Friday, June 23, 2023

Just Check Out the Clothes

Over 100 years ago, people wore a lot of clothes.

Today, we wear what would be considered underwear in Victorian times.

Back in the 1800's and even through the first half of the 20th century, people wore a lot of clothes.  For a woman, that might mean layers of clothes, starting with underwear, a girdle, petticoats, a dress, a shirt, a jacket, stockings, shoes, gloves, scarf, overcoat, and hat.  How did you not sweat to death in that outfit?

Similarly, for the men, there were also layers of clothes.  Underwear (the "union suit") covered most all of the body.  Then there pants, knee-high socks with garters high-top shoes or boots, shirts, collars, waistcoats or vests, jackets and overcoats, hats, scarves, gloves - the whole bit.  Neckties and tight collars helped retain body heat.  Again, how did you not sweat to death in such a getup?

I think two things are at work here - and Victorian "modesty" isn't one of them. Yes, back then, it was scandalous for a woman to show her ankles, but was that because of pruditry, or because clothes covered your entire body, other than your face, and thus any sign of flesh was considered erotic?  I think the latter.   The clothes drove what was considered "obscene" rather than standards of obscenity driving the clothes.

And what drove the clothes was temperature. Back then, a huge proportion of the population in the "Civilized" world live in Northern climes, where it was fairly cold, either seasonally or year-round.  It was only the invention of air conditioning that drove population growth to more temperate areas - worldwide.  And in more temperate areas, traditionally, people wore fewer clothes.  In Africa, natives often wore little more than loin clothes - or went naked.  In Arab countries, lightweight flowing robes kept out the sun, but let air through.  Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen went about in the noonday sun, in their fussy Victorian outfits.

What changed?  I think temperature.  Not just global warming, either, but the gradual temperature changes that have occurred in the last 100 years - as well as the migration of humanity toward warmer regions (in America, known as the "Sunbelt" which was colonized in the 1970s).  As our environment got warmer, well, we shed our clothes.  Over time, we wore less and less until today, where men wear shorts and t-shirts and women wear Yoga pants.  And everyone is wearing flip-flops or Crocs - the sock being the latest victim in our mad rush toward nudism.

Skirts were the first to change - riding up higher and higher, starting in the 1920s and onward.  Petticoats were shed and women were actually showing ankle!  Above-the-knee was a major watershed and accompanied by moaning that it was the end of civilization itself.  The mini-skirt gave the prudish set a heart attack.  Girdles were next, followed by bras - although the practical aspects of a brassier have kept them around even in the modern era.

For men, similar changes were in the works.  Garters and long socks went away, and the suit jacket, while still around, was worn less and less in the office. Waistcoats and vests were seen as old fashioned.  And John F. Kennedy made waves by going around without a hat!  Can you believe that?  The entire haberdashery industry disappeared nearly overnight.  As time progressed, "office casual" became the new formal - beige "chino" slacks and an izod-type knit shirt became the new uniform of the office set - until Silicon Valley overthrew even that when the $200 t-shirt became the new dress uniform of the tech world.  We are now literally wearing what in Victorian times would be considered underwear.

And it isn't hard to see why.  With the cost of energy so high, air conditioning - once the savior of mankind - is deemed too expensive, and thermostats are set now to 78 degrees, instead of a cool 70-72..  If you are in a suit, you'll be sweating all day long.  Of course, this lead to the conflict between men and women in the office - women in short skirts and nylons complain it was "too cold" in the office, at a time when men still had to wear dress suits to work.  And not long ago, men wore dress suits everywhere - even to paint your house.  Even the "homeless" (who we called bums back then) wore a full suit and hat!

But again, it was colder back then, and wearing a suit on a 60-degree day wasn't onerous, it kept you warm.  But today?  Call it global warming, call it the move to the Sunbelt, call it historic temperature rises, we are losing more and more clothing at time progresses.

Frankly, I think global warming is a big part of it.  If you want "proof" of global warming, just look at the clothes we wore back then and compare them to today.  We are not shedding clothes because of new standards of "decency" - we are shedding clothes because its fucking hot outside.  And you can draw a straight line starting at the dawn of the industrial revolution to today.  As CO2 levels rise, we strip off another layer of clothing.

In 50 years, we will be naked - or wearing loin cloths.