Dress, Language and Communication

In the Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Wittgenstein proposes a
clothing metaphor for language: Language disguises the thought,
so that from the external form of the clothes one cannot infer the
form of the thought they clothe, because the external form of the
clothes is constructed with quite another object than to let the form
of the body be recognied !Wittgenstein, "#$$: %roposition &'(($)'
Language, thought and dress are here associated and clothing is
explicitly considered as a *ind of bodily disguise, just as language
is a disguise for thought' Language and dress are sign systems
through which, Wittgenstein seems to be saying, what counts is not
so much what is +underneath,, but rather the surface as such, the
system or pattern itself which body and thought assume' The form
of +clothed thought, would thus be language, just as the garment is
the form of the clothed body' Though perhaps not in Wittgenstein,s
intentions, in a more widely accepted sense today, the word
+language, does not simply refer to a -erbal system, but in-ol-es
all those sign systems with which human beings gi-e shape to their
relation to the world !see %onio, .alefato, %etrilli "##&: /0)' Li*e
language in this sense, dress functions as a *ind of +syntax,,
according to a set of more or less constant rules, depending on
whether we are dealing with traditional costume or fashion' These
rules allow a garment, and body co-erings in general, to acquire
meaning, whether that of a -eritable social significance, codified in
costume through time, or a pure and simple exhibition of
interconnected signs on the body following associati-e criteria
established by the fashion system' 1eturning to Wittgenstein,s
metaphor and recalling how important the pictorial dimension of
language is in the Tractatus 2 that is, its capacity to depict a fact !a
+state of things,) through a system of images " 2 we may reflect on
how the language of the clothed body shapes the body into a *ind
of map' Indeed, a sign-image is such in -irtue of the connection
between its -arious elements, each of which ma*es sense on the
basis of its position in a gi-en sequence' It is this position which
allows a sign to represent something else' 3ne such example
concerns a particular form of body co-ering, indeed one of the
most ancient and archetypal: tattooing' The structural
anthropologist .laude L4-i-5trauss has shown that in many
societies not only does tattooing ha-e a special social significance,
but it also contains messages with a spiritual purpose !L4-i-5trauss
"#/0: $00)' The social and aesthetic significance of tattooing as a
sign-image 2 obser-ed by L4-i-5trauss in the 6aori of 7ew
8ealand 2 may be better understood if one considers the effect of
+doubling, the face and body, which are decorated as if they had
been split in two' 9ccording to L4-i-5trauss the decoration is the
face, or rather, it creates it !"#/0: $0#), thereby conferring on the
face social identity, human dignity and spiritual significance' The
dual representation of the face, as depicted by the 6aori, is
indicati-e of a more profound doubling: that of the +dumb,
biological indi-idual and the social personage that s:he has the tas*
of embodying !L4-i 5trauss "#/0: $0#)' Thus the sign-picture or
the sign-tattoo on the face has meaning not in -irtue of the single
graphic mar*s, but rather on the basis of the opposition-association
set up between the two parts of the face or body, the actual one and
the painted or incised one' 9nother example concerns what
;ebdige !"#<#: "($) calls the bricolage of subcultural styles: the
composition or arrangement on the body of a collection of
apparently incongruous objects, which ta*en as a whole create for
the subject who wears them an organied and meaningful system
analogous to the world !see .alefato "##=: /2 =, "/2 "=)' The
6od,s starched white collar and blac* tie, for instance, or the
%un*,s s*in-piercing safety pin are pieces of a subcultural
bricolage emphasiing the sign-role 2 +unnatural, by definition 2
that banal, e-eryday objects assume when collocated in unusual
places' The sign--alue of these objects depends on their collocation
in a networ* or +web, of meanings' 5o, a sort of body +cartography,
is drawn on social territory, where each sign has a precise -alue
according to its position' >odily co-erings, clothes and s*in
decorations +create, the body, shaping it together with the
surrounding world' What we might call the +degree ero, of
clothing, the na*ed body, is itself replete with significance, since it
is either the result of a significant absence, as >arthes says, $ or a
construction permeated with meaning and -alue !the body incised,
tattooed, tanned, wrin*led, scarred, exposed beneath transparent
garments, etc)' >ut now let,s loo* at what co-ering oneself out of a
+sense of modesty, means' 9ccording to 5artre, it indicates the
specifically human ability to be
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a pure subject !5artre "#&?: ?=?), by disguising the objecti-ity of
the na*ed body exposed to the gae and exhibiting, instead, our
ability to see without being seen' >eing a subject means, in this
sense, recogniing that clothes ha-e specific functions and dressing
in order to con-ey a specific meaning, including the social
meaning attributed to the notion of modesty' 6oreo-er, in the case
of costume !including uniform), functions are related to those
aspects which ma*e bodily co-erings the sign of a person,s age,
social or sexual role, political career, and so on' In an essay not
included in The @ashion 5ystem >arthes identifies an axiological
function in costume, its ability to produce social -alues that bear
witness to the creati-e power of society o-er itself !"##0: <&)'
>arthes ma*es an important distinction between costume and
dress: while the former is an institutional, essentially social reality,
independent of the indi-idual, the latter is a unique reality through
which the indi-idual enacts on him:herself the general institution
of costume !"##0: ==)' While dress, or attire, can be the object of
psychological or morphological research, costume, as >arthes says,
is the true object of sociological and historical research !"##0: =<)'
6oreo-er, >arthes maintains that the dichotomy between costume
and dress mirrors the 5aussurian articulation of language into
langue and parole: the former, a social institution, the latter, an
indi-idual act' The similarity with the linguistic sphere basically
concerns the social -alue of clothing as a generic group, that is, a
combination of costume and dress, corresponding to language in
the 5aussurian sense !"##0: ==)' >arthes collocates fashion within
the phenomenon of costume, though at times it oscillates between
costume and dress, with an effect of mutual contamination: for
instance, haute couture may use a traditional costume in the
creation of a unique garment, and women,s fashion may di-ersify
the uniformity of costume depending on the occasionA whereas
men,s fashion tends towards dandyism, that is, it tends to
emphasie the manner of wearing a standard outfit !"##0: =02 #)'
@or >arthes fashion is much more than an occasion to demonstrate
how a system analogous to language functions' 1ather, as
Bianfranco 6arrone says, fashion is an emblem of our
+progressi-e awareness of the indissoluble bond between sign and
society, semiology and sociology, !6arrone "##0: <<)' The history
of costume, >arthes says, has a general epistemological -alue,
whereby with +history of costume, he means a socio-semiotic
reading of the phenomenon of clothing as an articulate language
through which it is possible to analyse a culture as system and
process, institution and indi-idual act, expressi-e reser-e and
significant order !"##0: <?)' The articulation of clothing into
costume and dress 2 corresponding to langue and parole 2 is
further de-eloped by >arthes !"##0: <?) with refer
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ence to one of the founders of structural phonology, 7'5'
Trubec*oj, who proposes as part of the phenomenon of dress +the
indi-idual dimension of a garment, and how dirty or worn-out it is,
and as part of the phenomenon of costume +the difference, no
matter how slight, between a young girl,s garments and those of a
married woman in certain societies, !Trubec*oj "#?# cited by
>arthes "##0: 0()' >arthes extends this opposition by considering,
as part of the phenomenon of dress, how untidy a garment is, what
it lac*s, how it fits and how it is worn !croo*ed buttons, slee-es
too long, etc), impro-ised clothing, colour !except in special
circumstances, li*e mourning), and the characteristic gestures of
the wearer' 9s part of the phenomenon of costume, on the other
hand, >arthes proposes ritualied forms, materials and colours,
fixed usages and, more generally, all those systems regulated by
conformity and compatibility, the outer limits of which are
represented by costumes for specific purposes, as in film and
theatre !"##0: 0()' In the light of this classification it is interesting
to note how fashion 2 which we include in costume 2 has
paradoxically appropriated usages and forms which >arthes
included in dress' Let,s loo* at these aspects one by one' When a
garment is made to measure it is certainly unique, though with the
in-ention of standard sies, the body has been squeeed into
numerical limits' 9 worn-out garment may ha-e a sentimental
-alue for its wearer, but as +second-hand, it becomes a fashion
itemA and the same goes for the -ogue for faded or ripped jeans'
Cntidiness and dirtiness may be part of the phenomenon of anti-
fashion or urban tribal forms' The absence of a garment may be the
sign of a collecti-e use made of costume: for instance, feminist
bra-burning in the "#=(s, or 5haron 5tone without underpants in
>asic Instinct, which becomes a sign of the protagonist,s sexual
ambiguity' Dccentricities in how a garment is worn, on the other
hand, concern e-eryday fashions: the -ogue for buttoning jac*ets
croo*edly, wearing slee-es that are too long, or deliberately
creased, unironed clothes, a -ogue recently ta*en up by high
fashion' Besture and mo-ement, too, in wearing certain garments,
are often indicati-e of socially produced attitudes: for instance, the
fashion dictate of narrow s*irts or high heels that impose on
women fixed, e-en stereotyped, mo-ements when seated or
wal*ing' 9ccording to Lotman !"##?), fashion introduces a
dynamic principle into seemingly immobile, e-eryday spheres'
Traditional costume tends to maintain such spheres unchanged
through time, while fashion tends to transmit signals which are
antithetical to the e-eryday: capricious, -oluble, strange, arbitrary,
unmoti-ated, these are the terms we normally associate with
fashion' 5o fashion becomes part of the image of a topsytur-y
world, where a tension is set up between the stability of the
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e-eryday, on the one hand, and the search for no-elty and
extra-agance, on the other' There is thus a structural difference
between costume and fashion with regard to time 2 the stability
and immutability of costume as opposed to the giddiness of fashion
2 and metaphorical space 2 a normal -ersus a topsy-tur-y world'
This difference directly concerns the social function of clothes:
costume establishes a close relation between the indi-idual and the
community to which s:he belongs, while a fashionable garment
has, by definition, a cosmopolitan status, e-en though its style may
be inspired by +ethnic, or traditional costume' Let,s ta*e as an
example some aspects related to the social significance of colour'
>lac*, associated with mourning in the traditional costume of
certain societies, has the ritual function !>ogatyrE- "#?<) of
associating the nothingness into which the body of the defunct has
passed with the meaningless state in which the berea-ed person
finds him:herself' In -irtue of its magical function, on the other
hand, the use of blac* is forbidden for the garments of new-born
babies, who are thereby protected from images associated with
night, death and demons' >lac*, therefore, in the context of a
traditional, symbolic concept of clothing as costume, is always
associated with a specific, yet timeless, function, the significance
of which is inscribed in +languages, which, while different, are
ne-ertheless morphologically enduring and belong to the uni-ersal
