Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain  

rm_connor696 62M
944 posts
8/22/2006 8:33 am

Last Read:
10/22/2006 2:11 pm

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Naked. Bare. Stripped. In the raw (rather than, as Claude Levi-Strauss would say, the cooked, which is to say, prepared).

The nudist with shoes, sunhat, and fanny pack underscores one obvious point: clothes protect. We use them as we use any tools, to mediate between self and environment. But the nudists make another, equally profound point: clothes are social tools, too, acting both on and within social and material culture.

No, that's not all. Clothes involve an aesthetic element as well. Does that shawl bring out the green of her eyes? Will a knee-length skirt elongate her legs and equalize her proportions? Yes, all that. But even if those values stand somehow apart from our social values--even if, say, biological drives push us to prefer long-legged partners or if the beautiful would be beautiful in the absence of perception of it--even then, clothes do so much more. They say who we are, or who we want to be, or who we want others to think we are. In fact, they say a lot about the world in which we live and the world in which we wish to live.

I've been thinking about costumes, about "playing dress up." Sure, in one sense everything, including nudity, is playing dress up. Go to a place where everyone is naked and their nudity becomes the salient fact; it has meaning. It's not just a value-neutral default state. But then, neither is any other mode of dress. Every choice says something, even if that something is something like "I'm nondescript; please don't notice me." So yes, Homo sapiens is a species for which clothing or its absence always says something, is always a performance.

Nevertheless, we all know the difference between dressing and dressing up, between clothes and costumes, even if we recognize that deeper point about clothing choices as inescapably meaningful. But here, too, the line blurs. The slob who puts on a suit for a wedding or a night out at an expensive restaurant; the goth girl who copies Amy Lee's look from her latest video; the Civil War re-enactor; the cross-dresser; the stage actor, whether professional or amateur; the role-playing fetishist; the gown-wearing pagan; the outrageous club kid--how should we understand all these people, all these ways of dressing up? How do these performances differ from the the necessary perfomances of simply wearing clothes?

Recently a friend made the commonplace observation that members of some of these groups tend to be conventionally unattractive, overweight, or both. Is that true? I'm not sure. It is at any rate a commonly made claim. And the easy inference here is that these people (fantasy/medieval role players, for example, or sci-fi conventioneers, or S/M or B/D fans) simply don't like the world in which they live and so choose to create another. They do so by walling off their turf, making a garden in the Ur-sense of the term (that which is garded) by using their costumes to create meaningful barriers--that is, barriers of meaning. Of course, that sort of interpretation makes these people look vaguely pathetic, rendering them at best as objects deserving pity and at worse as . . . well, losers.

Worse, it doesn't seem to cover all the cases. Surely the bloke who dresses up to give his girl a fabulous night on the town need not be a loser in any conventional sense. The club kid might be a reasonably successful entrepreneur or even model. Nor need we suppose that any of these people are wildly dissatisfied with their lives or the world in which they live; surely the pagan may feel that things are precisely and profoundly just as they should be, that a fundamental rightness pervades all the world.

At the end of the day, I think, the games we play are just that: games--which is to say, the creation of meaning where there was none before. I can move a small cylinder up and across at right angles, but I won't be moving a rook until you and I agree to follow a bunch of rules and call that "playing chess." Why would we want to do that? Because, I often think, we eat meaning almost as avidly as we eat food. We crave it; we need it to live fully. But unlike food, which we can only foster and tend, meaning is ours to make ex nihilo, out of nothing. In this we are like gods, because we create the very essence of that which sustains us. It's hard to see any losers lurking about in that.

To dress up is to create a bubble of meaning. Will it eventually pop? Probably, but then, meaning tends to the evenescent, because each bit is undermined by . . . you guessed it, more meaning. Still, this isn't just a facade; it isn't just window-dressing, if you will. When we dress up, we make ourselves tasty little tidbits of meaning. So what if we need to eat them before they get cold, before the breath of life escapes them? They still taste yummy and they still nourish.

And did I mention that Halloween is my favorite holiday?

rm_saintlianna 46F
15466 posts
8/22/2006 9:27 am

we eat meaning almost as avidly as we eat food.

Aint that the truth. I know I do. I would love to get a hold of some 1920's ballgowns. (dont ask )

rm_connor696 replies on 8/23/2006 6:56 am:
Okay, I won't ask. I'll just kinda envision, if that's okay with you. (But does this mean you know how to waltz?)

PrincessKarma 45F
6188 posts
8/22/2006 9:51 am

McLuhan said "The medium is the message." This applies to clothes more than any other medium, our apparel tells others what we want them to think of us.

When I wear a business suit I am saying to the world "Take me seriously." When I wear jeans and a t-shirt I am saying "You can be relaxed around me." When I wear my lace nightie and a g-string I am telling my partner "Let's fuck."

I love Halloween too... and Carnival (Mardi Gras to you) is also great fun.

