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Dress Me Up

So, I've been reading all the fabulous books I picked up when I was in Massachusetts. The one I'm currently perusing,Consuming Splendor,  is a fascinating study of English spending habits in the 17th century.  One of the first indoor shopping malls, the New Exchange (the Royal Exchange opened first, but was also a business center, unlike the New Exchange, which was always envisioned as a shopping mall), became almost exclusively clothing shops, even though it had originally been planned with a variety of shops.  In this way, it was much like the clothing-centric malls of today, except that you really can't find an excellent ostrich-feather fan at your local Spencer's.

(On the other hand, the New Exchange didn't sell novelty dildos.)

(More's the pity.)

In a switch from the attitudes of the previous centuries, James I and VI (two Kings in every box!) repealed the English sumptuary laws, leading to a widespread proliferation of gold lame tube corsets and Swarovski-encrusted reticules amongst the lower classes, because, Lord knows, poor people have no taste, but they will spend money like it's going out of style on cheap crap.

(Several people probably just unfriended me because of my marked lack of sympathy for the plight of the poor.  Maybe if they stopped supporting the Beadazzling industry, I'd have more compassion.)

In fact, the repeal of the sumptuary laws in the 17th century is directly responsible for the parlous state of fashion today, and I can prove it.  

When fancy clothing becomes widely available to all classes, it ceases to have any special significance or value (the $500 you spent on a purple and yellow striped jacket because it said "Fendi" on the label was not an investment, nor will it get you into that exclusive nightclub that Lindsey Lohan scores blow at, because you, yourself, are not of the right class).  When Mrs. Spillpox who runs the corner apothecary can turn up at the annual Maisey Doats Summer Fair in crimson silk and a gold-embroidered muff, then what is the point of spending your inheritance on a purple satin saque gown with ermine tippets?  One may as well save one's money and get an education.

Ha, ha, ha!  Sorry, just a little historian humour, there.  Clearly, no-one has ever chosen to simply give up in the attempt to dress more outrageously than the classes beneath them.  No, fuck the education and the books - if the common rabble are taking up with the silks and gilt, then it is incumbent upon the upper classes to search out rarer and more expensive materials and styles (uncomfortable and possibly toxic a definite plus) and make the higher echelons of fashion inaccessible to the hoi polloi once again.

So, if what one needs is an unborn lamb's-wool wig that gets caught in the 14 foot candelabra to make one the topic of dinner conversation for weeks, if not months (assuming that upstart Lady Danglethorpe doesn't fall tits-first into the soup again after imbibing a leeetle too much sherry), then clearly, the lamb must be torn from its mother post-haste.  Forget ethics - social strata must be maintained!

(Anyway, Mariah Danglethorpe is a total hussy.  She's a haberdasher's daughter, and always laces her corsets too tight to make her boobs look like two repousse oranges on a Revere platter.)

And so it goes on - gilding the coach is no longer enough when the butcher's son gets married in a solid gold carriage (the fact that the horse collapsed and had to be sent to the knacker's yard is merely the price one pays - or rather, the horse pays - for diligent social climbing), and the search for the latest, most outre fad goes on, until society is left with nothing unusual or rare enough to shock or impress the society pages.  The rich are so desperate that nothing has become the new something, and starlets all over the country are waxing off every hair on their bodies and displaying their naked naughty bits to the world.

(And now that Britney's taken off the hair on her head, too, even this trend has reached its zenith.  Look for the next crop of celebutantes to have leg hair of yeti proportions.)

(Braided.  That should make Diana Vreeland rotate in her grave a few times.)

Today, there is no designer that cannot be bought at Stein Mart or Filene's Basement.  There is nothing left that is exclusively reserved for the elite (especially now that using endangered species as home decorating elements is frowned on).  The only thing they can do is wear ripped jeans and awful hand-made sweaters that sag in unattractive places, decorated with strategic Starbuck's stains.  To be truly elite, one must wear the most unflattering outfits, as if to say "designer is so bourgeois!  I got my clothes off a homeless guy!  try to find that in a suburban mall, suckers!".

Sadly, hobo wear is now the new trend, which explains the proliferation of lower-middle class shoppers in '80s stretch pants (with stirrups) and a stained t-shirt that proclaims "Drunk Chicks Dig Me!", or, more topically, "Don't Tase me, Bro". 

At least, I hope it does.