phenomenon of myth enacted within a context of social relati-ism
!Breimas "#<=)' This concerns both the way in which so-called
archaic societies function and the extent to which the functional
dimension of a garment persists e-en in mass, industrial sectors of
social reproduction !the wedding dress, for instance)' In fashion,
which is characteristic of social reproduction in the modern age,
especially mass reproduction today, the social significance of
colour is dispersed in a multiplicity of languages which, in turn,
become social discourses !Breimas "#<=)' @ashion uses blac*, for
instance, in -arious contexts and discourses: urban tribal styles,
such as %un*s and BothsA intersemiotic strategies between fashion
and cinema !the role of blac* in The >lues >rothers or 6en in
>lac*)A +designer styles, !the use of blac* in Famamoto, Gersace or
Holce I Babbana) !see .alabrese "##$)A bricolage fetishes, and so
on' Ta*e the wedding dress as a further example, the ritual function
of which is subordinated to the mutability of fashion' The dress
itself may be decontextualied, white being replaced by
+pro-ocati-e, colours !such as red) and shapes !low-cut bodices,
short s*irts, etc)' The objects generated by the discourses of
fashion are no longer, therefore, products of a collecti-e
expressi-eness 2 myths in the traditional
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sense 2 but are rather signs of a style, and consumer objects' In
other words, they become myths in the contemporary sense' 1ossi-
Landi defines society as +the aspect that material assumes on a
human le-el, !"#0/: ?$)' 9nd the sign dimension of society has
characteried the history itself of cultures and ci-iliations' @or
instance, natural languages are transcribed as signs, and the
sociolinguistic categories underlying them are too, by nature,
signs' We might also adduce the symbolic function of non--erbal
sign systems, li*e food and clothing' 5ign systems, in which
costume and fashion are included, manifest their functional
mechanisms as generators of relations between indi-iduals, de-ices
for shaping the world and sources of meaning and -alue' It is in
this sense that sign systems may be called communication systems'
In the chapter entitled 5chema di riproduione sociale of his boo*
6etodica filosofica e sciena dei segni 1ossiLandi defines
communication as social reproduction !"#0/: $<2 &/), that is, as
the whole context of the production-exchange-consumption of
commodities and messages, all considered signs on the basis of his
+homological method,' It is not only the moment of exchange that
in-ol-es the communicati-e dimension 2 expressed as techniques
of persuasion in ad-ertising, mar*eting strategies, etc 2 but
production and consumption as well' This is especially e-ident in
our +post-industrial, age' The manifestations of sign production-
communication go from the telecommunications industry,
information technology and cinema to automation and educational
systems' .onsumption as communication includes, moreo-er, the
use of telephones, electronic gadgets, computers, tele-isions,
satellites, and should be considered in the light of its so-called
+fluidity,, that is, its mobile, flexible and hybrid character !see Lee
"##?: $/&2 #)' Today production, exchange and consumption are
three -irtually simultaneous moments: 1ossi-Landi alludes to their
structural similarity, which establishes a set of resemblances within
social production itself, particularly at a le-el of +global
production,' ? This regards the fact that a gi-en artefact, whether
-erbal or non--erbal, ma*es explicit, +recounts, as it were, the
whole production process 2 language, culture, the human race e-en
2 that has generated it' 6any contemporary signs-commodities 2
jeans, .oca-.ola, credit cards 2 ma*e explicit the globalied social
reproduction of which they are the result and within which they are
exchanged and consumed' The particular socio-semiotic
characteristic of such signscommodities is that of containing within
themsel-es a communicati-e -alue, of being communication tout
court, whether they are produced, exchanged or consumed' The
proximity of signs and commodities & means that the latter,s -alue
is considered, abo-e all, in terms of social relations' Today, in an
age of +total,
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communication, these relations imply that the -alue of an object
consists not so much in its function 2 its usefulness 2 or in what it
is worth, in the traditional sense, as in its communicati-e -alue,
measurable in terms of speed and inno-ation' The concept of
inno-ation is much less arbitrary than it might at first seem' It
concerns the uni-ersal sign quality of social reproduction, as
se-eral recent research projects ha-e demonstrated' / 9 creati-e
process, a ser-ice, a de-elopment programme, an object can all be
called inno-ati-e, especially from a communicati-e perspecti-e, if
inno-ation is socially represented as such, if it is founded on social
discourses that circulate and are reproduced both within restricted
groups !a company, a public administration, a go-ernment) and
extended, mass communities' In this sense, the +authenticity, of the
social discourse that sustains inno-ation is crucial' The discourse
must circulate +as if, it were trueA it must respond to hidden
meanings and expectations, construct life styles and interact with
other discourses' Fet, paradoxically, we may also spea* of the
+destructi-e semiotic character, = of inno-ation: the fact that a
consumer item, or indeed a production means, has become
obsolete concerns depletion as a sign, not as a +body,' < Hiscarding
the old, and substituting it with the latest no-elty, happens in e-ery
phase of social reproduction, in -irtue of communication
techniques that exploit +total, signs: modularity, speed, design,
-irtuality, customiation and so on' Dndless examples could be
ta*en from contemporary life: the philosophy underpinning the
idea of software, the role of design in the car, hi-fi and electrical
appliance industries, the concepts of time, space and the body in
the use of mobile phones, and Web consumerism are just some
examples' .ontemporary fashion acts as a paradigm in sign
systemsA it is, by definition, concerned with inno-ation, as
demonstrated by 5immel !"0#/), who was one of the first to
analyse the dialectic between inno-ation and imitation' The
fashion system contains a mediation 0 between taste and recei-ed
meaning, filtered through a special relation between sign, discourse
and the sensible world' # In particular, fashion oscillates between
an orientation towards the new and the immediate communicability
of this +new, as something which is socially appro-ed and has the
-alidity of an aesthetic absolute' 9s Lotman !"##?) says, fashion is
collocated in the sphere of the unpredictableA what we might also
call the sphere of imperfection, "( a concept that ma*es explicit
the way in which fashion manages to present itself both as an
unexpected interruption of recei-ed meaning and its perennial
reconstruction' What I ha-e called +mass fashion, !.alefato, "##=)
is a complex
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system of images, words, objects and multilayered social
discourses, all using a plurality of expressi-e forms: haute couture
experiments in style, popular urban culture, e-eryday wear, and the
clothing imagery that populates the intersection between fashion
and cinema, fashion and music, fashion and design' The extent to
which these discourses are percei-ed and rewor*ed within the
social sphere influences the relation between fashion and the
sensible world, while the problem of +sensing, and representing the
world through dress, fashion and style becomes increasingly
urgent' This raises the interesting theoretical question of whether a
sign system !in this case, fashion) models "" the world as a
continuum, an amorphous mass, +;amlet,s cloud,, or the world as
a place in which the sensible is already manifest !Breimas "#<()'
These two theoretical approaches ha-e traditionally been
considered antithetical 2 for instance, in the field of the cogniti-e
sciences 2 whereas they are actually parallel, one implying the
other, if seen from the perspecti-e of a social significance lin*ed to
taste and the senses' If there is a sense +of the world, in fashion
today, this can only consist in +gi-ing the word, to a world which is
sentient but mute with regard to the unexpected, the unheard, the
non-stereotypical' 9 world in which social reproduction is also
essentially +sign alienation,A "$ that is, the stereotypical repetition
of types of beha-iour and images, filters so encrusted with sense
and the senses that signs, especially -isual signs, become
imperati-es' @ashion, more especially its -isual component, is
communicated as the new, the unexpected, the unpredictableA but it
is also, paradoxically, communicated through what >arthes calls
the +linguistic theft, of contemporary mythology' 5o, to what extent
is the discourse of fashion, especially its -isual dimension,
reproduced in the form of sign alienation, or as Breimas !"##/)
would say, as a simulacrum of existenceJ To what extent do we
percei-e the clothed body, its form, its beauty, through the already-
seen, the already-felt, through codified, obsolete roles, such as
those connected with male and female stereotypesJ .on-ersely, to
what extent do the images and !not just -isual) complexities of the
fashion system transform, or disrupt, the existing orderJ To what
extent do they display continual excess and turn aesthetics into
aesthesis and social practiceJ
"' Wittgenstein "#$$: %roposition ?: KThe logical picture of the
facts is the thought'L
$' @or instance, not wearing a tieA see >arthes 5critti !Ital trans
"##0: 0$)'
?' 5ee the chapter entitled 3mologia fra produione linguistica e
produione materiale in 1ossi-Landi, "#0/, especially the author,s
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classification of the tenth and final le-el of what he calls Kthe
production M of utensils and statementsL'
&' 1oss-Landi proposed this as early as the "#=(s'
/' The Duropean .ommission,s Breen %aper on Inno-ation !"##/)
is a good example'
=' %araphrasing Walter >enjamin in Il carattere distrutti-o !Ital
trans "##/)'
<' 3n the distinction between sign and body see 1ossi-Landi "#0/:
"?<2 == et passim and .alefato "##<b: "$2 "?'
0' @or socio-semiotics this mediation is typical of fashion'
#' 7early half a century after the publication of The @ashion
5ystem it is now clear that for >arthes fashion was not simply
writing about clothes, but as Bianfranco 6arrone says Ka type of
discourse in which clothing practices, aesthetic representations and
specialised utterances were combined in a complex form of lifeL
!6arrone "##0)'
"(' %araphrasing Breimas'
""' 9s language or bricolage'
"$' %araphrasing 1ossi-Landi,s Klinguistic alienationL'
Hress and 5ocial Identity
In "#?< the 1ussian semiotician %Etr >ogatyrE-, using a
functionalist scheme, analysed the fol* costume of 6onro-ia, in
which he identified a series of functions: practical, aesthetic,
magical and ritual' 9ccording to >ogatyrE-, e-en the smallest
detail allows us to recognie the function to which a garment
corresponds' @or example, white for mourning dress alludes to a
ritual functionA red stripes on young girls, s*irts, to a social
functionA red for young children,s clothes is used to ward off e-il
spells and reflects a magical function' D-ery colour is related to the
age and thus the social status of the indi-idual in the community'
This functionalist analysis foregrounds the symbolic significance
of clothes: a garment is a sign, and wearing it fulfils specific
functions that can coexist, or o-erlap, in the same item' When the
dominant function is particularly strong, it neutralies the others:
for instance, the aesthetic o-errides the practical function when the
body is subjected to deformations or lacerations' >ogatyrE-
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stresses a sort of closure in the way in which each function
establishes the social significance of a garment, and he defines fol*
costume in general as a signifying system' 7e-ertheless, his
analysis allows for an excess, so to spea*: residual meanings
expressed, abo-e all, in the status of that most particular of
functions, the aesthetic function' Nust as what Na*obson !"#=?)
