Now and then i think of the underlying philosophy of clothes and how markedly this differs from country to country but haven’t sat down to pen a deeper piece. So I have kind of relied on extracts as preliminary thoughts. It’s not a new thought, everywhere the evolution of clothes is always about how to integrate the new without compromising a fundamental essence particular to the land. Which in turn is so often shaped by geography and culture. The East vs West debate re clothing is also not new e.g. drape vs structure, timeless vs transitory, group vs individualistic with one preferred over the other depending upon the writer.
1. Fanny Parkes lived in India for a long time and her travel book (1850) is quite lively in it’s description of the country. Parkes was a bit of an Indophile, not uncommon in pre colonial India. She starts off a bit of a skeptic at the beginning of her stay in India but by the end is fairly rapturous. She was also a prodigious traveller, it wouldn’t be surprising if she ditched English clothing for Indian given the climate of North India. Re the extract while India certainly changed Parkes’ perception on style and taste, the debate between classical Western drapery (seen as more natural etc.) and the excesses of 19th century fashion I think was also much debated in her time.
2. Wu Tingfang wrote a book on his American experiences (1914) which contrasts Chinese and American mores, sometimes in a humorous vein. The extract is from a chapter on American costumes, in it the author discusses both aesthetics and comfort and contrasts it with the Chinese ideal. Wu Tingfang playfully ends his chapter by suggesting that everyone adopt Chinese clothing but of course thus far the modern age has more often than not gone the other way. Though as this blog shows, not always:)
3. Anne Hollander wrote extensively on art and dress. The extract is from Sex and Suits which posits that innovations in men’s clothing post Beau Brummell became the template for 20th century fashions for women. It also discusses the fashioning of fashion (so to speak!) and visual representation in the West making it compelling to the rest of the world (the clothing norms of the rest of the world she sees as more fixed and pre modern I think). The book roams far and wide and can be rambling but it does have interesting insights into how the “Great Renunciation” i.e. the departure from finery and into clean modern lines by Western men was to become the norm for both men and women in our times.
Personal Experience: I had barely ever worn Western clothing until I went to Australia. My first encounter with wearing it on a daily basis was not dissimilar to Wu Tingfang’s. I found it clumsy, restrictive, often weather inappropriate and requiring far more time and effort to co-ordinate than Indian clothing. It took me awhile to “get it” so to speak.