Feb 28, 2012
Friends, you don't need a degree in fashion history to know that what we choose to wear on our bodies expresses how we want to appear to others.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to sophisticated MPB followers -- and really, is there any other kind? -- that if clothing's primary purpose is to keep us from freezing to death, its secondary purpose is to make the parts of our bodies we want to appear smaller, smaller, and the parts we want to look bigger, bigger. Can we agree on this?
Different cultures fetishize different body parts for different reasons, but in the contemporary Western world, it seems that enhancing the female bosom, trimming the waist, and accentuating male shoulders (in outerwear at least) has been fashion's focus for a long time. There are exceptions to every rule of course. Fashion sometimes seeks to broaden female hips, or deaccentuate the bosom (just to keep us on our toes and in our corsets). And there's (apparently) an emerging market for men's garments (and undergarments) that accentuate the butt, the waist, and beyond.
Long story short, fashion is all about cinching and padding, padding and cinching, and probably always will be.
Some of my readers may take offense when I suggest that women cinch and pad to recreate a youthful silhouette because heterosexual males are biologically hard-wired to seek out the fertile female so as to procreate. Since men can be fertile into their eighties, women are not biologically hard-wired to seek men with a youthful silhouette, since a youthful male silhouette is not necessarily a sign of fertility. I certainly am not suggesting that this means that a young woman is supposed to want to bed down with octogenarian Hugh Hefner instead of Justin Timberlake, just that her biology isn't putting up any obstacles. Does that seem excessively reductionist?
So, we continue to pad and we cinch, just as we've been doing for centuries. Are we fooling anybody? Probably not.
Historically, cinching -- especially to the point of near immobilization -- has been a sign of status. If your feet are bound, you obviously aren't toiling daily in the rice paddies, and if you're corseted to the point of near asphyxiation, you're not mopping floors for a living.
The same could be said of crippling high heel shoes that suggest your walking requirements are limited to the red carpet or the occasional celebrity funeral. Otherwise, you'll be taking the Lincoln Town Car.
Cinching makes things smaller, and it's no coincidence that the small, or dainty, has been a prized female trait for a long time, even if those days seem to be behind us.
Padding, in contrast, makes things bigger, and size suggests power, in both men and women. Hence the Forties padded shoulder during WWII or the infamous power suit in the Eighties.
Padding is also more comfortable, since you're adding volume to, rather than restricting, the human body. The downside of padding is that, in a moment of intimacy, we may reveal much less than had been hoped.
When it comes to female fashion of the last hundred years or so, some periods are more closely associated with padding (shoulders in the Forties; breasts in the Fifties), and others with cinching (bosoms in the Twenties, waists in the Fifties). Perhaps the Nineteen Seventies was the first and only decade where fashion allowed for a minimum of cinching and padding, thanks to all those stretch knits...
For better or for worse, we're still padding and cinching as much today as ever. Only now, thanks to cosmetic surgery, we can pad and cinch permanently -- or the closest thing to it. That's progress for you.
More men are getting into the act -- or so marketers would like us to believe -- with a plethora of new products to hold us in, up, and, er, out. I don't know anyone who wears said garments, but I've seen them in stores. Men's clothing is less body-revealing, so there's less need for holding things in. As far as "up and out" go, that's a question of personal taste.
In closing, readers, how do you feel about all this cinching and padding? Are you willing to do one but not the other, or do you just follow fashion's dictates? (We do live in the world, after all)
Did you cinch or pad more in the past than you do today, for whatever reason?
At what point do you just decide, hey, this is me -- love it or leave it?
Loosen your corset and stay awhile!