calls the +phatic function, in spo*en language is there simply to
maintain a minimum le-el of communication or contact between
spea*ers !humanly more important than, for example, defining
social status), the aesthetic function in the non--erbal language of
fol* costume indicates that signs are merely +there, in clothes' Thus
an +unmoti-ated, relation is set up between body and garment, a
+something more, that exceeds functional equi-alence' D-en the
signs that indicate functions other than the aesthetic !the colour or
width of the stripes on the young girls, s*irts, for example) and
sanction the social importance of costume were originally based on
aesthetic details: fabric, colour, shape, sie, position !-ertical,
horiontal) and so on' >ogatyrE- found a close analogy between
fol* costume and mother tongue, both of which he defines as
systems ha-ing +the function of a structure of functions, !"#?<:
"&()' We gi-e emotional prominence to our
mother tongue and national costume since they are nearest to us,
writes >ogatyrE-' They create a concept of community for which
we can use the possessi-e pronoun +our,: saying +our language,,
+our culture,, +our costume, gi-es an emotional colouring to these
phenomena !"#?<: "&$), due to the long and intimate coexistence
established between them and the community' In this sense, fol*
costume, which is subjected to community censure, is the opposite
of fashion: a garment subjected to rapidly changing tastes does not
ha-e time to bond permanently either with the collecti-e social
+body, or any indi-idual body !"#?<: "&")' %opular dress is part of
an almost immutable community tradition, whereas fashionable
dress is cosmopolitan' 7e-ertheless, fashion has often referred
explicitly to the social imagery of a specific group or community,
through the use of different +texts,' >ogatyrE- maintains that a
community in-ests fol* costume with an emotional -alue' 9nd this
ma*es sense e-en today if we accept that fashion itself is a form of
popular culture: it acti-ates and draws on that complex area of
social imagery in which fol*lore and images stratified in the
collecti-e memory coexistA in other words, texts in which the
semiotic material is made up of different languages' 9 good
example is the role played by 5outhern Italy in the construction of
fashion imagery' Holce I Babbana, Gersace and many other Italian
designers ha-e recently interpreted this role by alluding in their
collections to the part played by the 5outh in shaping Italian
cultural awareness, to which, since the end of the 5econd World
War, not only literature and the fine arts, but also the mass media,
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including cinema and fashion, ha-e all contributed' The male -est,
9l %acino style pin-striped suits, close-fitting white shirts,
beachwear based on a La Holce Gita ideal of male beauty are all
aesthetic ideals coming from the Italian deep south' Ideals of
female beauty and fashion, too: the dar* 6editerranean type
epitomied by 5ophia Loren and 9nna 6agnani, cloned today in
-arious guises, wearing tight-fitting blac* bodices and long, full
s*irts, perhaps with white gym shoes and a headscarf, thic*
eyebrows, a full hour-glass figure, a trace of down on the upper lip'
We,re reminded of 5tefania 5andrelli in 5edotta e abbandonata,
together with all the women, whether real or imagined, who
peopled the sun-drenched streets of 5outhern Italian towns forty
years ago' The resonance of such imagery, not just on the haute
couture catwal* or in the designer,s atelier, but also in our
e-eryday choices, is certainly proof of how a community !in this
case a nation) +imagines itself, through a series of small, yet
significant bonds and not just through economic or commercial
pacts' While the latter type of pact often leads to a selfish closure
within the notion of +identity,, the bonds constructed by social
imagery are
open, +contaminated,, and tend not to be di-isi-e' 9nna 6agnani,s
peasant gear mixes with 5il-ana 6angano,s chic an*le soc*s, "
while the plaits worn by 5outhern Italian woman to tame their
abundance of thic*, curly hair mix with the traditional thin plaits of
9frican women li-ing in Durope, now in -ogue amongst western
teenagers' There is an ancient legend in Iceland that tells how the
terrible .hristmas .at $ will come and get you if you don,t wear a
new item of clothing at .hristmas' This monster attac*s the
poorest people, those who ha-en,t been able to find e-en the
smallest of new objects to wear' @or this reason it is customary for
women to spin different coloured yarns to ma*e a new garment, or
just a new pair of soc*s, for their children at .hristmas in order to
protect them from the monster' The legend is also an explicit
in-itation to the rich to gi-e at least one new item of clothing to the
poor, who would otherwise suffer a terrible fate' 9s with all
legends it is difficult to *now which came first, the tale or the
custom' Hoes the desire to wear something new at .hristmas
spring from this legendJ 3r is the legend itself merely a culturally
codified reflection of those rites of rebirth associated with the
ancient pagan significance of this festi-alJ .lothes are our second
s*in, and what better meaning to gi-e them on this occasion than
that of a -isible renewal and rebirth, made possible for e-eryone,
e-en those who can,t afford a new garment' D-en our post-
industrial rites of .hristmas consumerism find their raison d,Otre in
this e-eryday ritual' 3therwise, how could they ha-e such a strong
grip on our imagination, if they were not part of some distant,
buried memory of authentic gesturesJ 9nd fashion, too, plays the
11 (8
same game, offering us the chance to dress up for the occasion and,
li*e the Icelandic legend, telling us that e-en one small new object
is enough to inscribe the festi-ities on our body' @ashion seems to
ha-e fully assimilated the modern connotation of .hristmas, gi-en
the widespread tendency to reflect, literally, its festi-e symbolism
in clothes' .olour, for instance, has always had an important
symbolic -alue in the history of costume, especially in .hristmas
attire' 5ignificantly the dominant colour on this occasion is red,
traditionally associated with pagan rites of fertility, !re)birth and
sun-worship' 5hoes, stoc*ings and garments of e-ery description
combine their aesthetic function !of adorning the body as a source
of light, li*e the sun) with the magical function, often attributed to
the colour red in fol* costume, of warding off e-il spirits' This
ritual of dressing up for .hristmas extends to the more worldly
7ew Fear,s festi-ities, where, to welcome in the new year, red
often appears in that +low, garment, close to the body,s erogenous
ones' The
habit of wearing red underwear, which has no significant
precedence in popular dress prior to the modern age, suggests that
clothes still ha-e a magical function today' 1ed 2 the colour of
blood, source of life 2 is auspicious for the new year and, at the
same time, offers an occasion for an implicit seduction rite,
allowing both sexes to re-eal that they are wearing something red
underneath' ? This innocent erotic game merges with the surreal
power of contemporary fashion, which consists in o-erturning,
literally, the order of bodily co-erings, exhibiting what is normally
hidden and putting what is underneath on top' The new
technological materials, & too, are well suited to our glittering
.hristmas attire: clothes made of these materials seem straight out
of a 7959 laboratory, or inspired by the magical %G. costume
created by @erragamo for the Bood @airy in 9ndy Tennant,s
.inderella !6useo 5al-atore @erragamo "##0: 0(2 0")' Barments
that create a trompe l,oeil effect similar to a hologram, and clothed
bodies as bright as .hristmas treesA the tree as the syl-an double of
the human body, bedec*ed with colour and light at .hristmas, as if
it were a body totem to propitiate' In 7orthern Durope, on the feast
of 5t Lucy,s Hay !"? Hecember), images of the saint show her
bearing gifts, dressed in brilliant white with glowing candles on
her head' This -isible resplendence in-erts the condition of the
saint,s blindness / and so light becomes a metaphor for the
magico-religious illumination of body and mind' The +garment of
light, !li*e the traje de lu of the toreros) is a classic example of a
costume replete with ritual significance, through which magic is
reproduced in e-eryday practices' 5o dressing up for .hristmas
could be seen not merely as a -ain and futile consumer whim, but
12 (8
rather as a way to embody, literally, certain -alues in order to
escape from the terrible .hristmas .at, emblem of the dar* fate
awaiting all those who ha-en,t the will, or the means, to renew
themsel-es at least once a year by sha*ing off stereotypes' In
Woody 9llen,s film Heconstructing ;arry one of ;arry,s wi-es,
the psychoanalyst interpreted in his fantasies by the lo-ely Hemi
6oore, has a religious crisis at a certain point in her life' @rom a
sensual, liberal and worldly intellectual she becomes a strict
3rthodox New' The change is made stri*ingly -isible on her body:
low-cut blouses, minis*irts and long, flowing hair are replaced by
drab shawls, long s*irts and neat hairdos' Fet this austere +Newish
loo*, that Woody 9llen so irre-erently po*es fun at is not his own
in-ention' In "##0 the Israeli 9mos >en 7aeh attempted to launch
a corpus of fashion imagery inspired by religious orthodoxy' = The
models in his agency lengthened their hems and slee-es, wore
hea-y stoc*ings and buttoned-up, high-nec*ed tops, co-ered their
heads and tied
bac* their hair' 3rthodox Newish culture thus set this rigid control
of real and imaginary bodies against the in-asi-e superabundance
of images that construct beauty, especially female beauty, either in
terms of unrestrained nudity or of clothing paradigms which are, at
least apparently, free from restrictions and taboos' The potential
mar*et for this new loo* was not just Israel' In both Durope and
9merica post-Hiaspora Nudaism is largely made up of practising
News who ha-e presumably welcomed this mediation between
religious dogma and the world of consumer ad-ertising, from
which their religion theoretically obliges them to *eep their
distance' < 3rthodoxy in fashion is not, howe-er, the prerogati-e
of Newish culture alone' It finds a parallel in Islamic
fundamentalism, which imposes equally se-ere prescriptions on its
followers, especially women, concerning how to dress and appear
in public' Indeed, in e-ery culture there is a close relation between
clothes and religious practices' Hressing means appearing,
showing oneself to others, and the more the construction of one,s
selfimage depends on the obser-ance of religious dogma, the more
it is concerned with how one exposes one,s body to the public
gae' Fet there is perhaps an e-en more profound aspect to
clothing within a religious context, connected to its symbolic and
mythological significance as a means of crossing the boundary
between the human and the di-ine' The officiator of a cult who
dons a religious -estment is at this boundary, and it is his:her
clothed body that sanctions such a spatial-social collocation'
9ncient initiation rites in many primiti-e cultures include a
modification or transformation of the body through clothing,
painting, feathering or tattooing' The modern western -iew that
13 (8
integralist practices impose or inflict rigid dress codes on the body
runs the ris* of presumption in its claim to represent true freedom
of dress' 0 3ur judgement of the ancient .hinese practice of foot-
binding, for example, or the use of the -eil in Islam, or any other
traditional form of co-ering the body in +clothes of containment,,
often does not ta*e into account e-en the more recent history of
costume in which forms of secular fundamentalism ha-e expressed
themsel-es through dress' In 7ai Bermany, for example,
