Myth: The discomfort of earlier clothes
Posted by Jessamyn on March 04, 1998 at 16:27:40:
In response to So what are the clothing myths?, written by Carolyn B on February 28, 1998 at 00:18:06
] I am always interested in the "myth-busting" aspects of history and also in the ways we sometimes misconstrue past cultural behavior because we either impose our own values on the past OR we forget that people in the past were generally sensible human beings who in many instances reacted to things the same ways we do.
One of the things I think is easy to forget is that when one grows up wearing a certain type of clothing, one learns instinctively how to manage it. When a modern woman puts on a long skirt, she often gets tangled in the extra fabric moving between her legs, trips over the hem, wrinkles it in back by sitting on it wrong, catches it in the car door, et cetera. But if you never wear anything but a long skirt, you develop automatic habits to take care of these things: you step differently, pick up the fabric in the right spot to keep it from under your feet, smooth it when you sit, gather it up when you get into a carriage. And you do these things without thinking, and therefore they are effortless.
For comparison, consider the handbag. When I first started carrying a purse, I thought it was the biggest pain in the neck ever. There it is, dangling on your shoulder all the time--it's heavy, it slips off, you have to keep very close track of it all the time, the strap gets tangled in your coat collar or your buttons or your hair...and yet after a few years, you become so accustomed to it that you feel naked without it. (At least, I do. How many of us, when we go out without a purse for some reason, have to go through the "Where's my purse?--Oh, yeah" cycle about every twenty minutes?) Through practice, it has become second nature to wear it, and requires no effort.
Similarly, you become comfortable with what you're used to. If you're accustomed to wearing pants all the time, an unfamiliar long skirt can seem suffocating in volume and restrictive. Yet to the wearer of skirts, pants can seem unpleasantly revealing--and for all the claims of comfort by pants advocates, they are less good for regulating temperature and can bind one's flesh in a way that skirts never do.
Just as in general the English like to sleep in cold rooms and the French in warm ones, there is no one single right way to be comfortable.
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