Without clothes, human beings are hideous. We’re simply forked animals with bandy legs. Thus, clothes are necessary. But I’d like to go further and argue that clothes are essential and we might learn much from pondering their meaning.When you concealed your naked body today, out of conventions based supposedly in the shame of being cast out of the Garden, or perhaps because you lost all your fur during evolution and it's still quite cold, tell me, what desires did you mobilize?
... as Carlyle writes in Sartor Resartus, or ‘The Tailor Re-tailored’, ‘The whole external universe and what holds it together is but clothing and the essence of all science lies in the PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES.’ The philosophy of clothes is not some specialized sub-discipline taught in fashion school ghettos. It is the key to understanding everything. It is the germ and gem of all science. The human being is the fashioned animal and fashion is the key to understanding the human being.
In our depressingly sick society, we must fashion a new garment, a new and splendid outfit to clothe the naked body politic. And it must be a beautiful garment. Against the dominant utilitarianism that reduces all human experience to a mechanism of profit and loss governed by a crude hedonistic calculusm the body politic needs a sumptuous and gorgeous new frock.
God loves dandies because, truth to tell, he is one himself.
But here’s the delicious and essential paradox: clothes conceal and cover. They hide. But they also disclose, they reveal precisely by concealing. Think of the extraordinary importance of the slit, the hemline, the décolletage, of the symbolic phallic display of collar and tie. We see more in seeing less. Or at least we think we do.
This, of course, in a rigorously Heideggerian sense, is the true function of clothing, its bivalent play of disclosure and concealment. Full nakedness is always a crushing disappointment because it extinguishes desire. It is only in concealment that desire is mobilized.
I'm also very interested in Critchley's notion that utilitarianism is reductive and that we need, basically, to get more fancy to redeem society. Here's an example of what I think he might be talking about, and how it is a problem. I've been quite irked lately by a huge billboard in my neighborhood by the Cremation Society of Minnesota, whose slogan is "Professional. Dignified. Economical." Those are all adjective I hate! They exemplify the utilitarian logic Critchley criticizes, and they could just as easily describe the wardrobes of a large majority of adult Americans. Not only fashion, but even our funerals are suffering from a misguided utility. What does this say about how we've lived?
I want to see a billboard for an organization called Fancy Funerals (maybe I shall start this as a backup career?) Our slogan would be "Fashionable. Extravagant. Luxurious."
Pardon my tangent.
Here's a NYT book review.