Boebbels issued the order !in "#&") that all News wear a yellow
star in order to distinguish them from the +9ryans,, while from a
different point of -iew, the ci-ilian uniform in 6aoist .hina was
an integralist sign, ideologically moti-ated by the necessity of
creating social equality, e-en in terms of physical appearance' 9nd
today in that most eastern of western countries, Napan, wearing a
uniform is a way of disciplining mind and body, especially in the
younger generations, whose
school uniforms are strictly regulated by age and sex' D-en
subculture styles that oblige members of urban tribes to follow
precise dress codes, otherwise they run the ris* of being outcast,
are a secular rewor*ing, in an urban consumer context, of ancient
religious and social rituals of dress' 5o in any discourse on clothing
it is difficult to draw the line between an authentic freedom of
dress and the rules and regulations !starting with fashion) that
function as a *ind of clothing syntax similar to that which go-erns
language' In the modern age, whene-er a political, social or
religious 4lite has attempted to regulate or control the syntax of
either language or clothing they ha-e done so as part of a
totalitarian regime !whether actual or planned)' %ersecuted groups
ha-e often been objects of manipulation and control, li*e the News
in 7ai Bermany, or women, whose presumed natural modesty is
central to the loo* created by >en 7aeh' @ashion and censorship
ha-e always been in conflictA the -olatile, experimental nature of
fashion often triggers off a hostile reaction from moralists against a
new length, a new loo*, a new style, etc' Fet in the end the
per-erse mechanism of how fashions spread actually produces the
opposite effect: a condemnation, not of the new, but of the old,
whereby what is outof-fashion becomes the butt of social censure'
The relation between fashion and censure becomes e-en more
complex when the former is circulated through the mass media:
ad-ertising and photography do not simply transcribe clothing
signs into a propagandist and iconic language, but reinterpret,
reformulate and exacerbate these signs, thereby creating a special
genre of translation between different sign systems !inter-semiotic
translation) and different text types !intertextual translation)' The
14 (8
following are just some examples' In the autumn of "##/ .al-in
Plein launched an ad-ertising campaign for a new collection of
jeans, but then withdrew it almost immediately under attac* from
pressure groups li*e the 9merican @amily 9ssociation' 9ccording
to his critics, the 7ew For* designer had committed an outrage that
-erged on an incitement to paedophilia: the new jeans were wore
unbuttoned by a group of young teenagers who, at the same time,
conspicuously showed off the designer,s new collection of lingerie
underneath' Plein commented to the 7ew For* Times, when he
announced the withdrawal of his campaign, that the ad was meant
to con-ey that young people today were strong and independent-
minded' D-idently this was not the interpretation gi-en to the
publicity message by family associations, sociologists and
teachers, who clearly had ne-er seen the multitudes of teenagers
hanging out at school, on the street or in clubs dressed exactly li*e
the youngsters in the .al-in Plein ad-ertisement, well before it
came out' %erhaps not all with designer-label jeans and lingerie but
free, ne-ertheless, to show off a pierced na-el or simply to follow
one of those street fashions that are transmitted li*e a sort of
smo*e-signal' The designer had done nothing more than pic* up
this smo*e signal, using 5te-en 6eisel,s photographs, with their
spare yet subtly erotic imagery' # The scandal caused by the Plein-
6eisel ad-ertisement had the all9merican fla-our of a 6anichean
and superficial moralism, but it is, ne-ertheless, a good example of
the tense relation that has always existed between fashion and
censorship' D-en more notorious, perhaps, is the Italian duo
>enetton-Toscani, whose images of a terminal 9IH5 patient, a nun
*issing a priest, and a blac* mother breast-feeding a white baby are
just some examples of images which are regularly the target of
moral censure and heated contro-ersy' The accused, in this case,
isn,t a garment !>enetton-label items don,t appear in the photos)
but the metapublicity message, the image-signs that express
something in themsel-es, apart from the implicit +buy this label,
message' The same thing happens with .al-in Plein, though in a
less sophisticated way: here we actually see the jeans, but the
metapublicity message appeals to styles and tastes that are already
widespreadA in other words, it communicates, not through
ostentation, but through allusion and complicity' @ashion shows are
often the occasion for a chorus of censure against a recurrent style
of women,s clothes that alludes, deliberately and unequi-ocally, to
pornography and prostitution, and so is seen as a harbinger of
rampant licentiousness, not to mention being considered in sheer
bad taste' "( Fet the -ery next season we may witness a trend in
the opposite direction: a loo* inspired by propriety and restraint'
15 (8
.learly, here too we are dealing with a fashion metadiscourse: the
desire to pro-o*e a reaction in order to set up a self-referential
discourse, by alluding to tastes and taboos already present in social
imagery' >y contrast, the censorship campaign against the
minis*irt in the "#=(s had quite different implications: here
conser-ati-es and moralists were criticiing, not simulacra, but real
li-e legs that had in-aded the world of the public gae' 9nd the
battle against this censorship had profound ethical implications,
which coincided with a concerted affirmation of female freedom
and narcissism in e-eryday life, not just in the photographer,s
studio or on the catwal*' This time fashion had something truly
liberating to say' Indeed, the newly acquired sense of freedom
inspired, in this case, by the minis*irt has often been associated
with re-olutionary changes in female dress !more so than in men,s
fashion)' The last century has seen petticoats and corsets disappear,
s*irts get shorter, nec*lines plunge, colours get brighter and the
ad-ent of women,s trousers'
Today the conflict between fashion and censure is abo-e all a
matter of style, that is, of the forms in which fashion manifests
itself' 9lready in the "#0(s %un* had implicitly grasped this
change of emphasis' %un* style was de-iant in the sense of putting
the wrong thing in the wrong place: a safety pin in the nose, blue
or green hair, or an obscene slogan on a T-shirt' +Who lo-es me
follows me,, a teenage bac*side in Italian +Nesus, jeans could still
say in the "#<(s' "" @ollow, that is, a fashion, a bac*side, Nesus, or
simply an imageJ The irony and ambiguity of the message created
a scandal, but the image made history than*s to its grace and
intelligence' Today we ha-e few images to followA it,s rather
images that follow us, and it is for this reason that censorship is no
longer imaginati-ely or morally potent, and con-eniently espouses
the most bigoted forms of political correctness' In the winter of
"##?2 #& @rench haute couture found itself in an embarrassing
position with regard to the Islamic world' The Indonesian .ouncil
of Clema "$ banned .hanel after designer Parl Lagerfeld used
Poranic -erses on the bodice of three dresses worn at the %aris
fashion show by .laudia 5chiffer' The @rench fashion house and
Parl Lagerfeld in person immediately sent the .ouncil an official
apology, a necessary mo-e since .hanel was quite interested in
tapping the rich 9rab mar*et, which might well ha-e withdrawn its
custom after an incident of this *ind' 6ar*et forces in this case
turned out to be more important than artistic mannerisms' The faux
pas was so clamorous that .hanel e-en had the garments in
question destroyed, withdrew all photographic negati-es of them
and as*ed the photographers who had been at the fashion show to
do the same' "? This was an exemplary incident, in which mar*et
forces, fashion and mutual respect between cultures all merged'
16 (8
@or Islamic integralists Lagerfeld had ob-iously committed a
sacrilege in mixing the profanity of the female body and the -ulgar
commercial object with the sacredness of the word of Bod' 9nd yet
combining clothes and writing is a deep-rooted practice in the
aesthetics of fashion' In the West, if we were to see a T-shirt with
+Thou shalt ha-e none other gods before me, written on it, we
would simply thin* it was either a bit *itsch or a bit sanctimonious,
whereas, in Islam, putting the words of the Poran on the bodice of
a dress is considered no less than a wanton act of profanation'
Newish tradition, on the other hand, has a law which sanctions
dressing in scripture' Teffilin, strips of parchment that de-out News
wrap round their heads, cite passages from the 3ld Testament, and
this ritual reflects a specific dogma in Dxodus and Heuteronomy
!Bandelman "##$)' Fet thin* what an outcry there would be
amongst the Newish community if they were
to see a phylactery inscribed with sacred ;ebrew -erses paraded
on the head of a top modelQ 5o was the Clema,s condemnation
simply an excess of fundamentalism, a *ind of rema*e, in the
history of fashion, of the censure against 5alman 1ushdie,s 5atanic
GersesJ The issue is a complex one' Is it right to offend other
traditions in the name of aesthetic and economic freedomJ 9nd
-ice -ersa, could we not argue that .laudia 5chiffer,s bodice has
the same communicati-e -alue today that a mar-el li*e the Taj
6ahal had in the pastJ In the summer of "##& the Italian @oreign
3ffice refused to issue a diplomatic passport to a newly elected
Duro-6% because it was thought that the photograph on it didn,t
correspond to the actual person' 9n incredible decision, since what
made the photo an inadequate representation of the politician was
the fact that he wasn,t wearing a tieQ The ci-il ser-ants wor*ing in
the diplomatic passports office maintained that the absence of a tie
was sufficient to call the 6%,s personal identity into question' The
tie thus assumed the role of a distincti-e feature on the body, with
the same status as a beard, hair colour, age, weight, glasses or
plastic surgery' The affair concluded happily, than*s to a bit of
mental elasticity on the part of the o-er-ealous ci-il ser-ants, yet
it is indicati-e of the fact that clothes now define not only personal,
but also political identity' We ha-e all chanced to meet, at the
seaside for example, someone we normally see only at wor*, and
ha-en,t recognied them immediately, since they were dressed !or
undressed) differently' The same might happen with a soldier,
policeman or nurse, whom we are used to seeing in uniform, and
so we don,t recognie them in +plain clothes,' In the same way, the
tie seems to ha-e become part of a politician,s uniform, without
which he cannot be properly identified and, moreo-er, he may
17 (8
e-en be barred access to go-ernment institutions' Today the image
of public men and women is of paramount importanceA a direct and
inescapable relation has been set up between two languages 2 the
language of dress and the language of politics' 9nd this is
reinforced by the fact that the language of politics is now primarily
the language of tele-ision, where e-en before hearing what a
politician has to say, we see his:her image, his:her clothed body, on
the screen' Image-ma*ers, who de-ote themsel-es to the pri-ate
loo* of public figures, are e-erywhere, not just in the C59, where
a politician,s image, both public and pri-ate, has been in the
limelight for decades' 9 passage in Nohn Brisham,s spy no-el The
%elican >rief !"##$) well illustrates this situation' The ad-isor of a
fictional Cnited 5tates president urges him to wear a cardigan
when he appears on tele-ision to comment on the murder of two
members of the 5upreme .ourt' The aim is to simulate a reassuring
