from Are Clothes Necessary?

Most people allow themselves to see the past only in the current romantic-patriotic de luxe edition of moving pictures and best-sellers. A more realistic approach is needed for a true comprehension of the dress characteristics of past periods. For instance, the clothing-minded should have a more critical view of that period which loving nostalgia named the Gay Nineties. It was a climax of elegance and savoir vivre, a time of prosperity and majestically sweeping female dresses. The following snapshot is handed down to us by the observer of a trifling incident: A lady, attired in a dress with a train that answered the dictum of fashion, boarded a cab after a short walk and left on the curbstone the rubbish she had collected while sweeping the street. The onlooker, without doubt an analytical-minded person, made this inventory of the refuse:

  • 2 cigar ends
  • 9 cigarette do
  • A portion of pork pie
  • 4 toothpicks
  • 2 hairpins
  • 1 stem of a clay pipe
  • 3 fragments of orange peel
  • 1 slice of cat's meat
  • Half a sole of a boot
  • 1 plug of tobacco (chewed)
  • straw, mud, scraps of paper, and miscellaneous street refuse, ad.lib.

A still-life of less prosaic nature was painted by one Dr. Casagrandi in 1900. Reading a paper before the medical association in Rome, he reported on his bateriological examinations of trailing skirts, for which experiments he had employed a number of women to walk for one hour through the city streets. To his satisfaction he found large colonies of germs including those of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, tetanus and influenza, not to mention lesser bacilli, all of which were represented on each skirt.

from Are Clothes Necessary? by Bernard Rudofsky (Paul Theobald 1947).

0 thoughts on “from Are Clothes Necessary?

  1. “cat’s meat”???? Meaning someone was dining on cat, or meat meant to feed a cat? Either way, I’m totally skeeved.


  2. Sounds like the sort of thing I’d find on the front of whatever I was wearing, not just the hem. I’m such a slob: I spill something on myself every time I eat, and pick up all sorts of assorted odd junk on my clothes from who-knows-where. When my children were babies I could blame it entirely on them; but the oldest is now 6, so I have no excuses.This reminds me of Don Aslett saying once that the dirtiest place in many peoples’ homes was the bottom of a woman’s purse. It gets set on public bathroom countertops & floors, bus seats…use your imagination. *Bleh.*


  3. Even Back In The Day, when women were wearing trains, women complained bitterly about the amount of dirt and garbage the trains would pick up, and men mocked and drew cartoons which vividly illustrated same. In theory, only women who were carriage class (i.e., going only from a carriage and into the Chosen Destination) wore trains; trains were supposed to separate the Upper (carriage) Classes from the Masses (that’s the rest of us folks). Of course it didn’t work that way – Judy O’Grady, as well as the Colonel’s lady, wore skirts with trains when they were fashionable – but it has to be said that Judy’s train swept up more trash.


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