Do Your Clothes Say About You?
Caricature of Lady Emma Hamilton as an artist's model.
By Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827).
Visiting professor Aileen
Ribeiro will discuss the transformative aspects of dress
and undress, and how the female body is enhanced by clothes
or by their absence in her lecture "Naked and Profane: Women,
Dress and Morality" on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 5 p.m. in Graham
As the Ruth and Clarence
Kennedy Professor in Renassance Studies, Ribeiro's upcoming
talk is the second of three lectures this semester. Her
next talk, on Oct. 27, will be on "Fashioning the French
In addition to the lectures,
Ribeiro, the Oak
Professor in the History of Dress at the Courtauld Institute
in London, also teaches a course
this semester, titled The Mirror of History, in which she
examines how clothing reflects so many aspects of society—political,
economic, social and cultural.
Below, Ribeiro shares
her thoughts with the Gate.
do our clothes say about us? What do your dress styles say
Aileen Ribeiro: Clothes
say everything about us—who and what
we are, and what, perhaps, we aspire to be. My clothes? Perhaps
not a fair question as I've had to pack a fairly small wardrobe,
which has to be interchangeable for a range of occasions—lots
of grey and black, and quite a few scarves to vary the monotony.
I suppose that says I'm fairly practical—the majority of
my clothes are informal—but I do like expensive accessories—folie
de grandeur, perhaps, on an academic's salary!
is your perspective on modern American dress styles?
dress styles—I can only remark on what I've seen
here on campus: casual and comfortable—which is why I feel
at home here. Americans really invented the casual look,
I suppose, with jeans in the mid-19th century; interesting
that they've become classic, worn by everyman/everywoman.
The students here on the whole wear T-shirts and jeans with
Smith hoodies—I think in this cold weather I might adopt
such a garment myself—but there are some interesting variations
on a theme. I've seen—especially in my class—some innovative
and stylish modes of dress.
susceptible are we in our dress styles to marketing, peer
pressure, etc.? How much are we affected by practicality
and attention to comfort?
AR: Of course,
we are prone to look like our peers. We cannot really avoid
the current fashion aesthetic, which is also partly created
by the media, the power of advertising. Our life styles now
are more determined than in the past by practicality and
comfort, but if we really wanted comfort above all, women
certainly wouldn't wear tights or high heels, or men wear
you have any advice regarding people’s dress choices?
a foolish and presumptuous person who gives advice! The
temptation is to offer the clichés
of the women's pages of fashion magazines and popular journalism.
If pushed, I would say: evolve your dress sense as part of
your own personality/lifestyle, and don't be afraid to experiment.