grandfatherly figure'
If tele-ision, or rather the exaggerated and mystifying use that
politics ma*es of tele-ision, has replaced the mass political rallies
held in the open air, if this li-ely electrical appliance has muddied
the waters and created an excessi-e commingling of eye, ear and
brain, then we mustn,t forget that historically there has always
been a close relation between politics and fashion' The famous
case of the sobriquet sans culottes for @rench re-olutionaries
deri-es from the fact that they chose to wear long trousers, and so
appeared +sans culottes,, that is, without the traditional garment
worn by members of the 9ncien 14gime' 6oreo-er, politics has
often gi-en names to fashions that spread far beyond restricted
political groups: Imperial and Gictorian styles are so-called after,
respecti-ely, the political regime and reign during which these
dress styles were popular' In rhetoric, a discourse genre called
oratio togata recalls the oratorical style of those who wore the
senatorial toga in ancient 1ome' 9nd here the relation between
language, politics and dress is exemplary' Indeed, 6arguerite
Fourcenar claims that in her no-el 6emoirs of ;adrian !"#/") she
has the emperor spea* in this way, because it embodies the ideal of
masculine dignity in .lassical 9ntiquityA and in support of this
claim she adduces the image of the dying .aesar adjusting the
folds of his toga' The 9frican-9merican scholar .ornel West
!"##?) has identified a similar ideal of dignity in the blac* suit and
white shirt worn by 6artin Luther Ping and 6alcolm R as an
affirmation of the seriousness and commitment of their fight for
blac* ci-il rights' In these last two examples the relation between
fashion and politics is in-erted: it is the politician or political
stance that determines the dress code, not -ice -ersaA it is the way
of concei-ing one,s appearance style that dictates -isibly the
18 (8
significance of a professional commitment' ;ere the politician
isn,t conforming to an already established dress code, wearing a
uniform or simply wanting to loo* good on tele-ision, but is
ma*ing an ethical choice that belittles any flattery or cle-er ad-ice
a style councillor might gi-e' Instead of judging politicians on their
+top model, effect, as usually happens, why don,t we try and guess
which one of them, li*e .aesar, would thin* of adjusting his !or
her) toga after being stabbedJ
"' 5il-ana 6angano is an Italian actress from the "#/(s'
$' 9 monster that, e-en for Icelanders, comes from the far froen
?' %erhaps with unbuttoned jeans, or a slit s*irt'
&' Translucent, transparent, changing colour depending on the
light, or with mirror-li*e surfaces'
/' 5t Lucy is the patron saint of sight'
=' 9mos >en 7aeh is an 3rthodox New who runs the creati-e
department of an ad-ertising company in Israel'
<' This story could pro-ide interesting material for the trenchant
irony of an Italian Newish intellectual li*e 6oni 3-adia, who
*nows Newish culture inside-out'
0' In the West the -iew still pre-ails that our world is, in some
sense, more +ci-ilied,'
#' 6adonna used 6eisel,s photographs for her eros-biography 5ex'
"( >ras and corsets worn as o-er-garments, tango-style dresses,
tight-fitting cardigans with double openings, s*irts slit up to the
na-el, 5alome-li*e transparent materials'
""' %hotographed once again by Toscani'
"$' The Clema !singular +9lim) are the sages of Islam, those who
possess the quality of ilm, instruction in the broadest sense' They
are usually theologians, professors, judges or theorists of Islamic
law, and in a 6uslim state they form a council which has a role in
"?' Lagerfeld had ta*en the incriminating text from a tomb
inscription in the Taj 6ahal at 9gra, built in "=?$ by the 6ogul
emperor 5hah Nanan in memory of his belo-ed wife, 9rjumand
>anu >egum, called 6umta 6ahal, +The %alace @a-ourite,, who
died in childbirth in "=?" after $( years of inseparable
companionship with the emperor' Lagerfeld mista*enly thought
that the inscriptions were amorous -erses, whereas they were, in
fact, Poranic -erses, which are often used as a decorati-e feature
in Islamic architecture'
19 (8
The @ace and the Bae
The fascination of the gae: a -ague allure, a dim recognition in
the shape of the face, a hint of a dialogue with the other,s gae' >ut
a ris* too: precipitating into the arms of Heath with no return, li*e
Durydice sa-ed and lost again by 3rpheus, who loo*s bac* at her
too soonA or the ris* of being turned to stone by the 6edusa,s stare'
In e-ery human experience the gae leads to irre-ersible situations,
signalling the passage to a state in which e-erything seems final'
Loo*ing is both changing the world and others, and being changed
in turn by their gae' 9 gae which is ne-er direct, howe-er, but
always mediated, de-iated, if not impeded by the -eil of our
*nowledge, dreams and projections onto the world, images at the
intersection of which the +I, that both loo*s and is loo*ed at ta*es
shape' The -eil, the co-ering, is textile and garment, but first and
foremost it is cultural textile-text, if we ta*e +culture, to mean all
the material that goes to ma*e up human thought, language and
beha-iour' @ashion inter-enes to mar* ideologically this cultural
material, without which fashion itself could not exist' " Then
there,s always the danger of meeting 9ctaeon,s fate, changed into a
stag by Hiana when he came upon her bathing' +7ow go and tell
them that you,-e seen me un-eiled, if you can,, Hiana challenges
him, thus celebrating in myth the other ris* brought by the gae,
that of becoming mute, a state close to death, gi-en that 9ctaeon as
a stag is torn to pieces by his own hounds' Fet another moral: the
female body, represented by the -irginal Hiana, is -eiled with
*nowledge and yet, when un-eiled, gi-es no access to its own
particular truth $ and doesn,t e-en allow men to spea* about it'
Thus woman wea-es the final -eil, the death shroud, for the male
presumption of telling the truth about a body which is in
continuous flux between na*ed and -eiled, garment and s*in' 6ore
than any other textile, the -eil simultaneously fulfils two functions:
that of creating an interaction between clothes and body, a function
common to almost e-ery type of co-ering, and that of exhibiting
na*edness through concealment' Fet another irony of clothing,
ta*en up periodically by fashion in the use of -oile, chiffon and
organa, textiles in which there is a play of transparencies and
prohibited gaing' If the -eiled body, li*e the
20 (8
clothed body, is today a non-na*ed body, the fascination of which
lies in playing hide and see* with beauty, as 7ietsche says, then
there is a part of the body which presents itself as na*ed par
excellence, e-en from under the mas* of ma*eup: the face' %erhaps
we can spea* of the face,s na*edness because we learn to
recognie others especially by their face' It,s more difficult to
recognie a person by other parts of their body or their gestures:
for example, let your gae fall on their hands or way of wal*ing,
concentrate on their -oice or the stylistic flourish in a billet-doux
from a -irtual lo-er M lo-ers, secrets, these, or the prerogati-e of
astute obser-ers' Baing at the face is, abo-e all, see*ing the
other,s gae' This +face-to-face, goes beyond mirror-li*e reflection,
though it may recall it, and goes beyond the identity of self' Baing
into another,s eyes always brings with it a deflection from the
flatness of the reflected image to the refraction of a dialogue' The
-eil o-er the face is foreign to western culture, perhaps because the
western +subject, is constructed largely on reciprocal gaing'
7e-ertheless, e-ery culture is formed by loo*ing at what is distant,
and by constantly loo*ing to the past as a time to regain' @ashion is
fully aware of this prerogati-e and today stands at the intersection
between cultures world-wide, and between themes that bring
together past and present, sacred and profane, near and far' The
gae may be de-iated yet again and the face -eiled to excess by the
thic* warm fabric of a cagoule' 9 Tuareg citation, perhapsJ In
Islam the -eil for women was introduced by the caliph 3mar, who
based his +in-ention, on certain -erses in the Poran which
recommend that women lower their gae and co-er their head in
public' The Tunisian scholar, 6ajid Dl-;oussi, has demonstrated
that the use of the -eil for women is closely lin*ed to the
importance of the gae in the Islamic world !"#0<: $()' >eing
6uslim means controlling your gae and maintaining a rigid
di-ide between male and female' 9 woman,s intimacy is protected
by her -eilA and in Islamic tradition this intimacy is called +awra,
the root of which !+awr) means the +loss of an eye,, as Dl-;oussi
points out, recalling the relation between prohibited sight and loss
of sight' In the ;adith the punishment recommended for men who
loo* at women not related to them is loss of the faculties of sight,
touch and smell' In her analysis of the -eil in Islam, @adwa Dl
Buindi !"###a) loo*s at the complex relations between the
traditional religious dress code for women in different 6uslim
societies and the hierarchies of power, women negotiating their
independence and aesthetics' In Islam the gae is per-ersion of the
eye, its interdiction, its ina, just as the word is the ina of
language, physical contact the ina of hands and wal*ing in desire
21 (8
the ina of feet' 3nly poetry, at once within and without laws and
interdictions, can celebrate the gae and -oyeurism'
Indeed Dl-;oussi writes that 9rabian secular poetry is a hymn to
the eyes and a symphony to the gae, where lo-e can blossom from
the mere glimpse of a portrait' The 6uslim woman,s -eil thus
originates in a cultural ambi-alence: on the one hand, the gae is
prohibited, while on the other it is e-o*ed by the fascination of
what is hidden and by the tantaliing allusions in literature inspired
by the jasmine-scented harem' In Nudeo-.hristian tradition, on the
other hand, the woman is -eiled only for the marriage ceremony:
+thou hast do-es, eyes within thy S-eilT M as a piece of
pomegranate are thy temples within thy S-eilT, !5ong of 5ongs &'",
='<)' Bree* and 1oman brides were -eiled tooA indeed, the Latin
word nubere meaning +to -eil, also meant +to marry,' The -eil of
the .hristian bride thus deri-es from this tradition, which lin*s the
;ebrew, Bree* and 1oman worlds' The -eil as symbol of chastity
and modesty, un-eiling as symbol of an irre-ersible step: loss of
-irginity' Today the bridal -eil sur-i-es in form, not in content' If
the nuptial -eil is symbolically lin*ed to sexuality, as an in-itation
to the bridegroom to dis-co-er both face and sex, the .hristian
con-entual -eil deri-es instead from the suffibulum of 1oman
-estal -irgins, which co-ers the head but lea-es the face
unco-ered, with considerable loss of fascination, one might add'
+Ta*ing the -eil, means renouncing one,s sexuality, subsuming it in
one,s lo-e of Bod' To just what extent this may slide into eroticism
is gi-en eloquent testimony by >ernini,s sculptural group of The
Dcstasy of 5t Theresa' In 6edie-al and 1enaissance iconography,
the 6adonna is depicted with a -eil o-er her headA it is often blue 2
though lined with blac* for the 6ater Holorosa, prototype of the
.hristian woman -eiled in mourning 2 and enriched with gold and
precious stones, as this %auline prescription for women in prayer
was gradually transformed from a sign of submission into one of
refined elegance' The -eil o-er the face is thus a *ey concept in
.hristianity: the bridal -eil, the mourning -eil, and the other
extreme, the Geronica Geil, with an impression of .hrist,s face on
it' This -eil is traditionally attributed with healing properties
associated with the legend of Geronica relie-ing .hrist,s suffering
on Bolgotha, which is in its turn associated with the apostles,
account of .hrist healing a sic* woman' 6oreo-er, in 6edie-al
