Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Of fashion and matters sartorial, part 3 of 8

When I think of the excesses of fashion, I tend to think of Bertie Wooster, whose desire to be de moda frequently outstrips his rather limited sense. But having been subjected so frequently to the withering sartorial opinions of Jeeves, he, too, can spot a fashion faux pas.

From P. G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)
“What ho, Gussie,” I said.

You couldn’t have told it from my manner, but I was feeling more than a bit nonplussed. The spectacle before me was enough to nonplus anyone. I mean to say, this Fink-Nottle, as I remembered him, was the sort of shy, shrinking goop who might have been expected to shake like an aspen if invited to so much as a social Saturday afternoon at the vicarage. And yet here he was, if one could credit one’s senses, about to take part in a fancy-dress ball, a form of entertainment notoriously a testing experience for the toughest.

And he was attending that fancy-dress ball, mark you—not, like every other well-bred Englishman, as a Pierrot, but as Mephistopheles—this involving, as I need scarcely stress, not only scarlet tights but a pretty frightful false beard.

Rummy, you’ll admit. However, one masks one’s feelings, I betrayed no vulgar astonishment, but, as I say, what-hoed with civil nonchalance.

He grinned through the fungus—rather sheepishly, I thought.

From Robert Graves
’s I, Claudius (1934)
Everyone knew that Livia kept her [her husband] Augustus in strict order and that, if not actually frightened of her, he was at any rate very careful not to offend her. One day, in his capacity as Censor, he was lecturing some rich men about allowing their wives to bedizen themselves with jewels. “For a woman to overdress,” he said, “is unseemly. It is the husband’s duty to restrain his wife from luxury.” Carried away by his own eloquence, he unfortunately added: “I sometimes have occasion to admonish my own wife about this. “ There was a delighted cry from the culprits. “Oh, Augustus,” they said, “do tell us in what words you admonish Livia. It will serve as a model for us.” Augustus was embarrassed and alarmed. “You mis-heard me,” he said, “I did not say that I had ever had occasion to reprimand Livia. As you know well, she is a paragon of matronly modesty. But I certainly would have no hesitation in reprimanding her, were she to forget her dignity by dressing, as some of your wives do, like an Alexandrian dancing-girl who has be some queer turn of fate become an Armenian queen-dowager.” That same evening, Livia tried to make Augustus look small by appearing at the dinner table in the most fantastically gorgeous finery she could lay her hands on, the foundation of which was one of Cleopatra’s ceremonial dresses. But he got well out of an awkward situation by praising her for her witty and opportune parody of the very fault he had been condemning.

From Marco Polo's The Travels of Marco Polo (1298-99)
Now you must know that the Great Khan hath set apart twelve thousand of his men who are distinguished by the name of Keshican; and on these twelve thousand barons he bestows thirteen changes of raiment, which are all different from one another. In one set twelve thousand are all of one colour and there are thirteen different sets of colours These robes are garnished with gems and pearls and other precious things in a very rich and costly manner.

The Emperor himself has thirteen suits corresponding to those of his Barons, in colour, though his are grander, richer, and costlier. And you may see that all this costs an amount which it is scarcely possible to calculate.

From Anthony Powell’s A Writer’s Notebook (2001)
Widmerpool plays croquet in uniform, refusing to relinquish some papers from under his arm in a briefcase.

No comments:

Post a Comment