In order adequately to frame a philosophy of clothes it is necessary to view as clearly as possible man's place in nature. Though there are now on earth only isolated examples of hairy men it is probable that the primitive human being and certainly his precursor were covered with hair. We may or may not accept the Darwinian conclusion that the loss of our coat of hair was . . .

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