legend, .hrist,s image on the -eil was said to ha-e healed the
Dmperor Tiberius when he placed it on his face' 9 thaumaturgic
-eil by proxy: blood and the image of the 5a-iour,s face placed
o-er a human face li*e a mas*' ;ere the fascination lies in the
eternal seduction of Heath regenerating whoe-er touches it, not
with their hands but with their face or eyes, which are perhaps the
parts we least li*e ha-ing touched'
22 (8
Fet we do indeed +touch, with our eyes and if they are left
unco-ered by the Islamic -eil, the western fashion U la belle
epoque of a short -eil worn o-er a hat both -eils and un-eils them'
Geiled eyes are large, languid and unfathomable, mesmeriing
behind the caress of an ostrich boa, the face half-hidden by
sumptuous fabrics, as in a Plimt painting' 5o what happens to the
gae when the mechanical apparatus of a pair of glasses is placed
in front of the eyesJ 3f all the mas*s e-er in-ented for the face,
glasses are generally those most moti-ated by a practical need'
7e-ertheless, e-er since they were introduced to the West between
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries !6arco %olo recounts that in
.hina they were already in use at the court of Publa Phan) the
practical function has had to come to terms with an aesthetic
function, as we can clearly see in early modern portraits of nobles
and notables' The aesthetic function introduces fashion details
e-en in the lenses, details that dictate shape, colour and type of
material' There is traditionally an unbridgeable gulf between
glasses and feminine charm: for example, a short-sighted 6arilyn
6onroe in ;ow to 6arry a 6illionaire constantly hides hers in
order better to seduce an ageing financier' 9nd again, ;itchcoc*
uses glasses on women in many of his films in order to highlight
the contrast between sex appeal and lac* of it, as in Gertigo, or in
order to portray a female character as +bad,' >ut e-en these
unattracti-e connotations of female eyewear must ine-itably
intersect with their opposite: the undeniable fascination emanating
from a pair of eyes hidden behind dar* glasses' 5ummer brings to
the fore the omnipresent -ision of faces obscured by dar* glasses,
e-en though their season is really eternal, especially in the sunny
climates of the 6editerranean' 5unglasses were in-ented at the end
of the nineteenth century, though the fashion for dar* lenses only
really too* off in the "#?(s' Their success coincided with a decline
in the use of broad-brimmed hats and bonnets in women,s fashion'
5unglasses with blac* frames and lenses U la >lues >rothers e-en
precede the irre-erent blues duo, who turned them into a parodic
and stylied sign' %arodic in that they derided the role of this type
of sunglasses in the jet set,s wardrobe and stylied in that they
transformed into a fashion and a cult object what idols li*e 1ay
.harles !who appears in the film) and 5te-ie Wonder used out of
necessity' In the golden world of ;ollywood stars, dar* heart-
shaped lenses e-o*e the "#/(s image of Pubric*,s Lolita or
-oluptuous young maidens in search of success in the age of the
baby-boom' In the history of youth styles, on the other hand,
illustrious exponents of the fashion for thic*rimmed dar* glasses
were the >ritish 6ods, who adopted them as part of
23 (8
their exaggerated collegiate style at the end of the "#/(s' In the
same period, a pair of expensi-e and well-made dar* glasses
appeared on 6arcello 6astroianni,s nose in La Holce Gita, while
in a famous 6artini ad-ertisement that humorously cites characters
li*e 6astroianni, 3nassis and 9nita Dc*berg, recreating the
atmosphere of those years between Gia Geneto and %ortofino, the
characters wear dar* glasses, dangerous -ehicles of mystery,
betrayal and complicity' Though in-ented to satisfy the practical
need of protecting our eyes from the sun,s rays, dar* glasses ha-e
become a particular *ind of fashion item, hiding or -eiling the area
around the eyes, and thus modifying salient facial features, often to
the point of ma*ing a person unrecogniable' Indeed, the
expression +I didn,t recognie you with those glasses on, is a
common one, and when we meet someone in the street good
manners prescribe ta*ing off our sunglasses so that we can loo*
and be loo*ed at directly' Cnless, of course, we deliberately want
to mas* our gaeA for example, if we feel embarrassed or are
crying, or simply want to hide our identity' There has e-en been a
biarre fashion recently for mirror lenses, not only in the
mountains, where they ma*e sense, but also in the city, the effect
of which is simply to add a -ulgar touch to the face' 5ince the
"#<(s sunglasses ha-e been synonymous with the name 1ay >an,
the 9merican company that not only introduced the famous
pearshaped model, but also inaugurated the fashion for sunglasses
with a label, li*e Lacoste for shirts and Le-i,s for jeans' Hespite
the introduction of different models to suit different tastes, in the
last decade the 1ay >an constellation has been obfuscated by the
a-antgarde models of the new cult sunglasses, Web' Pnown abo-e
all for the celebrities who wear them, Web glasses effecti-ely
represent anti-1ay >ans, since they experiment with ostensibly
+poor, materials and biarre shapes, producing a +baroque, effect,
whereas 1ay >ans represent a more +classical, style' 1ough metal,
screws stic*ing out, spirals connecting the lensesA e-erything
exhibits a subtle wit and playful irony of design that guarantee an
enthusiastic public of affluent, yet non-eccentric buyers' 9part
from these successful name brands, in the context of Italian
production !which has recently bro*en all sales records) lenses for
all tastes and ages fill the shop windows, and not just the
optician,s' Indeed, the latest fashion is for shops that just sell dar*
glasses' The most +pop, models of the moment ha-e big, mas*-li*e
lenses with titanium or transparent tube frames' 9nd the habit of
wearing sports glasses !in the shape of swimming goggles or
cyclist,s glasses) is on the increase too: there is e-en a prototype
with a rear--iew mirror for pedestrians at ris* in city trafficQ In the
near future we will probably witness an ad-ance in the
technological function
24 (8
of sunglasses, which will not only shield our eyes from the sun, but
also ser-e as a telecommunication instrument or a computer
running on solar energy' The face is mas*ed, the face as mas*'
What lies behind that smooth brown s*in, those elongated eyes and
thic* eyebrows, that round red mouth and bobbed hairJ %erhaps
nothing more than the act itself of hiding something' The idea of a
bare face to be inscribed with the +signs, of ma*eup ignores the
fact that such na*edness is already inscribed, scored by a thousand
tales alluding to age, nutrition, medicine, lo-e, origins and so on'
1etracing history and searching in the genealogy of the face for
something that might help us understand its phenomenology, a
concept stands out: facies, the surface appearance characteriing a
type, which ancient medicine read as signs referring to the body,s
general state and its collocation in space' The face as mo-eable
territory, whose signs ;ippocratic medicine, exemplified by the
wor* of Balen, scrutinied, not in terms of anatomy, but of their
connection with the surrounding world and with one another, in
that state of otherness and oneness intrinsic to e-ery li-ing being'
Fet those signs were regulated by a strict morality: in Balen
physical health !of face and body), the source of all +natural,
beauty, is opposed to +false, beauty obtained through strange
artifice' .osmetica-commotica: %lato clearly distinguishes between
the two, lin*ing the art of cosmetics to rhetoric, sophistry and the
culinary arts, while care of the body is lin*ed to gymnastics,
medicine and dialectics' The %latonic condemnation of ma*eup
poses the problem of legitimacy as one of truth 2 or -ice -ersa'
7e-ertheless, ancient medicine wasn,t able to draw a precise
boundary between the two arts: bodily health requires remedies
that wa-er between nature and artifice, and thus Balen,s
prescriptions for lightening the face or smoothing the s*in are
implicitly inspired by a philosophy of beauty as construct and
culture, not nature' @or classical writers, ma*eup was part of the art
of seduction, whether for courtesans or in literary transpositions of
the ars amatoria' 3-id ignores morality and nature and praises
ma*eup as part of sensual, narcissistic pleasures 2 est etiam
placuisse sibi quaecumque -oluptas 2 and he collects recipes and
prescriptions for beauty treatments that ha-e all the +fla-our, of
culinary recipes' Irony at %lato,s expense: commotica and
gastronomyJ 9 healthy face thus seems ine-itably lin*ed to
writing, whether directly on its surface, or in the prescribing and
describing of ma*eup' The prescription e-ades the norm, howe-er,
and is always accompanied by a +degustation,, as in culinary
recipes, that relies on memory and the description of the way in
which the recipe was followed on a particular occasion
25 (8
!an occasion that may turn out to be unique and unrepeatable, but
ne-ertheless may be transcribed)' 6a*eup is the beauty of the face
ta*en to excess, in the total arbitrariness of the signs exhibited on
it' The use of cosmetics is an art that does not ha-e the same
transforming power and significance as theatrical ma*eup, and it is
perhaps this delicacy and precariousness that ma*e it +feminine,' In
L,4loge du maquillage >audelaire commends the female pri-ilege
of borrowing from all the arts the means to rise abo-e nature
through the so-ereign art of ma*eup' @or >audelaire !"0=?: ?(=)
nature is but an e-il ad-isor that leads men to commit heinous
crimes, whereas -irtue lies in artifice, and hence in ma*eup,
clothes and elaborate hairstyles' @urthermore, writes >audelaire,
those societies considered +close to nature, by the Duropean mind
re-eal an understanding of the profound spirituality of artifice and
disguise, as shown by their attraction for all that glistens, for
colourful plumage, artificial forms, face painting, mas*s and so on'
The western idea of nature is thus far from the +primiti-e, and
+natural, societies of which >audelaire spea*sA it is a mythical
horion which is itself the product of artifice and in-ention'
6a*eup plays with nature in those parts of the face that are most
exposed to the world: s*in, eyes and mouth' The s*in: a discreet
in-olucrum in its folds, wrin*les, colouring and texture' The eyes:
the gae bestows them immediately on the other, e-en before that
+other, has been seen or recognied' The mouth accompanies three
important moments in the relations between bodies: spea*ing,
eating and lo-e-ma*ing' In emphasiing writing and colour, in
replenishing the s*in and co-ering the face, ma*eup paradoxically
recalls the face,s authentic na*edness' The lin* between ma*eup
and seduction cannot be banally summed up in terms of enticement
and pro-ocationA the na*edness e-o*ed by ma*eup is the erotic
na*edness of the female face, called by the philosopher of
otherness, Dmmanuel L4-inas, perturbation, in-asion of non-
significance in the significance of the face !L4-inas "#<&)' The
face is a sign of recognition, a surface patina exposed to relations,
its identity is contaminated by apertures that expose it to the world:
a symptom, a blush, a grimace' 6a*eup treats these apertures
ironically and in-ests female beauty with a mixture of chastity and
obscenity, containment and immoderation' >arthes discerned in
Napanese theatre, especially in *abu*i, the emptiness of the made-
up face !"#<(: "(<)' The actors in *abu*i, all men, paint their faces
with a hea-y white substance, which reduces the face to an +empty
expanse of white stuff, !>arthes "#<(: "(/) onto which the
elongated slits of eyes and mouth are incised' The absence of
meaning in this face is due to a total absence of expressi-eness, to
a writing that says +nothing,
26 (8
