September 5, 1997

Costumes and Decorations

The body is the shell of the soul, the dress the husk of that shell; but the husk often tells what the kernel is.


In a performance of Night at the Opera in Ukiah, one of the songs that I sang is one that is sung by the Duke of Mantua in the opera Rigoletto. The costume should have been one that a 16th century Italian nobleman would wear. It seems that the costume of the time was very frilly. The noblemen wore very pointed shoes, long stockings and short trousers that look as if their hips are encased in an inflated balloon. The top jacket is as frilly as you can get. The collar looks like the exaggerated paper ruffles that are sometime placed on lamb chops. They wore elaborate capes and elaborate hats. It is at least as ridiculous as what was worn by Victorian ladies. The only functional item of apparel was the sword, which could be used to skewer one's enemies. I didn't perform in the appropriate costume for that number, nor would I, even if someone was willing to donate it.

It is easy to laugh at the idiotic dress of the past, which was confined to the nobility. The working people wore clothes that were much more functional; that is, more suited to their occupation, which involved WORK. Of course, the nobility wore costumes that suited their occupation, which was to do as close to nothing as possible between wars.

It has been traditional for the laboring classes to wear functional clothes, while the "upper classes" generally dressed in some ridiculous costume. Our time is no exception. The higher up you climb on the social ladder, the sillier your dress becomes. That men with money wear a costume that makes them resemble penguins is a testament to that fact. The same applies to the clergy.

The costumes of our far-out young people are equally ridiculous, and include tattooing, the piercing of various body parts and hanging jewelry from them.

The military is almost a paradigm of our society, with the battle dress of a soldier being quite practical and including scads of pockets. It is sometimes even suited to the climate. The military dress uniform makes the parade uniform of the Shriners look drab. You can tell how old an officer is by the amount of "fruit salad" that he has on his uniform.

Occasionally I imagine that I am from some other planet in another solar system and that I am exploring Earth for the first time. In a way it is like visiting another country for the first time. The elaborate neck rings of the Ubangi, the bustles that women wore, the corsets that were in vogue in the early part of this century, the starched high collars of the last century and so on.

In our time, not only is the costume of the business man, politician, diplomat and office worker ridiculous, but it has spread all over the world. The Japanese business man and the American or European businessman dress alike -horrors! The costume is designed to be used solely in climate controlled rooms, it being too warm for the tropics, and not warm enough for cold climates. It has lots of pockets but they rarely hold anything.

One item of clothing that has persisted for as long as I can remember is the necktie. It has no conceivable function whatever, since it is considered gauche to blow your nose into it. One variety of neck fruit, the bow tie, was even less functional --if that's possible.

Would I propose the abolition of the necktie? Of course not. What would I do for laughs?

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