Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Your Clothes Say it For You

Traditional Bavarian tracht.
I live in Washington County, PA, home of the hunting, pickup truck driving, work boot wearing Redneck.

And women are no exception.

I can't exactly walk around in a Jane Austen or Civil War dress like I know some hopelessly romantic teenagers do.  I have tried it.  And wearing a period costume in public really is quite conspicuous.  It looks either crazy or Amish, which is not what I want to say with my clothes.  As much as I dream of being Elizabeth Bennett or Scarlett O'Hara, I am not.

I have a book called, "Your Clothes Say It For You" by a Protestant woman which discusses the topic of why women should wear dresses and skirts based on the Bible.  This is a good start.  But clothes go beyond showing someone is a woman.  Despite being modest, the denim-skirt-homeschool-mom look does not cover it all.  Dress should be complex and interesting.  It can define where a woman lives and where she comes from, her situation or vocation, and even give a clue as to her temperament.

My husband has German relatives way back and so he likes to wear a trachten jacket to represent his heritage.  He bought me a beautiful dirndl to wear for Christmas one year that I have since worn every Christmas that I am not pregnant.  What does this say about me?  My dirndl tells others that my family is German and we love tradition.  It also tells of modesty and femininity!  All things I am proud to represent.

Ethnic Slovak costumes often include
beautiful (and laborious) embroidery.
I read in one of the Royal Diary books that Eastern European women used to wear skirts to represent their position.  The very wealthy women wore up to ten skirts, one on top of the next, all embroidered and carefully stitched, to represent who they were!  Folk costumes of the past are really quite beautiful and full of identity.  The clothing goes along with customs.  Most of these are based on Christian traditions and principles.

I have attended the Pittsburgh Folk Festival for years.  It is a beautiful display of ethnicity.  People from Pittsburgh are very loyal to their cultural heritage.  My own great-grandparents did not wish my grandparents to marry because one was Slovak and the other Polish.  This was a grave matter in their families and in their parishes.  Even today, the Catholic parishes in Pittsburgh are divided by nationality, built by the immigrants of that country and named after their national saint or devotion.

I know members of a Slovak club and a German club whose groups perform at the folk festival.  Folk dancing is nothing like modern dancing and much more than simple waltzing.  Many traditional dances involve polkas, clapping, marches and circle dancing.  The Germans do many Plattle dances where the men slap themselves to the music while the women twirl with their full bell skirts.  I grew up taking Irish dancing lessons which is different altogether from German or Slovak dancing, but the jigs and reels require one to be very straight and the footwork is incredibly complicated.  The dances represent the people as well as the costumes do.  It is so right to represent ethnicity as well as femininity with dress.

It might seem that most countries today- especially a young one like America- are left with sadly
The hat ladies of Charleston represent the beauty and
warm elegance that distinguishes the South.
unromantic identities.  On the surface many Americans appear like those from Washington County- with their jeans, boots and chewing tobacco.

I am happy to assure you that there is a more civilized America underneath!  It takes less digging than one would expect to find beautifully distinctive places with natural attractions and native industries.  But this is just part of what draws people to certain states.  There is a unique feel that is sometimes represented in dress.  Kentucky Derby hats are a good example!  It is very interesting to read about some of these lovely places in Victoria or Southern Lady magazine or- even better- to visit them!

Civil War reenacting is another place to find something beautiful and American and meet people who are proud to represent their heritage.  I have friends who have incredible stories to tell about the old South over black coffee, fiddles and open fires.

Perhaps a Scarlett O'Hara dress is not as far removed from reality as I thought?

What do your clothes say about you?


  1. Hello Miss Colette,

    Very good article. It is true that the US has less history and tradition than Europe, but that does not give Americans an excuse for dressing slovenly. Even the peasants of Europe before the 20th century wore very simple yet modest and even elegant clothing.

    I also agree that we should not wear fashions (for everyday use anyway) that go back too far, for fear of being see as totally disconnected from the contemporary world. If a particular fashion would cause most people to think "reenactor" (like a Victorian dress) then it is too far back. People won't take you seriously and assume you are an eccentric. A lady does much more "apostolate of presence" by wearing a modest, elegant fashion that is still worn by a bare minimum of people. Likewise for men. We wear suits and ties every day of the week, but it is far back as we can go. If we wore top hats and dinner jackets with tails we wouldn't be taken seriously.

    Salve Maria!
    James Bascom

    1. Thank you, Mr. Bascom. You do not know how honored I am that you read my blog and how much I appreciate your feedback. Salve Maria! Colette

  2. I am very impressed after reading this statement that beautiful American that meet people who are proud to represent their heritage which is really appreciated thanks..


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