!>arthes "#<(: "(<)' In the West, on the other hand, it is the
superabundance of signs inscribed on the face that renders them
+intransiti-e,, de-oid of any possible equi-alence' In ma*eup we
can identify two ways of +writing, the face: the imperceptible, that
concentrates on the s*in to ma*e it smoother and more luminous,
and the graphic, or conspicuous, that accentuates contours and
colours' The di-iding line between imperceptible and graphic is by
no means clear, howe-er: a mascara may lengthen and thic*en the
lashes, miming an in-isible naturalness, while a foundation may be
particularly dense and so openly declare its presence on the face'
D-en curati-e cosmetics may ha-e a graphic effect: for example,
by restoring compactness to mature s*in' 9nd if exaggerated, with
the use of sunlamps, e-en the +natural, and curati-e effect of a
suntan may become graphic' @ashion, that legislator without laws,
that sign of the times outside time, regulates the forms of cosmetic
art' The ethics of fashion, which for >audelaire resided in a taste
for the ideal, has transformed that ideal into one of a replaceability
of signs, not as an equal exchange, but as a +waiting for the next
one,, according to ;eidegger, gi-en the rhythms of anticipation
and fascination with the moment that go to create an
+instantaneous, body, whose fragmentary replaceability supplants
both wear-and-tear and ageing' ;eidegger writes: Today being
means being replaceable M in the phenomenon of fashion, toilette
and ornament are no longer necessary !which is why fashion as
toilette has become as obsolete as mending) but the replaceability
of the model from season to season' We no longer change a
garment because it is worn-out, but because it has the specific
character of being the garment of the moment, waiting for the next
one' !;eidegger, "#<<: "(<) In this economy of the body, in the
eternal waiting for a replacement, mending and repairing only find
a place if they challenge time' Today ma*eup ta*es this law to its
extreme: not only is ma*eup an eternally replaceable mas* in its
graphic dimension, but it creates a constant structural mutability in
the face, e-en if simply curati-e' 9 cream for wrin*les or spots, a
hair dye, a -ial to combat dry s*in: today the challenge is to get
there first, to stop time, in a state of ecstatic expectation' Will the
s*in dry out again if we stop using that lotion, is the natural colour
of the hair peeping out at the rootsJ Is the artificial body perhaps
menaced by natureJ 3r can we write the face not just with artifice,
but with fatigue, wrin*les and neglectJ This too is part of the
game, since buffoonery, irony and selfirony all ha-e a place in the
world of fashion today'
27 (8
7ature and artifice contaminate each other and cosmetics today
cite li-ing organisms: algae, placenta, herbs, mil* and so on' This
new game recalls ancient remedies conser-ed in fol*lore,
witchcraft and ballads, where some of the ingredients were e-en
+baser, !blood, excrement), but also comprised herbs, flowers and
honey' 9s if the organic analogy, whether in the ancient alchemist,s
laboratory or the modern chemical company, could ser-e to cure or
disguise the face through an in-ersion of the life flow, regenerating
life through death'
"' @ashion and clothes ha-e always been related to +futile,
problems that ne-ertheless point to more serious philosophical and
cultural issues' The notion of truth, for example, a fundamental
problem in western philosophy, was called by the Bree*s aletheia,
at once re-elation and concealmentA and this bodily and conceptual
play of re-ealed and concealed is at the heart of much western
philosophy and literature'
$' In traditional allegorical representation Truth is a na*ed woman'
28 (8
Intertextual Strategies and Contemporary
The imagery of the clothed body is produced through intertextual
strategies in which fashion interacts with photography, journalism,
music, sport, tele-ision, metropolitan culture, computers, design
and cinema' The construction of the social signification of dress
passes through widespread inter-semiotic practices which allow the
construction and deconstruction of styles and tastes, a *ind of
na-igating through signs where one can choose between a sense of
belonging and tra-esty' In this form of communication fashion
constructs its own worldly space !see .alefato "##$a, "##=) and
produces a multidimensional world' Barments become -ehicles of
desire, they ta*e on social significations that draw on different
communicati-e uni-erses' 3ur desire to dress in a certain way !as a
bridge to a certain life-style) is based on an emotional mechanism
defined by Breimas !"#0?) as expectation, which puts the subject
in relation to an object of -alue, in this case the garment, an object
in-ested with -alue, or -alues, on the basis of social appro-al'
Than*s to this social appro-al the -alue-laden object allows the
subject to enter into relation with other subjects and the
expectation to go from being +simple, to being +fiduciary, in that it
presupposes just such a relation !Breimas "#0?)' We can use the
notion of expectation to interpret semiotically the expression
+remo-ed meaning, used by Brant 6c.rac*en !"#00) to indicate
the sociocultural strategy through which consumer objects fill the
gap between real and ideal in social life' In this mechanism
emotional in-estment concerns multidimensional forms of
sensation rooted in -arious social discourses' In this way objects in
the consumer uni-erse of fashion, objects comprising the generic
whole >arthes calls +dress, !"##0: ==), become myths, in the sense
of +linguistic theft,, of ma*ing natural something that has been
culturally and socially constructed !>arthes "#/<)' 7ot only the
star system and the system of glossy worldliness surrounding
fashion today as a social institution, but the whole system itself of
fashion objects belongs
29 (8
to this +mythical, dimension present in the -arious social
discourses through which fashion is expressed and circulated' In
his essays on contemporary mythologies, fifteen years after the
publication of 6ythologies, >arthes !"#0&: =<2 0) clearly grasps
the multidimensional and pluri-discursi-e nature of contemporary
myth' >arthes tended to a-oid the new catechism of post-"#=0
demystification, and this choice led him to construct new figures of
discourse, new spaces for reflection on myth and communication'
The figure of the +idiolect,, in particular, constituted a *ind of
ambi-alent one both for the reproduction of myth and resistance
to it' The trans-textual system of signs and discourses that defines
fashion today expresses itself through +idiolects,, that is, spaces
within which the social subject anchors its identity to images and
objects that circulate the body in society, while gi-ing an
impression of the uniqueness, exclusi-eness and originality of
e-ery sign exhibited, e-ery garment worn' Thus a close connection
is established between the way in which the subject imagines and
communicates his:her styles !life style, dress sense, way of
thin*ing) and the perception of his:her social identity in all its
multiple and negotiable forms' 5o it becomes interesting to loo* at
those aspects of the system which best represent unusual -alues
and unexpected excesses' 7ot so much in terms of an ideological
+symbolic resistance, to myth and consumption, but rather in the
search for an unstable tension between the logic of social
reproduction and its aesthetic and sensorial reception and
elaboration by social subjects' .lothing is sometimes a way of
dreaming an imaginary inhabitable world' @rom a linguistic point
of -iew, this is expressed in the way in which the garment is
metonymic with regard to the body: +red shirt,, for example,
indicates both the garment and a member of Baribaldi,s fleet and
represents an exemplary mixture of clothing and utopia' 9n
historical utopia, howe-er much the two terms !history and utopia)
may be at odds: the +red shirt, belongs to a reality that actually
happened, li*e its sister the +white shirt, of 1obespierre and Lenin,
but also of 8apata and Boya,s riflemen' Ctopias of -arying import,
certainly, yet all utopias enough to ma*e the +white shirt, a
positi-ely e-ocati-e sign !unli*e its opposite the +blac* shirt,)' The
influence of this item on the imagery of dress is e-ident in
contemporary men,s fashion, where it is used by designers li*e
Holce I Babbana, who are inspired by the traditional costume of
5outhern Italian men, those who were +liberated, by the +red
shirts,' There has always been a close relation between clothing
and utopia for the simple reason that e-ery utopia 2 whether in
literature, philosophy or cinema 2 is populated by clothed human
beings' 9 single +emblem,, an
30 (8
object such as a scarf, a brooch or a slogan on a T-shirt, can
sometimes con-ey the passage to a utopian world' The meaning
thus con-eyed by these objects is no longer simply functional or
practical, but a means of entry to the utopia of a body which is not
ours, or of a world with which we share -alues and ideals and to
which we feel we belong, perhaps depending on our adherence to a
group' The recommendation of a way of dressing as far away as
possible from luxury and ostentation was characteristic of utopias
in the past, li*e 6ore,s !"/"=) and .ampanella,s !"=($)A clothing
was supposed to be comfortable and differed only according to the
age and sex of the person wearing it' In .ampanella,s La cittU del
sole, for example, the inhabitants wear a *ind of toga o-er a white
undergarment, *nee length for the men and full length for the
women' 3n the island of Ctopia wool and linen fabrics are the
most widely used, because of their purity' 5il* is abhorred because
it is too close to the dress aesthetic of 6ore,s own day, from which
he was trying to distance himself' @rancis >acon,s 7ew 9tlantis
!"=$&), on the other hand, is inhabited by characters who seem to
ha-e stepped out of an oriental fancy dress party, in turbans and
colourful baggy trousers !see 9' 1ibeiro, "##?)' In the nineteenth
century women,s trousers were considered a re-olutionary garment
by women who were just beginning to fight for their own utopia,
their ci-il rights' 9round the mid-nineteenth century across the
9tlantic on the streets of 7ew Dngland, the famous bloomers
appeared, the wide, calf-length trousers worn under a s*irt and
named after 9melia >loomer, a women,s rights acti-ist, who was
one of the first to wear them' >loomers were also worn by
members of the fifty or more utopian socialist communities
inspired by the theories of 5aint-5imon, @ourier and 3wen, which
emerged in 9merica between "0$( and "0=(' In the twentieth
century utopian foresight was entrusted to science fiction,
beginning with the modern utopia created by ;' B' Wells !"#(/), a
critical disciple of @abian socialism, who concei-ed his +samurai,,
rulers !of both sexes) in an imaginary society, dressed in the style
of the ancient Templars' Fet often the science fiction world is also
the world of dystopias, li*e the well-*nown example from cinema,
6etropolis, by @rit Lang, where the inhabitants of the
underground city, all depicted with their heads bowed because of
the wor* to which they are submitted, are dressed in identical dar*
uniforms' 9 similar scenario is that of 3rwell,s "#0&, in which a
blue boiler suit is prescribed for all party members' In 3rwell,s
dar* imaginary world the maximum simplification and
homologation of clothing finds a parallel in the mono-thematic
reduction wrought by the principles of the +new language,, which
the Dnglish writer predicts will ha-e substituted common language
by around $(/('
31 (8
@or some historians of costume there is nothing further from
fashion than utopia, since the goal of change in e-ery utopia !or
dystopia) is change towards an objecti-e, whereas fashion follows
an intrinsic law of change as an end in itself !1ibeiro "##?)'
