Magnificent obsession

Magnificent obsession

It is a great pleasure to get into them in the morning, but an even greater pleasure to get out of them at the end of the day. What are they? They are the clothes we struggle into when we present ourselves to the world. What a delight it is to get out of the prison that we voluntarily enter each day! Women, with obvious relief, get out of their work-clothes, while men, with an equal enthusiasm, loosen ties and get out of their heavy shoes and tight trousers.

Back from school, children fling their shoes and ties any which way, shouting and screaming with abandon. How ironic that the things we collect carefully by investing money, time and energy, and then sport with great pride, metamorphose every evening into disagreeable objects. This, however, is a legacy we ourselves have embraced over many hundred years of evolution.

Notice that other animals do not exhibit this proclivity; the passion for clothes and accoutrements is that of Homo sapiens alone. The monkey, which is the closest to man, does no more than imitate him clumsily. Remember how the cap-seller in the fable retrieved his stolen goods from the simian thieves by donning his own cap and then throwing it down on the ground? Crows, they say, love glittering objects and carry them to their nests, but they stop short of piercing holes in their bodies to display them with aplomb. Dogs, given the slightest opportunity, will reduce any cloth they can lay their teeth on, to shreds. Humans alone have mastered the unusual art of fashioning clothes.

Long ago, for purely practical reasons, human beings took to wearing a bit of something over the skin. It could have been a grass loincloth or a stretch of animal hide. When the grass dried or the hide wore out, they were replaced with new ones. In all probability, this was noticed and commented upon, and voila, the idea of variety took hold in the mind. It was a way of drawing attention. What is more, it made life livelier so that no two days were the same again. A true eye-opener, it helped humankind stumble on yet another idea - what was useful could be beautiful and what was beautiful could be useful! There was no looking back, only looking around and about for what was new and novel. What Providence had not given to humans in the form of fine feathers and fur, human ingenuity could now supply.

Innovations were fast and furious with accessories sometimes outshining clothes in terms of looking beautiful. A good example of this is the dancing girl of the Harappan era.

Time progressed and so did modes of dressing and adornment. This was a thrilling new way of attracting the opposite sex. The clothes and ornaments, when fastened on the body, became a second skin. Indeed, we were enabled to present a new avatar each day. It made everyone mighty pleased, for the effects were many and varied. One of them was that clothes turned into a status symbol. The more powerful and richer the person, the grander the clothes that he wore. Any discomfort was offset by the awe and respect that the person could command. A unique advantage conferred by clothes was that they were portable. They went wherever the person went, displaying to all and sundry the wealth and prestige he or she enjoyed. Besides providing shelter from the elements, clothes gave livelihoods to more people than one can list. Farmers, weavers, tailors, milliners, jewellers, fashion designers and a whole host of others could go laughing all the way to the bank.

Today, the caveman in his birthday suit is a piece of history. Clothes are here to stay for they have proved to be a magnificent obsession. This is well reflected in the resourceful words of a tailor, 'God makes Man, a tailor makes him a Gentleman.'

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