Yesterday’s ensemble: ruffles

Didn’t manage to post yesterday, but I did make some notes and download some fantastic images. They are all on my work computer, though, so I will have to wait until Monday to flesh out my thoughts with images. I’m now on a train to wassaic, wherever that is, to do a segue road show/”livestock auction”: moo.

Suffice it to say then, that yesterday’s ensemble featured a rust-colored elaborately ruffled cotton skirt, and my meditatons were focused, as they so often are, on ruffles, their significations, their delights, their associations.

It’s falsely essentialist and incorrect to say that ruffles are necessarily feminine; that’s what they signify now, but it hasn’t always been so. It is tempting to draw some kind of analogy between ruffled fabric and the ruffled effects of labia (think Duchamp) or layered and/or crenellated flower petals (poppies, peonies, roses), which also are for some reason conceptualized as feminine. For the most part, these associations make sense.

What about, though, the wattles and combs of birds, usually more pronounced in males? And everyone of every gender is graced with a pair of lips on their face, right? I’m thinking also of those desert lizards- australian?- the kind that run on their hind legs, and their fancy webbed display ruffs. Nature can perhaps supply us with many more analogies than I can easily research on an iPhone.

In European history, we know, ruffles abounded in human male fashion, although they took a break during the Victorian era (except at the loose necklines of Romantic poets’ chemises), only to reemerge with a stunning Brian jones/ jimi Hendrix vengeance in the late sixties. Am I forgetting something? Liberace maybe? The popularizedvrecuperated version of that was the 1970s tuxedo shirt.

Spain and the Latin cultures excelled at ruffling. Ruffles also abound in Africa and the Caribbean as, I guess, one of the happier remnants of colonialism.

They are scarce, though, in the traditional clothing of Asia. The rectilinear firm of the kimono, the minimalism of the qipao, the uncut continuity of the sari: all are antithetical to ruffling. I wonder if the exceptions, like the gathered skirts ( a kind of ruffling in technique) of lengha or the ruffled edge of the half- sleeves one sees on traditional Indonesian or phillipine blouses might also be a European legacy?

Many traditional cultures placed bans on the cutting or sewing of textiles, believing that there was magic in the laborious integrity of the weaving. A ruffle, on the other hand, really does great violence to fabric, multiply piercing it and forcing it out of its natural smoothness.

At the same time, it gives dimension, volume, shadow, and complexity, and with these qualities signals a kind of power, excess, and opulence. It may seem that it is oxymoronic to call a frill powerful, or else why do we dress little girls in them? I think this is not an oxymoron. Here are these little creatures of potentiality, born amazingly with all their ova: what better than to externalize this miraculousness in the form of ruffled cloth?

I don’t know anything about physics, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note that a folded or crenellated object can fit better into a smaller space than one that is extended to full length. To consider the implications of this from a design perspective, please compare our small intestines or our brains. Similarly, ruffles pack a lot of meaning and style and material into a small space.

Ruffles are most often lauded for their propensity to simultaneously hide and titillate. Ruffled petticoats may be among the most common of fetishes, even today. I personally think nothing is so sexy as a traditional cancan petticoat, on which ruffled are sewn ON THE INSIDE for the express purpose of brashly, saucily, revealing them.

OK my finger is about to fall off…

— Post From My iPhone

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