I’ve realized that I need more controversy-proof topics of conversation to fall back on. If we are in company that doesn’t want to hear about politics, religion, cycling or gardening, my lover can always go back to his teen obsession of cars . My first love of horses does not translate so well into the adult world. I decided to pick a topic I knew nothing about but assumed most people over the age of 12 do: fashion.
The reason I picked this topic actually has more to do with Greta Christina’s love of it. Yes, if someone I really admire is into something I am more willing to look at it. I’m human that way.
To start off my research, I went to the library. I got books on clothes and body shape and realized that lines on people do the same thing as lines on paper. Optical illusions are fun. I also watched more episodes of What Not to Wear than I want to admit. However, I was a little bothered to realize that the ideal female figure was always the same: the hourglass, which is also the most rare. The feminine figure that I’ve always wanted- broader shoulder and narrower hips- was dressed to minimize the shoulders and widen the hips. The figure that I have – narrow shoulders and wide hips- was dressed isometrically so that the two figures would end up looking the same.
The book Seeing Through Clothes was much more helpful than I thought. I think it was written for art historians but I needed to see the bigger picture that its history of Western fashion (starting with the Greeks) provides. The first section is devoted to how people are painted without clothes and the relationship between fashions and interpreting the body.
Titian’s nude women have tiny heads, hands and arms that make the tubular trunk look thicker. Clothes at that time also made bodies appear as thick tubes.
See how Elenora of Toledo is dressed in a painting also of the 1500s by Bronzino. Note the smaller head, flattened bust and straight waist:
Francisco de Goya’s The Nude Maja is obviously wearing a corset, even when she is naked. Or her breasts are filled with helium and her stomach is spasmoming inward. The expression on her face could work with either.
I love the different body ideals captured in art.
Magestic Greek goddesses.
I definitely see the influence of ascetic church doctrines in their slimness, but look at Eve’s belly in this 1400s painting by Van der Goes. Its a sign of sexiness that got more pronounced until the clothes changed as shown by Titian and Bronzino’s tube shaped women and later to the corsetted.
Here are Rembrandt’s female figures a century later.
A little more voluptuous, but not that busty. The clothes didn’t allow it.
With the corset, the waist shrunk and then the breasts somehow grew.
The last part of the book is a discussion on how we interpret what we view, not as an entity as itself, but with reference to other images. For example, the loose flapper dresses represented sexual freedom because they spoke to the proceeding restrictive fashion of the stays and narrow skirts. Only in reference to the rigid 50s crew cuts was the long hair of the male hippies sexy and provocative. Anti-fashion only has power in contradiction to fashion and then usually becomes fashionable if it strikes the right note.
Unfortunately, I realized that I don’t have the option to opt out. Going to naturist camps is the only reprieve from clothes and their messages, otherwise I am still being read in reference to what is around me. It is frustrating that women especially are judged and valued in our society for how they present themselves and still judged for caring about how others perceive them.
I am still learning about fashion, but so far I don’t think its helping me with my small talk abilities. It is improving my ability to paint, both on paper and on faces. Just in time for Halloween!