Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cool Weather Clothing

Photo courtesy Flickr


This morning's broadcast story about an Indonesian alternative beauty pageant reminded me of the superbly efficient clothing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a period that preceded central heating. This is the time of year when I shift the contents of the closet toward staying warm rather than staying cool. In Seattle, the difference is a subtle one, and ordinarily just breaking out a cashmere cardigan, light quilted jacket, and a set of wool underwear will do the trick.

I travel by bus between one urban village and another that houses many middle Eastern and south Asian students. The academic bookstore is, unsurprisingly, a good place to shop for beautiful, affordable scarves. Over the last ten years I've fooled around with numerous outfits that approach traditional offshore fashion. It was a revelation to discover that a knee-length smock worn over trousers and under a generous scarf is phenomenally efficient insulation and very practical to wear while working. I couldn't quite bring myself to dress according to a someone else's piety, though.

Today's footage showed numerous contestants clad in long skirts that could have come straight out of Godey's Lady's Book. My great-grandmother's second day dress made a splendid, comfortable costume for a pre-graduation high school dress-up day. Its generous ankle length skirt, tight bodice with peplum, and leg o'mutton sleeves, all cut from good  wool gab, were everything but waterproof. I could happily dress like that every day I don't have to wrangle a motor vehicle. 

The turn of the Anglo twentieth century was influenced by Ottoman design. Dressing to conserve energy connects Middle East and West in a gentle and productive collaboration.

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