7e-ertheless, fashion, especially fashion that accompanies a
+narrati-e, 2 whether it be the caption in a specialied magaine or
the reference to an historical style 2 always constructs a +world
theatre,, a time and place which do not exist in reality, yet which
are made to exist through the signs decreed by fashion' 9s
examples of this +world theatre, >arthes indicates fashion
headlines li*e +6uslin or taffeta for summer e-enings, or +%rints
win at the races, !>arthes "#=<: ?&)A and he defines a garment
presented -erbally or graphically in a fashion magaine as a true
utopia !"##0: 0< 2 note)' To these fashion utopias and narrati-es
we must add all those scenarios represented by styles, especially in
youth culture, inspired by +tribal, projects, or laws, which are
antithetical to the institutionalied laws of dress and which,
instead, tune into fantastic worlds, in part created by technological
imagery' .inema has always recorded the most -aried forms of
bodily adherence to utopian worlds' The 5tar Wars saga, for
example, through the use of costume and grotesque body imagery,
stages an +inter-ethnic, and +intergalactic, mix of creatures and
humans, which in the narrati-e finds a meeting point in 6oss
;ealey,s inn' The shadowy metropolis in >lade 1unner is
populated by humans and replicants, one of whom, the film,s main
female character, ma*es her first appearance dressed in blac*
leather with exaggeratedly wide shoulders, li*e a +flesh-and-blood,
micro-chip citation of the mechanical creature in 6etropolis' What
science fiction films ha-e accustomed us to is the equi-alent in
film imagery of today,s hybrid reality' This reality is accurately
represented in all those films dealing with subjects li*e emigration
and the relation between +minorities, and an +4lite,, both in the big
cities and in the peripheries' 6ississippi 6asala by the Indian
director 6yra 7air, for example, tells the story of an Indian family
who had pre-iously li-ed in Cganda, but had been forced to
emigrate to 9merica, where we witness the contrast between the
young daughter 2 who has completely assimilated the +habits, of
9merican youth and who falls in lo-e with a +blac*, boy 2 and the
older, more traditional women in their saris' In the "#=(s .aroselli
" artificial fibres made up the in-entory of shirts, slips and chaste
white underwear in the age of the Italian economic boom' 7ylon,
terital, dacron: the artificial led us to belie-e in lower prices, less
effort while ironing, garments that loo*ed to the future and
explicitly alluded to the national and international boom of the
chemical industry'
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9nd whoe-er would ha-e suspected the less than total +cleanliness,
from this industry, in e-ery sense of the wordJ 9 far-off memory, a
naV-e enthusiasm for a mar*et smelling of polyamides, is today
obscured by a mistrust towards anything which, in one way or
another, harms our a-erage concept of +natural,' Today, in fashion
discourse, habits rooted in materials made of synthetic fibres are in
crisis in the name of ecology' Hesigners, fashion houses and
+committed, models ha-e heralded the dawn of an age of +natural,
fabrics, especially cashmere, cotton, -el-et, sil* and wool, all
fabrics that ne-er really disappeared from e-eryday wear, in any
case' $ 7atural dyeing processes are becoming more and more
popular, as it has been pro-en that dyeing is one of the most
polluting phases in the production of fabrics, because of the
harmful residues, which are usually eliminated in sewage water'
7atural colours, li*e those used by an Italian hosiery company, are
ta*en from the hull and lea-es of nuts, or from a .entral 9merican
shrubA brail nut buttons, nec*laces made of haelnuts and almond
hus*s: today ecology becomes fashion' %rices are ob-iously -ery
high in haute couture ecology' In more widespread and e-eryday
fashion consumption, howe-er, the ecological direction has been
followed for some time, e-en though the resonance created by
high-profile ad-ertising, which is typical of institutional fashion, is
missing' %articularly since our mar*ets ha-e opened their doors to
textile production from 9sia !countries li*e >angladesh, Taiwan,
6alaysia, India, 5ingapore and .hina), oriental sil*s and cottons
ha-e been adapted to western-style clothingA perhaps not -ery
refined in their cut and style, but attracti-e all the same for their
low prices' Fet such prices also denounce the low cost of manual
labour in these countries, which is notoriously exploited by
western fashion houses' The long wor*ing hours and appalling
li-ing conditions of these wor*ers could hardly be deemed
+ecological,Q 9 textile is a text, one of the texts of which our
clothing imagery is made: just as the metaphorical wea-e gi-es life
to a text 2 in the common sense of the word, whether written or
oral 2 so the wea-e of a textile is what gi-es it a plot, a narrati-e,
which exist than*s to the contact of the textile on the body' %erhaps
it is the tactile, tangible dimension of textiles that leads us to
reflect on how important it is to rid this contact of a production that
has largely destroyed the relation between human beings and
nature' %erhaps our body continues to hide a secret reser-e
somewhere, a reser-e that resists dehumaniation, and in as*ing
for natural contact we are probably implicitly alluding to this need
to resist, without e-en realiing it, as when we enjoy a wal* in the
mountains or a swim in an unpolluted sea' 9nd perhaps it is here
that fashion discourse meets a less
33 (8
con-entional discourse, a sensibility that public communication
does not *now how to translate' 9mongst those childhood
memories that lea-e a mar* because they concern the construction
of a clothing image in relation to one,s gender, the memory of the
fur coat and its role in the so-called +opulent society, of the "#=(s
is for me one of the most -i-id' I particularly remember a fur coat
manque4, my mother,s, who li*e other women of her generation
dreamt of ha-ing +a min* before you,re forty,' @or, as ;ollywood
films li*e ;ow to 6arry a 6illionaire taught us, the min* was for
the woman who had +arri-ed,, unless you were among the luc*y
few who, at twenty-fi-e, could afford a whole coat, not of min*,
but of bea-er or e-en ultra-sophisticated leopard' In my house the
min* was missing, howe-er, mainly because lower middle-class
families at that time thought it was more useful to spend their
sa-ings on buying a house, rather than wasting them on a fur coat'
Through my youthful eyes the argument for ha-ing a new coat
made of fabric e-ery two or three years, rather than *eeping a
single fur coat for life, seemed much more con-incing, no matter
how seducti-e the fur coat might ha-e seemed to me' When my
generation was young, no one thought it hypocritical to be friends
with animals and yet ha-e a mother at home with a fur coat'
7e-ertheless, it was well *nown, especially in 5outhern Italy,
where the thermometer almost ne-er hit ero, that the fur coat was
a status symbol, not a necessity, and that the higher one went up
the social scale the greater the number of fur coats, jac*ets and
stoles crowded into wardrobes, not to mention the boas that
win*ed eerily through the hangers, gi-ing the impression that the
animal was there ready to wrap itself round the unluc*y owner,s
nec*' 9t 5ant,9mbrogio in "#=0, for the opening of La 5cala in
6ilan, and then at La >ussola in Giareggio, the min*s, leopards
and ermines paraded on the bourgeoisie were targeted by
protesting students and the fur coat became the negati-e symbol
par excellence of its owner,s social status' In the early "#<(s
young hippies disco-ered 9fghan jac*ets, smelling of oriental
pastures, and wore them o-er long dresses made of Indian cotton,
whilst swaying to the music of the sitar' 3r perhaps they dug
around in their grandmothers, trun*s or at second-hand mar*ets
and found old mon*ey boleros or +balding, stoles to wear o-er
jeans' This anti-fashion did not stop the fur industry, howe-er' 3n
the contrary, in the "#<(s it joined the designer fashion industry'
5oldano, @endi, Ti-ioli 2 to name just a few of the Italian
companies 2 launched the prOt-U-porter animal, using styles,
models and in-entions which until then had been the exclusi-e
property of haute couture artisans' 6ost buyers of fur coats,
34 (8
howe-er, were then, and still are today, loyal to the small, trusted
manufacturer, and the role of handmade production !as opposed to
industrial production) is still more substantial here than in any
other clothing sector' The furrier is still trusted today, both because
clients wish to follow the production of a garment from start to
finish and because a fur coat is still an item which, for the a-erage
customer, will ha-e to last and will thus need to be adjusted and
altered as the body changes shape' 3nly a s*illed artisan can
guarantee such long-term ser-ice' @rom the "#<(s the +class,
protest against the fur coat began to be accompanied by protest
from the animal protection leagues' It became e-er clearer that, as
in other sectors, the relation between the production of goods and
the conser-ation of nature and its equilibrium was getting out of
control' If people in the coldest parts of the world had been able to
wear fur coats for centuries without endangering the sur-i-al of
animal species, mass production, for a mar*et not moti-ated solely
by necessity, put at ris* the li-es of species on the brin* of
extinction, if not already extinct' There are places where a fur coat
is by no means a luxury, but simply a climatic necessity that
padded jac*ets or +ecological, furs can substitute only up to a
point' The absurdity of our times is that the indiscriminate
slaughter of animals has upset an equilibrium which had existed in
such places for thousands of years' There are laws and
international con-entions that protect certain wild animals from
being hunted, and this has enabled some species to reco-erA
howe-er, it is well *nown that poaching is widespread, especially
in countries whose economy is traditionally based on the
exportation of furs' @endi and other designers are always telling us
that their furs come exclusi-ely from fur farms, but this argument,
albeit true and well documented, seems less and less sufficient to
con-ince us that fur coats are +harmless,' D-en some models ha-e
refused to wear furs, thereby lending support to the moral of that
famous ad-ertisement in which a fashion show exhibiting furs is
transformed into a blood bath' There is no doubt that the once
popular dream of ha-ing +a min* on your s*in, must today measure
itself against the current perception that this wa-e of blood is a
reality, not just a theatrical scene' 5ome indication of a change in
mentality can be seen in the increase in sales of classic wool coats
and jac*ets padded with goose down or made of synthetic leather'
D-en sheeps*ins are an issue for the radically pro-animal
organiations: sheep might not be wild or on the brin* of
extinction, but they are animals nonethelessQ 9t the first sign of
winter the first furs !fewer and fewer today) appear on the streets
of a warm Italy: a ritual garment in the wardrobes of elderly
35 (8
ladies, who would not *now what to do without one' The symbol
of an ephemeral economic boom, in times of easy money, or a
garment worn with con-iction at any age and without excusesJ In
order to be completely loyal to the pro-animal dictum, we should
no longer wear leather shoes, bags, or e-en the much lo-ed leather
bi*er jac*et' >ut the war against fur coats is a war which ma*es
distinctions, with intelligence and without fundamentalism' 9bo-e
all, it is a symbolic war, articulated around an exemplary +anti-fur,
discourse, in which direct action joins education, including that of
little girls, to whom the elderly ladies of today perhaps ought not to
pass on their dreams of a min* coat, but rather a framed
photograph of a beautiful li-e min*, running wild in the forest'
"' 9 popular ad-ertising tele-ision programme in Italy in the
$' 9mong the artificial fabrics that seem to ha-e been sa-ed from
+naturalist, propaganda is -iscose, a fibre of natural origins that
comes from wood pulp and is widely used for linings, sweaters,
suits, blouses and leisure clothing' 1ayon -iscose, in-ented in
Dngland at the end of the nineteenth century and in widespread use
after the 5econd World War, is perhaps the best *nown'
36 (8