Friday, 17 December 2010

Medical history meets fashion.

When doing my daily bit of aimless link-clicking yesterday, I stumbled across a very, very interesting article via medievalists.net, titled "The codpiece: Social fashion or medical need?" The short version of the article: The development of the prominent codpiece might be closely connected to a strain of Syphilis running rampant at that time, with symptoms including swelling of the genitals and treatment involving local bandages that, in addition to the swollen private parts, have to go somewhere.

This, to me, is another proof that clothes and what we call today the "development of fashion" are connected closely to a lot of other areas of daily life, even to things like illnesses. Availability (or scarcity) of certain materials and colours, climate changes, influences by marriages in the upper crust, availability or scarcity of food, work or travel requirements and social signaling, age and wealth as well as fads in the smaller social groups one is involved in and, of course, personal taste all blended (and still blend) together to a complex influence on the wardrobe of each person in history.

This blend is so complex that we will never be able to pinpoint all its ingredients for a person that lived in history - it would probably not even be possible to correctly analyse the blend for a person currently living, I suppose, since a lot of the elements are probably not things said person reflects upon. However, that makes this article about a connection between illness and fashion even more delightful to me: There is another factor that can actually be traced by an interdisciplinary approach, adding more knowledge about the mix. And at the same time, this proves that a) looking beyond one's own discipline is a really, really good thing and b) that we can never be too open-minded when we are looking at the history of garment development.

By the way, if you don't know medievalists.net yet, make sure to take a look around - it's a very interesting page!

2 comments:

hsifeng said...

*chuckle* This particular article has been a long time source of interest to me as it is set primarily in the context of the fashion of my favorite period. I get a grin out of it because a few of the men I know who do Landsknecht reenactment *insist* on HUGE codpieces.

I like to ask how their syphilis is.

*dies laughing*

Barbro said...

Thank you for a rely good blog that I have been reading for the last 9 months and a rely BIG thank you for this artical.

I have freinds whit -yes- Rely big codpieces when we are at the meadevil week in Visby Sweden every year. This year I have information that I will have rely fun whit :)