Somewhere I read that the Native Americans wore moccasins because that was the thinnest and most natural layer between themselves and their mother, the Earth and the animals from which the buckskin came were part of the Earth too. Though Wal hates his feet uncovered and in fact always wears slippers or sandals or something. Whereas for me, barefoot is comforting. It makes me feel better somehow, like long loose garments, even in winter. And there was a film in the fifties called Woman in A Dressing Gown
which my parents chuckled over.
My mother did everything she could in her dressing gown (first of all the old blue one and then the clove carnation Pyrenean wool number – most of my childhood memory is about winter) before she got dressed and went out, utterly unperturbed by the sniffs of the neighbours, and sighing with relief when she went back to it, some evenings – “God, I do think clothes are over-estimated !” And once I had a serious show of my own (five days a week) I methodically stripped off my jewellery and my shoes before we began, only to reassume them when my slot was done.
A true journalist can work anywhere, anytime, wearing anything. I find the brain becomes engaged when I free the body. Hate tight, especially in the heat. Which is why this morning, having just been told how elegant I looked by the local Battersea Dog walker, I came into the house, ate breakfast and took off four garments and shoes, to put on one layer of cotton and go to work. Stripped for action, you might say … It’s not that I necessarily believe in stripping off. The dress I am wearing is made of Russian cotton from the 1930s, impeccably modest, round neck, half sleeves, full length but soft and comfortable and unrestricted.
One of the reasons the famous nude calendar picture of Marilyn Monroe is remarkable – apart from her youth and the beauty of her body – is how comfortable she appears to be – what the French might call “bien dans sa peau” – a wonderful phrase. Apparently (I once read everything there was to read on MM) she liked her body. She wasn’t always sure about liking clothes, having a fine sense of how they packaged you to be and an equally fine sense of how to manipulate the packaging. What is covered and what is revealed is always interesting : in this hottest of summers, I keep seeing women with their hair pulled back under at least two layers of veiling and thinking how uncomfortable that must be, though there isn’t a pearl of perspiration in sight.
And you can pick up the key of how women dress in public – to tell you they are at 60 what they were at 30 (spare me !), they are serious or seductive (according to which play or film or album they are promoting), they are in control (Theresa May’s little jackets and outsize beads) or they’re not for sale, having already the most expensive gear on their backs (from the Kardashians to Melania Trump). You could comment that they were already bought by the highest bidder – but then by whom and in what sense ?
What is hidden and what is revealed varies from country to country, and age to age. What clothes “allow” shifts along with language, food, custom and almost everything else. (30 years ago, the ENT surgeon asked me if I was prepared to be the most unpopular mother at the school gate ? Slightly taken aback I asked why and he described tonsillectomy as “an unfashionable operation.”) It is customary to talk about fashion in relation to clothing but I think it relates to everything from language and medicine, to history, warfare and politics. What was once accepted is now open to question and this morning I read
“It is only when science asks why, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atomic bomb.”
Thank you, Ursula Le Guin. It’s Hiroshima Day.