Truly a language of dress

NORMALLY, all the talk about the significance of what people wear would bore me out of my mind and make me ask the question, “Really?”. While I dismissed much of the media hype about the hidden meaning behind the US presidential candidates and their wives’ choice of clothes at the presidential debates, I did take notice because the discussions reminded me of one of my favourite books The Language of Dress: Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica, 1760-1890 by Steeve O. Buckridge.

It’s this book published by the University of the West Indies Press that had me considering those Internet stories that swore Donald Trump’s wife wore a pantsuit to the debate to express covert support for Hillary Clinton or questioned why the Clintons wore purple in Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. I know purple is associated with royalty and many religions associate it with protection.

So I’m thinking, hmmmm… Is there something to these stories that your clothes reflect more than your mood? The Language of Dress… makes a compelling argument that it does. Looking at Jamaican society from 1760 to 1890, the author notes the difference in culture and dress among three main categories of Jamaican society: white, coloureds and Africans.

We take our ability to choose the clothes we wear for granted, and few of us give any thought to how slaves wore clothes. Slaves did not all dress alike, Buckridge tells us.

Some slaves could make their own clothes. Some slaves “lost” their mistresses clothes and redesigned them into their own garments. House slaves might get hand-me-downs from masters.

Slave dress reflected class, status and occupation.

Slave women, the author tells us, were often good seamstresses and they created clothes that made a statement. The law required slave owners to provide osnaburg fabric, but slaves did not want to wear this dull, coarse material.

Slaves made dyes and pigments – cashew nuts created a nice rusty colour. Slaves had innovative ways of making cloth, which included the use of tree bark. “Slave dress was deceptive,” writes Buckridge. Read more

Source: NewsDay (Trinidad & Tobago)