( 18 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
May. 27th, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
May. 27th, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
I felt I owed it to people after the last post. :)
May. 27th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
(On the other hand, the New Exchange didn't sell novelty dildos.)

If they'd have had 'em, they'd have sold 'em...
May. 27th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
They had dildos back then, but the builder of the New Exchange (Lord... Spencer?) wanted classy shops. :)

I think most "dil-does" were home-made. A cottage industry, if you will.
May. 27th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)

And trufax too.
May. 27th, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)
Indeed. *wise professor voice*
May. 27th, 2008 03:22 pm (UTC)
In this way, it was much like the clothing-centric malls of today, except that you really can't find an excellent ostrich-feather fan at your local Spencer's

Actually you can at...oh wait...no serious. Let's just say Isabella has found some lovely plums and fans at various mall stores. ...and jewelery...and shoes...gotta love da shoes. I so need more shoes....Just ignore the five or six "SCA/Renn Fest only" pairs I already have because another pair of pink leather fur lined boots? So worth it. If for nothing more than the expersion on people's faces when they realize I have on fur lined pink leather boots beneath my gown.
May. 27th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
Entertaining AND informative! Thank you for sharing! *giggle fits*
May. 27th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
i too feel that the proliferation of sew, glue, and staple on rhinestones has not helped the poor to achieve help and recognition of their plight.......
it does however make them a tad easier to see at night.

frankly the only way i can see most of the people walking the streets in this neighborhood after dark is from the rhinestones, the glow in the dark designer labels, and the light colored undies peeking out from above the drooping black pants.
May. 27th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
This is made of win!

*laughs right out of her chair*

*wipes a tear from her eye*

I did find in my recent trip to expensive shops in New York that 'distressed to the point of utter fragility' is in. Apparently, one shouldn't spend $200 on a t-shirt unless it is guaranteed to fall apart after one wear.

A friend told me enthusiastically about these jeans that some person of minor-celebrity status got that were actual jeans worn since the 60s... and I'm like... um... My dad has a few of those in his closet, can I sell 'em to the very rich at exorbitant prices? Oh, no, THESE jeans were worn by a Somebody. :P
May. 27th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
You totally win here.

I'm reminded of the time I was on jury duty, standing in the courthouse lobby. A woman (who was probably about my age/younger, but undoubtedly whose grandchildren were about to present her with great-grandchildren) in the lobby was wearing acid-wash jeans, a jacket that had 'Tommy Hilfiger' on every possible surface, and a very elaborate manicure. I bet another juror that she was probably a member of a defendant's family. Bingo. Thirty seconds of eavesdropping proved me right. (A felony assault, no less.)

I don't get it. If there's a name on my clothes, it had better be my own. And if your manicure gets into the room before you do...
May. 27th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you for enabling my Early Modern economic history book habit. My husband, however, does not thank you. He thinks I have too many of these books already. Silly man . . .

I hope to have my copy very soon. :-)
May. 27th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
I made the mistake of trying to read this, and eat lunch, at the same time. Fortunately I was to busy wipeing the tears of laughter off my face to have had to much food in my mouth to guffauw all over the screen :).
May. 27th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
I LIKE rhinestones... but I use them the way one uses saffron in the kitchen; a little goes a long way, and too much too often is dulling to the senses. And I would never use a Beadazzler.

Truly, the new luxury is time. "Oh, this old thing? I knitted it from my own eyelashes, took years." And travel, "I picked it up from a woman in Bangladesh, her grandmother got it from the king for having perfect ankles, but the woman sold it to me for a pack of smokes!"
May. 27th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
one word: Vegas. 'Nuff said
May. 27th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
'distressed to the point of utter fragility' is in

I just finished reading Doug Coupland's jPod, which is as likable and indefensible as his other books (I am a fan). One of my favorite things in it is the hero's wardrobe coming from trading everything he owns to a container load of refuges (you'll just have to read it, there is no way to explain how this comes about)

His friends and family have a wide range of glancing comments on this, but I was kind of surprised that no offered to buy it to sell to insane rich people....

He does respond to the criticism that his work is rather self-absorbed by putting himself in as a character, and not an entirely likable one either, lol.

[only marginally related comment mode off]

May. 28th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
Hmmm. Do you think we could convince one of the Prez candidates to work the Costumer votes by proposing sumptuary laws? Must prove actual sense of taste before anything glitzy may be purchased?
May. 28th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
It makes me happy that one of your tags is "oh no you didn't".
( 18 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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