Think Clothes Don’t Matter?

The three basic needs of mankind are food, shelter, and clothing – clothing so that we can protect ourselves from the elements, whether that is very cold or very hot.  In either case, clothing can protect us from harmful sun exposure and harmful cold exposure.  But like food and shelter, there are so many forms it can take and most often can express our individual style in a way that shelter and food can’t.  I mean maybe we could eat a Grunge or Mid-Century Modern meal, but a vintage meal simply wouldn’t be the same (eeeeuuuuwwww!!!!)

OK – enough of that visual picture and onto something way yummier.  Designers and people in leadership positions know that dress matters.  It’s mattered for a long time.  On the Stirling Castle blog is a great piece about how James V of Scotland knew this and took it to the extreme.  Although this is totally impractical for today, it’s fun to look at this for what it really is:  a statement on the importance of clothing style and how it can not only reflect what you are but can actually impede and hinder your impression you wish to have on those around you.

No one knows this better than people in leadership positions.  They are a great source of inspiration, ideas, and limits on what looks fresh and modern without being silly and irrational.  And this not only goes for modern times but goes back generations and centuries, when folks who wanted to show that they were in charge, dressed that way.

Some great examples of dressing for the job are during the reign of James V of Scotland.  So many factors went into the garment – gobs of stuff underneath to poof out this or that.  And then there were the jewels.  It wasn’t enough to hang them around your neck or earrings, you had to have copiously amount of pearls and jewels sewn into the garment as well as adorning your hair, wrists, ears, necklaces and of course fingers.  This made dressing for the court and royal family impossible alone and often many ladies in waiting to get this whole contraption on a person.

Jewels were great at all, but there was also color

Colors such as blues, purples, and certain bright reds, were really hard to do – they were more complicated than hard, thus the reason purples are the color of royalty.  Not only was the process held tightly among certain tradesmen, but it required a lot of knowledge and manpower in that the formulas for these colors required a lot of resources.  The dye for purple was from the ink sacks (like a couple of drops) of a particular muscle.  So if you messed it up (think of that expensive fabric that is hard to cut for fear of messing it up), there was probably no redoing it very quickly as you would have to go out and get a whole passel of muscles to make the dye again.  And then there was the process and the staying or preserving the durability of the color.

But that wasn’t all.


There was this look that really began to take off like mad – called the ruff.  This was a collar of lace or some other light-like looking fabric, and they became so huge that they required metal supports to hold them up.  Not sure how long this would have lasted during the day, but after all this was royalty and what-the-hey….what else are they supposed to do with their time!  This sort of exaggeration of a fashion fad reminds me a lot of the 80’s at the end of that style of opulence.  Garments became overly adorned with ornamentation much like the Rococo Period after the restriction of the Baroque Period.

Here’s a delightful little video on Rococo style, architecture and music if you would like more info on the subject:


Aside from dressing to show your success, but also your professionalism, the interesting thing here is the ideas on ornamentation.  And this can go for jackets, jeans, and even knits.  A ruff of sorts was the inspiration behind this knit top ruffle.

This isn’t as exaggerated as the Elizabethan ruff, but it’s as effective as that ruff – it focuses the attention around my face and flatters that area very well.  I wear this top with or without a turtleneck depending upon the temp outside.  But I also did this in a lightly “blinged” black stretch knit and wore it to the opening of Carmen at the Met Opera.  I was probably one of the more comfortable people there that night!  As James V found out, bling can make a powerful statement on the persona you want others to have of you!  Now for me, I do not need to have an entire oyster bed of pearls to ornament my clothing cause I’m not trying to rule a country.  But a little bling is a good thing.

Besides ruffs and bling, the court of Jame V was known for trimmings and embellishments.  Ornamentation was the very heart and soul of the Rococo period – not only for clothes but architecture and music. We can do the same without over-doing it.

This would be a very dorky and plain top without the trim embellishment.  The lace helps a lot to make this dressier, but the trim finishes it off.


Simply because something is a couple hundred years or so old, doesn’t mean it can have either an effect or inspiration for our time and it certainly doesn’t mean that these looks can’t be translated beautifully to today’s needs and clothing.


Rococo also is probably the first and certainly not the last of a trend in art and fashion that went overboard.  The ruff got so huge that it had to almost have suspension wires hold the dang thing up.  There is the nature in man that says if a little is good, more must be better, and this isn’t always the case.  Most of the time, more is not really better; cause it can often be confusing, over-kill and a major cramp on imagination and creativity.  Keeping within the classic boundaries of a fashion trend can not only make the garment much more wearable, but also make it last longer, so that when the trend comes around again (and it always does and always will), the more classic look can be translated beautifully for the more modern trend.

  1. An interesting case in point for your post is George Washington. His letters to his tailor in the design of his military uniforms are precise, and written to underline his position of authority. George Washington, though was from a landed family, they were not great plantation owners. Their holdings were more modest. Mount Vernon itself, was not owned by Washington until his 30s. So he spent his 20s trying to make a name for as a surveyor, and then in the army. He knew the clothes made the man, and he also knew that he would have to be a self made man.

    • Great illustration, Claire, on adaptation or inspiration for modern style.
      I really like that tunic top. Your dictation on how you “blinged it up” reminds me of the Tunic book that illustrates, including patterns, how a simple tunic can be changed so much with rather simple but stylish changes in sleeve, yoke and fabric.

      Thanks also to Rachel who added the information about George Washington! Very interesting.

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