Well Worn

Of all the aspects of human culture, the one I think I know the least about is our propensity for wearing particular clothes. I can appreciate that when we left our natural habitat a million years ago, we needed some clothing to protect us from the elements. But most human clothing seems designed to show status, to attract (or occasionally, discourage) attention, to show conformity or membership, to cover up perceived defects in our appearance, or just to make a statement. In that sense, many clothes seem functionally more like tattoos or hairstyles than body-coverings.

Although I enjoy (non-formal, non-restrictive) costume events, I confess to having little appreciation for (or understanding of) the rules of attire (etym: “to add order”), the proper selection of garments (etym: “things that add order”), or how to dress appropriately (etym: “to put in order” — notice a trend here?) The etymology of the word wardrobe is even stranger: It means “a place to secrete stolen items”! No wonder so few seem to understand the rules of modern fashion beyond those presuming to make them.

The business of making clothes has spawned an entire lexicon of terms to describe the various products, many of them now as obscure as the items they describe. And the terms vary depending on where you live, and sometimes even on how they are made.

So here’s a little quiz of sixty terms that describe clothing. See how many of them you know. (I correctly understood only 16 of them.)

  1. Mufti
  2. Surcoat
  3. Petticoat and crinoline
  4. Tippet
  5. Codpiece
  6. Jumper, jersey, cardigan
  7. Waistcoat
  8. Pinafore
  9. Kimono
  10. Wellies
  11. Dungarees
  12. Polo neck vs polo shirt
  13. Peplum
  14. Qipao
  15. Fisherman pants
  16. Capris
  17. Palazzos
  18. Breeches vs jodhpurs
  19. Chinos
  20. Plus fours
  21. Tobis
  22. Braccaes
  23. Knickerbockers
  24. Clam-diggers
  25. Henley shirt
  26. Oxford shirt
  27. Cami shirt
  28. Guayabera
  29. Shirtwaist
  30. Singlet vs doublet
  1. Tunic
  2. Bilaut
  3. Raglan sleeve
  4. Lantern sleeve
  5. Mutton-leg sleeve
  6. Pagoda sleeve
  7. Dolman sleeve
  8. Brogues
  9. Pumps
  10. Chelsea boots
  11. Huaraches
  12. Loafers
  13. Oxfords
  14. Slingbacks
  15. Plimsolls
  16. Mules
  17. Kitten heels
  18. Durag
  19. Kufi
  20. Gaiters
  21. Kebaya
  22. Hanbok
  23. Shúkà
  24. Agbada
  25. Huipil
  26. Thawb
  27. Hijab
  28. Kanga
  29. Kanzu
  30. Kaftan

Traditional clothing styles mostly seem to make sense in the climate and culture in which they have arisen, though I confess I find some items women are required to wear in some cultures unsettling.

I can’t say I see the same evolved logic in modern western/northern clothing styles, which mostly make no sense to me whatsoever — they seem mostly arbitrary, aesthetically displeasing, uncomfortable, exploitative, cumbersome, and even ridiculous. Like business suits, ties and hose, and the white lab coats still worn by many doctors, these obligatory clothing requirements seem more an anachronistic form of cultural tyranny than an accommodation to the needs and demands of the modern world.

But, I’ve been told more than once, that’s probably because I just don’t understand the rules.

image above: Kenyan woman wearing Kanga, from wikipedia, public domain

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