100 Fixing the Calendar 1582

  Fashion Comes Forward c.1350

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73  Fashion Comes Forward c.1350 
BEFORE THE Middle Ages, attire was a matter of national costume, consisting of creatively draped, baglike garments. Fashion--which links clothing more closely to time than to place--began reinventing itself annually by 1350. "To be a good tailor yesterday is of no use today," lamented a craftsman in 1380. "Cut and fashions alter too quickly." 

The change was the result of several factors. One was the return of Crusading soldiers with a novel item: the button, which they had seen used by Turks and Mongols. Court tailors used buttons to fasten clothes tightly, accentuating the differences in men's and women's bodies. (Fashion's first scandal followed, as the Catholic Church raised an eyebrow. One gown, wrote a naysayer, was "nothing other than the devil's snare.") For knights, plate armor imitating (however optimistically) the musculature of the wearer replaced droopy chain mail. Another factor--the rise of mercantile capitalism--allowed a new moneyed class to dress like nobility. The rate at which styles became obsolete was a measure of royalty's desire to stay ahead of the bourgeoisie. 

But no trend or invention explains the wild enthusiasm for early fads like severely pointed shoes, sleeves that grazed the floor or tunics that failed to cover a gentleman's private parts. Dressing moved from a form of group identification to one of self-expression; clothing wasn't simply functional or ritually significant--it was fun. Today, people alter their appearances with Wonderbras and shoulder pads. Now, Armani is our armor. 

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