Fashion First: Costume Through the Looking Glass at The Met


Fashion drives the social consciousness of our creators, connoisseurs and collectors world wide, constantly challenging the responsibilities we carry as individuals and as members of a global society.

There is no doubt that wearing a beautiful Chinese style tunic made of colored silk that feels wonderful on the skin and is easy to wear and looks stylish both day and night, will certainly uplift the spirit.

Its style however makes a powerful statement about the past, the present and the future.

This is because costume, with the influence of fashion, fulfills many of our aesthetic dreams and is a worthy medium for artistic expression.

It also allows us to creatively communicate our ideas about who we are, while reflecting how we embrace change.

Costume projects our beliefs, while aesthetically conveying an image to accommodate a desire to be distinguished from others in society

China 4It’s all about the power of perception.

Costume is, on every level, both a forever changing and eternal form of human expression.

From the ruling periods of the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns to the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) in China they wore garments of great simplicity, an elegant style that reflected their social and cultural growth as a group of people.

Like everywhere else in the world today in China traditions are changing and their costume is also changing to reflect the ideology of their contemporary age and growing cultural connections.

Whereas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe the influence from East to West had been profound.

The costume exhibition China Through the Looking Glass now being held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is breaking records as it reveals the eastern influence on the west.

The recent Met Gala that preceded the opening of the exhibition, was a huge event that garnered interest world wide – read Jo Bayley’s report.

Now the influence of the west on the east is impacting on the evolution of China’s costume as they open their doors and eyes and change their views on life.

China 6In both worlds costume encompasses all that we wear, including objects for personal adornment such as hairpieces, hand coverings, footwear and other accessories as well as undergarments and jewellery.

All these various aspects of costume individually have an interesting history of their own in both western and eastern cultures.

Without the development of costume western civilisation would perhaps not have advanced as far as it has.

Noted art history James Laver wrote in 1959 that ‘without the invention of clothes and all the psychological consequences that have flowed therefrom, western civilisation would never have progressed as far as it has. It is clothes that made it possible for governments to obtain obedience, religions reverence, judiciaries a respect for the law and armies discipline’.

China 3Fashion is imposed on costume, dictating and reflecting the changes and concerns of a society in any one place at any one time.

Since economics most often determine the development of the societies in question, its study should always be taken into account.

NB Our Jo Bayley from Fashion Elixir is currently travelling in Europe and we will look forward to her return with her fashion first observations and shopping tips. In the meantime I will fill in with some historic aspects of costume through the ages… Carolyn McDowall, Editor in Chief, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015


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