great television series Castle, character Teddy Farrow in the
episode “Inventing the Girl” (third episode, second season)
declares that “fashion is what separates us from animals.” He
goes on to compare fashion to civilization. Without the delivery and
context, it loses a lot of power. If you’re curious, watch the
episode. It’s worth your time.
hands of another actor, and if it had been written by another writer,
they both might have been tempted to use those lines as proof of a
fashion designer’s myopic vision of the world and aggrandizement of
what is, compared to murder and suffering, a trivial pursuit.
Instead, at least to me, it resonated very deeply. It tells a truth
about humanity that parades before our eyes every day, though we
seldom notice it for what it is except perhaps to mock it when it
trips on a catwalk.
rather famously write in pajamas, as they work at home and there
seems to be little reason to dress up unless they plan to venture to
the grocery store or set aside an hour or two at a fitness club. If
they dress differently than when they write at home, that is an
admission that social rules matter. Or, if they do show up in
pajamas, slippers and a robe, it’s an admission that they don’t
care. Or maybe they’re depressed. In an uncaring, gray world, where
it’s an effort to brush your teeth, to get out of bed, to keep
breathing, changing clothes to suit a social sensibility that doesn’t
serve you and may even seem to actively destroy you makes no sense
then, dressing up would be a sign that things are looking up. Or
maybe dressing up is that person fighting the good fight against the
depression that’s destroying their will to live and be a part of
the world. Even if dressing up isn’t that big of an effort, there
are both conscious and unconscious elements to what we choose to
as dressing up can be something more than practical protection
against sun, freezing or windburn, dressing down can be an act of
defiance. As much vitriol as sagging attracts, it’s also a symbol
of cultural freedom. The cavaliers with their fancy collars laid down
across their coats and vests shocked society by showing their necks
and refusing to starch the fabric to the point that it stood up to
follow a specific form. They embraced controlled chaos, making beauty
from a riot of colors and reshaping garments to flow with the human
body instead of forcing it into a sometimes bizarre (though often
exquisite) collection of geometric shapes. Oh those cavaliers with
their notions of free expression, scientific inquiry, never mind
their conflicting religious views! Shocking indeed.
today we look at their 17th century portraits and see them
as poised, flowery and perhaps a bit stuffy.
were the saggers of their age, full of defiance and rich with
cultural power. Meanwhile the Puritans, who shared the streets with
the Cavaliers, also defined themselves with fashion. They wore drab
colors as a symbol of their moral superiority.
fashion matters. It matters personally, socially, and culturally. It
doesn’t just matter to the waiter trying to seat people at a fancy
restaurant. It matters to the person being seated. Do they fit in? Do
they want to fit in? Is their status such that they could be seated
at a black tie restaurant in jeans and a dirty t-shirt? Would they do
it to prove that they could, or because they didn’t care, or
because they actively hated those who took offense at them and wanted
to spit in their beholders’ eyes? Or perhaps some famous people
make an effort because they don’t want to flaunt their power, or
disrespect the public that has given them their wealth, or fear their
fame might be transient or taken away from them if they misbehave.
there’s the dress up. It’s not just for Halloween. The right
clothes, the right shoes, the right makeup can help boost floundering
confidence. It might open doors otherwise shut to us, and prove that
we’re willing to go out of our way to be a part of a community or
workplace. Clothes can also make us invisible, if we choose. We can
dress up to blend in, though we might secretly long to wear some
flamboyant concoction that reminds us of a carnival, or something
that would fit with this excerpt from the brilliant poem by Jenny
I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t
go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy
and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for
who dress up to go out sometimes complain that men suddenly feel free
to ogle and make comments or even proposition them. Some men counter
with, “well, why did you dress up, then?” That’s a disingenuous
question at best, because although it’s implied there isn’t just
one answer. Women dress up to impress their dates, or to feel good
about themselves, or as a power play to ‘punk out’ or dominate
over other women in their group by appearing more desirable. They,
therefore, may not necessarily be dressing up to encourage every man
who notices them to flirt or drool over them. Any notice outside
their intended target group may just be a side effect of their true
intention, and is often considered a bother rather than a win. The
context matters. The clothing may have layers of meaning as well as
fabric, but it’s not that complicated. Those that pay attention to
the roles played by fashion understand and can function in more
social situations than those who don’t observe and practice.
isn’t just practical, artful, and socially expressive. It can be
Impro by Keith Johnstone, the author goes on at length about
how masks and costumes can change not only how we’re perceived, but
how we perceive ourselves. Clothing can change how we feel, what we
think we know, even who we are.
could I stop myself from making masks, and clothes, and costumes so
important to my characters that it really did matter whether a
jester’s makeup was smudged or if his hat matched his mask or if he
had time to shave twice a day to maintain the illusion of youth? How
could I resist turning clothes and masks into a form of magic?
answer is, I couldn’t.
Get your copy of Asylum, the anthology of short fiction which includes works by E.M. Prazeman and others from Amazon US or Amazon UK.
You might also be interested in one of E.M. Prazeman's books. Series start Masks would be the logical place to start. Available from Amazon US or Amazon UK.