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This story originally appeared in The Conversation
By Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Case Western Reserve University
As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the words social distancing have come into vogue in these strange times.
Instead of saving food or going to the hospital, authorities say social distancing – the deliberate expansion of the physical space between people – is the best way for normal people to smooth the “curve” of infections and stop the virus from spreading .
Fashion may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of distancing strategies. But as a historian writing about the political and cultural meanings of clothing, I know that fashion can play an important role in the social distancing project, whether the space created helps resolve a health crisis or drives away pesky applicants. .
Clothing has long been a useful way to mitigate close contact and unnecessary exposure. In this current crisis, masks have become a fashion accessory that stays away.
The fashion also proved useful during previous epidemics such as the bubonic plague, when doctors wore pointed bird’s beak masks to keep their distance from sick patients. Some lepers were forced to wear hearts on their clothes and wear bells or bells to warn others of their presence.
Most of the time, however, it doesn’t take a global pandemic before people want to keep others at bay.
In the past, maintaining distance, especially between genders, classes and races, has been an important aspect of social gatherings and public life. Social distancing had nothing to do with isolation or health; It was about etiquette and class. And fashion was the perfect tool.
Think of the Victorian era crinoline. This large and voluminous skirt, which became fashionable in the mid-19th century, was used to create a barrier between the sexes in social settings.
While the origins of this trend date back to the Spanish court in the 15th century, these voluminous skirts became a class symbol in the 18th century. Only those privileged to avoid household chores could use them; You needed a house with enough space to move from one room to another with ease and an assistant to help you set it up. The bigger your skirt, the bigger it was.
More middle-class women began wearing the crinoline in the 1850s and 1860s when caged hoop skirts began. Soon the Crinolimania conquered the fashion world.
Despite criticism from clothing reformers who viewed it as another tool used to suppress women’s mobility and freedom, the large crinoline was a nifty way of maintaining women’s social security. The crinoline commanded a prospective applicant, or worse, a stranger, to keep a safe distance from a woman’s body and cleavage.
While these skirts likely inadvertently helped lessen the dangers of the smallpox and cholera outbreaks of the time, crinolines could pose a health hazard – many women were burned after their skirts caught fire. In the 1870s, the crinoline gave way to the hustle and bustle, which only emphasized the skirt in the back.
Even so, women continued to use fashion as a weapon against unwanted male attention. As skirts narrowed in the 1890s and early 1900s, large hats and, more importantly, hat pins, which were sharp metal pins that were used to attach them to the hair, became popular for women to protect against the stalkers who once gave the crinoline.
To stay healthy, germ theory and a better understanding of hygiene led to the popularization of masks very similar to those we wear today during the Spanish flu. And while the need for women to stay away from pesky suitors persisted, hats were used to keep masks intact rather than to ward off strangers.
Today it is unclear whether the new coronavirus will lead to new styles and accessories. We can see the emergence of new forms of protective clothing, such as the “wearable shield” developed by a Chinese company.
But right now it seems more likely that we’re still in pajamas.
This article was translated by El Financiero. This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.