What is in a shirt?

Is it a cover up?

When I look at any object or product, fashioned by human hands or machine made according to human design, I need to see and understand it in its immediate and wider context, in order to make sense of it.
What have a pair of jeans and an empire dress in common? They tell us something about the epoch and time period they are part of; they are embedded in an age or context.

Modernism began in the mid-nineteenth century as a response not only to the restrictions and hypocrisies of everyday life, but also as a reaction to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the rationality of human behaviour (Eric R.Kandel-The Age of Insight, p.11, 2012). It was thought that because our minds can exert control over our emotions and feelings, we are predominantly rational beings. This believe in rationality was the result of new scientific discoveries by Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and others. Physics and astronomy showed that the underlying principles of the universe could be understood by the methods of scientific discipline(s). God, in the scientific sense, had designed the universe to function according to logical and mathematical principles.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution came the realisation that reason did not prevail to the extent that the Enlightenment postulated, certainly not in human behaviour. The Industrial Revolution, as Dickens illustrates too well, had a brutalising effect on many aspects of society. The human mind was not only governed by reason, but also governed by irrational emotions and impulses.
The industrial Revolution forms the background to the birth of jeans. The French Revolution precedes the Empire dress.

The Empire Dress.
After the French Revolution, no one wanted to appear as a member of the French Aristocracy. The Empire dress, made famous by Napoleon’s first empress Josephine de Beauharnais, has a fitted bodice, ending just below the bust and giving a high-wasted appearance. It has a gathered skirt which is long and loosely fitting. It skims the body rather than being supported by voluminous petticoats (Wikipedia). Light fabrics like satin were used and it was seen as an informal style in comparison to the heavier brocade fabrics and hooped layers of petticoats and corsets of the style that preceded it.
The clothes of the previous age (Ancient Regime) determined and expressed one’s status in society and in this sense they were a kind of uniform or obligatory style. This became more relaxed after the French revolution and accessories and detail were used to emphasize individuality. This so-called “new natural” style incorporated an ease and comfort of dress and allowed for more frequent washing as the long trains and hoops disappeared. The empire dress was part of a more egalitarian society. Both “Maids and Madams” (to use a metaphor), were able to dress in the empire silhouette, as it is also known.

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The founding fathers of Jeans are Levi Strauss and Henry David Lee.
In 1853 Levi Strauss (a Bavarian immigrant) and a merchant in San Francisco, developed tough miners clothes. He used brown cotton tent-canvas for plain trousers (no loops or belts or back-pockets), which were rather like overalls. They lasted despite the rough work conditions and in the 1860’s he switched to denim, which he dyed a uniform indigo.  The blue jeans are named after the city of Genoa in Italy, a place where corduroy, called either jean or jeane, was manufactured. Jacob W. Davis in partnership with Lee Strauss & Co patented the invention, which had been changed and refined in the interim, in 1871.
In essence the enduring “jean” originated out of a response to the gold rush and need for tough miner’s clothes. “Lived in” is the most apt description we can give jeans as they gain comfort and character with age.

Nowadays the jean has gone through many transformations. One recent one is the elasticized jean, rather like a full length corset. The stone-washed and slashed, mutilated versions are perhaps symbolic of our “fragmented” selves or the unconscious aspect of our psyche. After all jeans cover what is recognised as the more unconscious pole of our being or make up as seen from a psychological perspective and this contrasts with our cooler head or more considerate reasoning nature.


And what is in a shirt? It covers our trunk-our heart and feeling realm, the bridge between the “jeans” or more unconscious nature as seen from a Freudian perspective and many of our senses, which are situated in our heads (speech, seeing, hearing, thinking, all involving our brain as well). The shirt then covers our sentiments and links them to our deeper or more unconscious nature and our way of seeing, hearing expressing, thinking and imagining (to name but a few). When you physically refer to yourself, you will most likely point in the direction of your heart region, intimating it as your most intimate sense of self.
We are also most expansive in our chest and trunks. That is where we breathe in and out. And so shirts can express our mood, be it sober or exuberant, we can use it to make a desired impression. The choice of shirt we wear, the weight and texture of the fabric, the colour, the way it fits and the actual design, all play their roll.
The carte-blanche double sided shweshwe shirts need (like jeans) to be worn in. They are loose fitting and become soft but strong over time and will last. The single sided shweshwe shirt is fairly close fitting and relatively soft, yet it is as durable and lighter in weight.

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It is a question to be pondered, ”What is in a shirt?” I would invite you to write roughly half a typed page of how you would describe what it contains? The possibilities are endless and the most interesting consideration will win a shirt or the equivalent value in carte-blanche products of your choice. If you are not in Cape Town we will courier it to you. You can view our selection of fashionable shirts by clicking here.
Closing date: Fathers Day, 19th of June 2016 (12pm). Email to: marjogamble@gmail.com
A panel of 4 people will decide who the winner is and we would appreciate it if you would like our face-book page. We hope to share some of your insights on our website and face-book page, if you will allow us.  We will announce the winner on Wednesday the 22nd of June.

Kindly let me know: “Is it a cover up?”

Marjolein for carte-blanche (You get it: The sky is the limit!)

Image credit