It’s hot this morning. I slip on a pair of shorts with an elastic waist and a soft cotton tee. Flip-flops. I’m ready to go. (Yes, underwear first).
In the middle east I would pull a black,white or blue burka over my head covering myself from head to toe. I’m not sure about the flip-flops. It is the attire of the 15th century, like the habits Catholic nuns used to wear but the burkas often have a veil of net over the face covering even that.
In the Victorian and Edwardian era dressing took quite a long time – thirty minutes to lace the corset, ten minutes to fasten petticoats fastening 64 hooks and eyes – took about 14 minutes, buttoning about 60 shoe buttons took approximately 12 minutes. Fixing the hair in elaborate rolls and coils and perhaps attaching a hairpiece took another forty minutes. That’s without a lady’s maid to help one dress, an option not available to most.
But then neither are all the hooks and eyes, the buttonings, the hair dos.
In some cities I would need hose and appropriate leather shoes. Perhaps a baseball cap is out of place. In India I would wrap myself in a cotton sari, surely not silk. In Japan the summer season replaces silk with cotton. A thousand years ago I would wear close to sixty pounds of silk, so deftly and securely wrapped I could not dress myself or undress myself. I could not even sit down or go to the bathroom without help. .
Of course, that’s for the upper classes. I image the poor were damn lucky to have a rag to tie around their shoulders. Of course, they don’t have time to write down all the information even if they knew how to write.
Imagine yourself in the Heian court wearing the formal junihitoe – three dressers serve you and it takes about 45 minutes to get you into the outfit. Your face is painted white with make up so thick that the skin could not breathe. The teeth are stained black. Eyebrows are painted on like inverted vees and lips are rouged.
The first five layers of uchiki robes have three layers each, the innermost is the largest and each following layers is smaller so with skillful folding and pleating the outer edge of each layer is visible at the neck, hem and sleeve ends. The costume completed weighs 65 pounds. You are 5 ft. tall. The heaviest thing you have lifted in your lifetime is a baby.
Dress is why we walk like we walk, why we slide along under 65 pounds of silk or look for our toes to exit from a burka, our hair hidden, tied up, shaved off. Why we clip along on three inch heels tilted forward, why we have corns and bunions, why we think of ourselves as objects, or don’t. Why we walk with our head bowed, why we walk swaying from side to side, why our feet have been bound so we can barely hobble showing that we are so rich we don’t have to work.
I heard a story that during the Long March in China the Communists found a group of women in the house of a mandarin – cut off the bandages from the their feet and told them they were free, unbound. They left. The women unable to walk, crawled, enjoying their new found freedom.
George Sand said after her first outing dressed as a man – the trousers were very warm and no drafts came up your skirts and you could step over cracks and curbs without help and move across puddles without holding your dress up.
Clothes may make the man – but clothes define the woman.
STAY TUNED TO THIS BLOG – I HAVE A KILLER PIECE ABOUT TRAVEL CLOTHES