Fashion has never been merely a window dressing. Montezuma handed over an entire kingdom to Cortez because the conquistador wore a small black hat that Montezuma had dreamt about: the very hat Quetzalcoatl would be wearing when he came to reclaim the Aztec throne. Fashion affects its era as much as it is affected by the times--what people wear has impact on their customs, economics, politics, and physical environment. We look. We see. We hear volumes about customs, sex, politics, ego, status, and even the local weather based upon what people are wearing.

There is an indisputable link between fashion and "the big picture." The sixteenth-century meeting between Francis I and Henry VIII on the Field of the Cloth of Gold saw each ruler hoping to overwhelm the other through the sheer magnificence of his dress. The production of fashion and textiles is directly related to the rise of guilds and towns in the Middle Ages and sweatshops in the twentieth century. And you could say that the British lost the war and the Colonies because the Red Coats

stood out like a sore thumb. Fifteenth-century doorways were redesigned to accommodate toppling hats, the long-handled spoon was invented so people could eat over their ruffs, and the Victorian woman caged in crinoline redefined the century's sense of personal space (only three women wearing crinolines could possible stand in a room at the same time).Through wars, changes in technology, the rise of the mass media, and shifting values and ideals, fashion has prevailed in America, shaping and displaying what it really means to be an American. Taking a year-by-year romp through Interwar America, we'll see how fashion reveals (at least some of) the naked truth about history.

 

Schnurnberger, Lynn. Let There Be Clothes.