The Big Bang was the mother of all orgasms.PrincessKarma

rm_connor696 replies on 8/23/2006 7:00 am:
I sometimes think McLuhan was inspired by the rise of T shirts with slogans printed on them (he wrote before designers started slapping huge labels on everything).

Canivale? You bet. I first encountered it as a child when my family lived in the Canary Islands. I went as a devil, and the rest, as they say, is history . . .

chef953 65M

8/22/2006 9:57 am

The observations you make are a delight. Our words create costumes for us as well I assume? More varied and endless as time passes and with a way back to that hope of Saintliana's for ballgowns.... in the reading of letters and prose of those that came before.

rm_connor696 replies on 8/23/2006 7:06 am:
Thanks. Yes, words certanly do fall into this category of variable world making (really, I don't always talk as if I have a pole up my butt), as do houses and cars and interior decorating styles and even--as you must know--food preferences. But for whatever reason (partly, no doubt, because they are so easily put on and taken off) clothes do all this work in spades.

Just be glad you haven't seen my experiments in the style of an eighteen-year-old hippie!

TonyPlays 65M

8/22/2006 8:11 pm

Well yes, nudity can be a fashion statement, and also a statement of how someone prefers to be.

rm_connor696 replies on 8/23/2006 7:07 am:
And so can a Gibson. (It is a Gibson, isn't it?)

rm_FreeLove999 48F
16127 posts
8/23/2006 3:47 am

i used to be a goth girl. it was a costume that made people react to me in fear. it sounds funny, i guess, but at the time i liked that. i had been used to being a very frightened person, scared of everyone, and this was a moment in change for me. i found it very amusing that i just had to put on black clothes for people to look at me in a whole different light. after a while tho, and after an acid trip, i started loving colour, so goth-girl gradually got the boot. what i found in the goth scene was that it was just another clique, with the in crowd and the out crowd, the beautiful goths and the ugly ones, etc. and it was a lot of people posing as being dramatically different, but actually being unremarkably like everyone else in every way except their apparel.

nowadays i like to wear clothes with a modern, fashionable bent, but that have a certain timelessness to them as well --i don't like fads, i don't enjoy consumerism, but if i do need new clothes, i will buy something in a current style that i think will last more than a season.

i think it's great that we can play with these things, make statements about ourselves that we want to make, that we choose to make, that others read almost "unconsciously" ... it's fun to play around with the messaging of dress sense and watch yourself being read.

[blog freelove999]

rm_connor696 replies on 8/23/2006 7:12 am:
I've always been kinda fond of goths for just that reason--they seem to find a great deal of joy in playing with clothes. But you're absolutely right: their play goes just so far and no farther.

BTW, your use of "being read" provided me a chuckle. Maybe you know that cross-dressers use that phrase to mean "being recognized as a man in drag." And of course you're right; it's bigger than that. We are read always and everywhere, because we are in a sense all of us men in drag.

So we might as well be fabulous, eh?

TonyPlays 65M

8/23/2006 9:24 am

    Quoting TonyPlays:
    Well yes, nudity can be a fashion statement, and also a statement of how someone prefers to be.
connor696 replies on 8/23/2006 9:07 am:
And so can a Gibson. (It is a Gibson, isn't it?)

It's a Peavey Predator. Has a great wang bar, (Floyd Rose tremelo). I replaced the pickups with some good quality Jackson pickups, (Jackson also makes Charvels, the Van Halen guitar makers).

wickedeasy 68F  
31332 posts
8/24/2006 3:31 pm

whoa - i just posted a blog with that title - i swear i hadn't been here yet - honest

my take? clothes are part of what we do to make what we do easier to do

other than that - shrugs

and halloween - smiles - halloween is my favorite holiday

You cannot conceive the many without the one.

rm_connor696 replies on 8/24/2006 8:55 pm:
Synchronicity, my dear.

But I'm not sure about that easier to do stuff. There is nothing that is easier to do while wearing a tie--except maybe take it off.

I bet they make you wear a necktie in Hell; I really do.

catkit13 68F

8/24/2006 11:54 pm

i'm usually in comfy jeans and tees, and have a shrine to elvis in my office - yet people take me seriously, professionally speaking, when we're chatting about biz. at the same time, my work environment allows a person to see the real me, surrounded by things important to me, and so - by day and by night - what you see is what you get!
of course, "by night" can be its own dress-up event, when appropriate - at least, i THINK i remember that being true

rm_connor696 62M
834 posts
8/26/2006 8:57 am

It's hard to fathom why some clothes are taken to mean business and others not--as if we somehow work more efficiently in suits and such. Then again, I recall a friend who was a competitive swimmer telling me that, in his opinion, shaving his body didn't make him a faster swimmer as a matter purely of physics; rather, he just felt so goofy after he did it that he felt he had to swim faster to justify his actions.

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