Vanity Hair and Other Fashion Absurdities

Fashion has taken some decidedly odd turns over the centuries. The inspiration for this class comes from Beatrix Potter. Writing in The Tailor of Gloucester, she begins: "In the time of swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats with flowered lappets-when gentlemen wore ruffles, and gold-laced waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta-there lived a tailor in Gloucester." Periwigs and ruffles are examples of European fashion that were commonplace among 17th and 18th century gentry. Thomas Jefferson took note of the absurdity of English judicial attire which included enormous horse hair wigs for judges of the highest rank. In the Victorian era upper-class women felt compelled to strap themselves into a wire torture chamber of sorts to achieve a 14-inch waist in the "age of the cage." Then there was the hoop skirt; consider how difficult it must have been to sit in one! Stiletto heels are nothing new. The Venetians came up with shoe extensions called "chopines," a very clever way in which women could traverse muddy streets. But most painful of all was the traditional practice of female foot binding in both Chinese and Japanese cultures in order to make them more desirable to men. In an abbreviated six-week course, students will be introduced to a fascinating but often overlooked part of cultural history: fashion.

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