Patriarchy is resilient, but women’s economic independence is a powerful solvent: gender status in medieval China and today.
Clothes make the man in respects more vital than mere appearance and social acceptability. It is true that a slender man looks more stout in a double-breasted coat, or that suiting with a vertical stripe makes the short man look taller. But these are not especially vital factors. Research and scientific opinion are rapidly accumulating data which indicate rather definitely that clothing may almost remake the course of human history.
This newer knowledge helps one understand why we make more mistakes in summer, why usually sensible Germany has a growing number of nude societies, why the Alps are healthful, how to keep cool in summer; and it also makes us pause and wonder about man’s place in the decades to come.
In addition to the environment in which man is placed by nature, without any participation on his part, he creates himself another, which is generally called the “cultural world.” When we consider the human being in this cultural world, we see that of all its multitudinous cultural forms his dress is not only the one which is physically closest to him but also that which most immediately and most intimately expresses his relation to the environment. Not even the cultural forms assumed by man’s most elementary vital activities, such as nutrition and reproduction, are so directly and so constantly interwoven with human life and the human body as dress is, except as they express themselves through it.
The guests at the Lanvin show in Paris had all been waiting more than an hour for the presentation to begin, and they were getting restless. This tardiness was out of character for Alber Elbaz, widely considered to be one of the most talented designers around—as well as among the most hospitable. He refrains from trussing models into unforgiving silhouettes that prohibit walking and make the consumption of anything more caloric than Saltines a wild-eyed risk.
It would turn out that the reason for the delay of his spring 2011 show was a matter of shoes. Elbaz’s original choreography had the models sashaying down a concrete walkway, about the length of a New York City block, wearing perilous stilettos. Apparently, during rehearsals, the skyscraper heels brought some of the models to tears. So Elbaz dispatched staff to retrieve kinder footwear. The result was a tardy show, but a beautiful one, with virtually half the models—an ethnically diverse lot—in flats.
Nicholas de Monchaux is an architect, historian, and educator based in Berkeley, California. His work spans a huge range of topics and scales, as his new and utterly fascinating book, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, makes clear.
From the fashionable worlds of Christian Dior and Playtex to the military-industrial complex working overtime on efforts to create a protective suit for U.S. exploration of the moon, and from early computerized analyses of urban management to an “android” history of the French court, all by way of long chapters on the experimental high-flyers and military theorists who collaborated to push human beings further and further above the weather—and eventually off the planet itself—de Monchaux’s book shows the often shocking juxtapositions that give such rich texture and detail to the invention of the spacesuit: pressurized clothing for human survival in space.
In February 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future. Inspired by the soon-to-open New York World’s Fair, the magazine asked nine industrial designers to imagine what the people of ‘a far Tomorrow’ might wear and why. (The editors deemed fashion designers too of-the-moment for such speculations.) A mock‑up of each outfit was manufactured and photographed for a lavish nine-page colour spread.
Picture one of those ascent-of-man charts that depict a progression of profiles, from an ape walking on all fours to a slumped hominid to a modern human standing erect. What’s missing? The modern human is naked. No accessories!
We may not find a chapter on fashion in science textbooks but ornamentation and tailoring have played feature roles in our success as a species. On the prehistoric catwalks we creamed the Neanderthal competition on both functionality and style and went on to become the dominant hominid in virtually every climate zone on earth.