Wednesday, March 02, 2016


      Lapham’s Quarterly VIII/4: Fashion Lewis Lapham, sometime editor of Harper’s, has persuaded a number of friends to finance his eponymous periodical. Each issue offers text and pictures about a single topic. I subscribe to it, and dip into my copies from time to time. This one I read all the way through, perhaps because I had aspirations to dandyism at one time (which competing interests and lack of money fortunately prevented me from realising). Or perhaps because the collection of writings and images, spanning some 3000 years, prove that clothing, understood as adornment of the body, is a species-defining trait.
     All human societies have customs and conventions defining what adornments may be worn by whom and on what occasions. Textiles have enabled us to indulge and elaborate this urge to remake ourselves as we imagine ourselves. Religionists have objected on many different grounds, but they all boil down to the same one: we use our clothing and other  adornments to create an image of ourselves as we wish to be seen and respected. Self-image is the essence of individuality. Religion always attempts to reduce the role of self-image because the more we measure our worth in terms we define ourselves, the less we heed the strictures of the religionists.
     So it should be no surprise that fashion, which is the purest mode of appearance as self-image, should everywhere be both followed and derided, if not worse. As usual, Lapham and his staff have assembled what amounts to materials for a course of study. That it is also vastly entertaining ensures that the sympathetic or curious reader will be well educated. Highly recommended. ****

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