The Birds and the Boys

You are What You Eat the saying goes, but more accurate would be You are What You Wear.The items with which you chose to adorn your body are a fundamental reflection of your personality – Hitler’s love of smart uniforms and shiny boots is surely more revealing than his predilection for cream cakes?

Until very recently, the history of fashion has prove that when it comes to bling and baubles the vainer sex has always outshone the drab little women left at home to cook, clean, and breed.

And while in some cultures younger women have displayed their breasts, nipples and all – Minoan, Egyptian, and many African – this was generally because dugs were seen as a symbol of fertility, not eroticism.

In the time of the Regency, after a good 17 centuries of covering up, women unfettered their bosoms again, rouged their nipples, and wore damp muslin and taffeta which clung to their limbs in a way that left little to the imagination even if all their naughty bits were closely covered.

But then Queen Victoria came to the throne and while she was happy to show of her sloping white shoulders and pouter pigeon chest area, layers of chemise and camisole and corset ensured there would never be a ‘wardrobe’ malfunction to reveal the slightest hint of the forbidden.

The forbidden included legs and even ankles though so don’t let those dipping necklines the Queen and her ladies favoured imply in any way that the Victorian court included any fun and frolics of a sexual nature.

So much for the modest sex: when it came to men however, from prehistory to the present, Clothes and adornment have played a huge role. Roman ladies may have worn wigs and rouge and jewellery, but Roman men wore wigs and rouge and jewellery AND the toga, an enormous piece of cloth which, at its most ceremonial, could probably house and cloth an e tire family.

Egyptian men wore make up, jewellery and wigs as a matter of course’; Babylonians, Minoans, Cretans Persian and Turks [men] all decorated themselves in precious metals and fabrics. In the ‘dark ages’ the warriors were adorned with armlets and ceremonial tattoos, amulets and fancy hair styles; they adopted the fashions they liked amongst those they conquered, they painted their faces and bedecked themselves in jewels.

For the most part women stayed at home, cooked, cleaned, prayed and bred. Even in Medieval times, International High Gothic, when woman were at last allowed some measure of personal display, their shaved eyebrows and foreheads and low necklines were not as seductive or enticing as the display of leg, hair and penis enjoyed by the men.

When I say penis, I don’t men they let their members dangle. No, the family jewels were displayed in a much exaggerated codpiece. From Amazonian indians to the Royal court of Queen Elizabeth, the family jewels were stored in a large and hard leather sheath, for more explicit than the sporting box of today, which ensured that the organ off progeneration was obscenely noticeable.

And from then on it was ruffs and snuff and cravats and breeches and nicely shaped calves and snuff boxes; wigs, rings, handkerchiefs, skin-tight clothes, well-turned ankles, rouge, velvet beauty spots, powered hair, close shaves, gloves, swagger sticks, filigreed swords -no wonder women couldn’t compete.

Even in the Victorian era, while women had low necklines, enormous skirts, and covered the ‘legs’ of their tables and pianos to prevent any illicit ardours arising in the chests of men, the vainer sex compared trews and varieties of facial fungus, while puffing on cheroots and affecting lisps.

Something happened in the 20th century: suddenly make up, jewellery, lace, ribbons, and colours were forbidden real men. From birth to old age they were waddled in blue trousers, their hair was cut, they were encouraged to wear earth colours only, and high heels – no matter you size – were verboten.

But, to quote Richard Attenborough from the over-rated Jurassic Park – Nature [or is it ‘life’?] will find a way. Men are the vainer, more dressy sex, and You may take away their Carmen Curlers and kitten heels and silk stockings; forbid them rouge, silken nightgowns and precious jewellery – even decree their hair be kept short, their wardrobe to consist of shades of brown, and their eyebrows to remain unplucked – men will make a plan.

My husband uses about three times as much space for his wardrobe as I do – despite his clothes consisting of fades jeans, and shorts and and farming shirts in shades of khaki. I may have 15 pairs of shoes in a variety of colours, but they cost me a lot less than his three pairs of brand label brown shoes.

Jeans and chinos, dress shirts and casual shirts, long and short sleeved shirts, suits and overalls, sports coats, jackets and windbreakers, rain ponchos, winter coats and dryzas, long socks, ankle socks, cotton socks, running socks, tennis socks and rugby socks;  gum boots, riding boots, sandals, running shoes, Caterpillar shoes, hiking boots, dress shoes and riding boots.

Boxers, YFronts, cotton, bikini pants; peaks, cricket hats, beanies, sun hats. Light jerseys, Scandinavian jerseys, long-sleeved fleece jerseys, hoodies, long-sleeved tee-shirts. short-sleeved tee-shirts, golf-shirts. Knitted scarves, ties, cravats, balaclavas.

Then there are the hair brushes, the shampoos, the different toothbrushes and toothpastes, the special soaps, the deodorants, pumice stones, sponges, facecloths, razors, moisturisers…

You get the picture. My husband has a cupboard full of clothes in Johannesburg and two at the dacha. I have a shelf only at the dacha and a cupboard here. I am quite happy. My needs are less than his.

Like women through much of history, I don’t need the peacock apparel: before anyone accuses woman of vanity, first take stock of the amount of space and money they devote to their appearance in comparison to their husband. The results might surprise you.


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