Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On the Burqa and the Skirt

In my attempts to rethink certain aspects of clothes we take for granted, I have arrived at a somewhat surprising understanding of the role of the skirt among our clothes. Fundamentally, how does a skirt differ from a pair of pants? Here's an answer, no doubt not the only one, but an interesting one. The skirt hides the lower structure of the body, whereas the pants work with this structure.

If one stops to think about this statement, one realizes that history, indeed, confirms it. The history of the skirt moves from a form that is more covering towards one with at least the possibility of minimally covering the structure of the lower body.

One can argue that the skirt is primarly a practical garment - simple to construct and useable in a wide range of situations. However, the skirt actually is of considerably lower utility than are pants - a skirt does not protect the body from harsh physical conditions, where the pants do provide protection. Hence I believe that the role of the skirt to hide the lower body is actually its primary purpose.

Today, of course, the skirt often hides little. A miniskirt reveals all, but, of course, that is partly why they are appreciated over other skirts. The existence of the miniskirt, and its effects, hence reinforces the argument that the skirt's function is to hide.

In Elizabethan times, the 18th century and the Victorian era, the skirt hid the lower structure even more, by providing additional structures that were very different from the actual body. Today's skirts follow the body's natural shape much more than did these garments.

Once one accepts the argument that the basic function of the skirt is to hide the body and its structure, it then becomes possible to think about suggesting other structures or body expressions - the different ways of embellishing skirts allow one to present a very different statement of who one is.

Interestingly, this argument casts an interesting light on the resistance of men to adopt skirt-like garments in our culture. It is not merely a question of avoiding being "feminized", but also a need to stay close to one's actual body shape rather than to allow this to be disguised in the variety of ways that women are used to. Again, since make-up is also a form of disguise, there is a consistency in men's resistance to disgusing the body in such ways.

Furthermore, it becomes clear that the essence of the way our culture treats the feminine is as a play between hiding and revealing. We are obsessed with both of these and their interplay, especially as expressed through women's garments. The whole argument is almost absent from our way of viewing men. Only tha phallus falls fully into a similar role.

I believe this tension between showing and hiding is also partly why our culture feels so violently about the muslim traditions of hiding the woman's body completely. Such a goal is not inconsistent with the basic principles behind our own "feminine clothing", which was designed also to hide from view the women's body. There's something a bit hypocritical about opposing msulim practices that seek to hide the body completely or almost completely, when the principles behind today's women's fashions, which accept the skirt as a distinctly "feminine" garment follow the some logic. I'm not in favor of a culture that imposes such full covering on all its female adherents, but I think part of the irritation is because it reveals something shadowy about our own fashions.

1 comment:

  1. interesting read, gedwoods.

    keep up the good work with sewing and writing.

    -a muslimah