The Clothes That Wear Us: Essays on Dressing and Transgressing in Eighteenth-Century Culture

The Clothes That Wear Us: Essays on Dressing and Transgressing in Eighteenth-Century Culture

The Clothes That Wear Us: Essays on Dressing and Transgressing in Eighteenth-Century Culture

The Clothes That Wear Us: Essays on Dressing and Transgressing in Eighteenth-Century Culture

Synopsis

"In these essays, ranging in period from the 1670s to the 1790s, and in place from England to Ireland, France, Germany, America, and Barbados, we can trace ways in which dress articulates, literally in material terms, transformations in the economic conditions, social relations, and ideological constructions of the culture of the eighteenth century. Throughout the collection, there is an emphasis on the ways in which clothing could function to appropriate, explore, subvert, and assert alternative identities and possibilities." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Jessica Munns and Penny Richards

DRESS: the Principal Accomplishment of Men and Women

—Henry Fielding, A Modern Glossary.

Shortly after virginia WOOLF's HERO/INE orlando has become a woman she is obliged, in order to repress his attentions, to drop a toad down the Archduke Harry's shirt. As the narrator observes, in altering her sex Orlando has acquired many new characteristics. She gives nervous starts when horses gallop fast, she conceals her writings, she gazes at herself in the mirror: “[S)he was becoming a little more modest, as women are, of her brains, and a little more vain, as women are, of her person.” These alterations in Orlando's manner, partly attributable to a physical change, are also due to a “change of clothes” which, the narrator gravely tells us, “had, some philosophers will say, much to do with it. Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us.” After giving more examples of the ways in which Orlando's behavior has altered, the narrator comments that “there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.” in Woolf's witty and profound novel of gender, taste, time, and creativity, the clothes that wear and make the bodies and the bodies that wear and make the clothes are engaged in a collaborative, and unstable relationship. Bodies and clothes endlessly redefine each other to forge, adapt, adopt—and deny—varieties of selfhood, in this both responding to and creating an equally complex cultural field of alteration and vacillation with regard to appearances and their meanings.

This complex field of bodies, appearances, cultures, and meanings is the subject of the essays in this collection. the contributors to this collection are historians, art historians, and scholars of English, African American, and European literatures, drawn together in this book by a common interest in the ways in which selves were fashioned and understood (as well as misunderstood) through material appearances in the . . .

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