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Unit title: Fashion: A Cultural


Assignment: Essay Tutor: Sanda Miller Level: 2 Name: Kerry-Louise Barnaby Student Number: 8001634 Date: Wednesday 8th December ~1~

“Curt J Ducasse, in his essay entitled, „The Art of Personal Beauty‟ argued that „Clothing is fundamentally for us today, an ornamental mask.‟ Do you agree and if so why?”

Curt J Ducasse is not the only philosopher to argue that for society today, clothing is less about function and modesty and more about creating an identity or persona. “All techniques of body decoration concern the relationship between the self and the social body.” (Craik 1998: p.154) Thousands of years ago, clothing was said to be seen as nothing more than utility. However, if we are to look into the cultures of each time period we would see that actually, this may not have been the case. For, as can be seen, while clothing has always been functional, to keep our bodies warm and modest, we can also see that it has also, for many years, been used to identify class divisions and the hierarchy in civilisations. “The existence of fashion, if not clothing, was conditional upon there being different classes in society and upward movement between classes being both possible and desirable.” (Barnard 2002, p.98) This essay aims to explore the concept of what clothing is seen as today, and analyse whether Ducasse was indeed justified in his views. In order, however, to begin this analysis it is important to understand the key points addressed by, not only Ducasse, but also the modernist philosopher Charles Baudelaire. Both these philosophers agree that when it comes to man’s idea of beauty there are three main facets we must consider: Fascination, Adornment and Embellishment. To be fascinating to the opposite sex is something that both Ducasse and Baudelaire considered very important when looking in to the idea of beauty and attraction in modernity, and both believed that


while one did need to appear fascinating, this particular idea relies very strongly on man’s own power of imagination. Ducasse said of fascination: “There are two ways to attract people. One is to be likeable, and the other is to be fascinating... a phenomenon much less closely connected with the real worth of its object. It depends very largely upon appearances and upon the effect they have on our imagination...It is the attraction anything has for us when it seems to promise realization of something we half-consciously have been longing to find.” (Alperson 1992: p.620-621) We can therefore see that the idea of attraction is based largely on one’s own imagination. Perhaps this is the reason beauty is not universal, because different cultures and different people are not guaranteed to find the same face beautiful because of variations in man’s imagination. It does, however, seem to be universally agreed that fascination is that spark about a person that one cannot describe perfectly in words. It is what reality television in the western world may describe as, “The X Factor”. Nevertheless, whether it can or cannot be described as the same thing by many people, it appears to be undisputed that fascination is the fundamental principal that plays a part when one is seeking a mate. The possibility that this person could, above all others provide you with the things you have been most longing for, makes the person intriguing and therefore more complex. Our inner yearnings take over and we feel we must find out more about this fascinating creature. Baudelaire argued that, “Woman is quite within her rights, indeed she is even accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural; she has to astonish and charm us; as an idol, she is obliged to adorn herself in order to be adored.” (Baudelaire 2008: p.33)


Moreover, Baudelaire believed that it was a woman’s duty to look attractive for men. Adornment is the second point vital in our understanding of beauty. To adorn oneself is simply to decorate our bodies. For example, if you were to paint your fingernails a bright red or green that would be seen as decorating your body, and as Ducasse says: “Clothing fundamentally transforms the appearance of the body as a whole” (Alperson 1992: p.622) Therefore, unlike embellishment, adornment is seen as something that shows the outside world that you have chosen to decorate your body in order to make yourself appear more fascinating. Embellishment on the other hand, is seen as deceitful and something that you should not attempt unless you were willing to, “incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft.” (Alperson 1992: p.621) Of course this was the case in England in 1774 and would not apply to these deceitful women today. While it was once believed that these women had, “Constituted a form of deceit or fraud – a species of false pretences by means of which such benefits as reward fascination could be obtained by unscrupulous chiselers, in violation of an unwritten code of fair competition.” (Alperson 1992: p.621-622) In modern society there is no penance to be paid at all for women who choose to embellish their bodies and hide what they have done. To embellish oneself means to cover up your deceit and pretend that it was given to you by nature herself; furthermore you pretend to the outside world that you have done nothing and this embellishment or lie, is simply how you wake up every morning. These values seem to have all but disappeared in modern society. For of course, to embellish would be to use a makeup that, “covers flawlessly...yet looks natural... You don‟t see the

~4~ see perfection.” (Craik 1998: p.158) (see image 5 page 14) It seems that while some forms of makeup can be classed as adornment, this does not seem to be the case in the Western world, where all we want is to hide blemishes and make wrinkles disappear. To walk outside in the Western world with makeup clearly visible would see you addressed with comments such as, “Did you get ready in the dark this morning?” This is not something that we in the West want to hear. Therefore we conform to making sure that our makeup looks completely natural and we fail to talk about the latest anti-wrinkle cream we bought in order to make ourselves look younger. The aim to achieve a youthful appearance as if to say that we have defied ageing, is, as Ducasse reminds us, the, “One thing that practically all of us agree upon as contributing most powerfully to beauty of a person. That magically effective ingredient...youthfulness.” (Alperson 1992: p.621) In the West we seem to have lost sight of the difference between adornment and embellishment. Historically, cosmetics or makeup have been used in various cultures as adornment. In tribes such as the Hageners, (see image 1, page 10), people would decorate their bodies using things such as face paints and elaborate headdresses. In Hagen culture: “Body decoration constitutes a kind of „stock-taking‟ of Hagen society by elaborating codes for special ritual events and displays, rather than being a feature of everyday life.” While in Japan, they view body decoration/adornment as a semiological act of writing, (see image 2 page 11). In Japan they would often paint the, “...surface white in order to fabricate a face „rinsed of meaning‟ (Barthes 1982: 91). This „inexpressive surface‟ is then used to write specific statements and signify certain emotions, thereby constructing the character of the face.” (Craik 1998: p.516)


It is clear to see that in the Non-Western or more traditional cultures they still use makeup for adornment. Although we cannot forget that while the process and appearance differs the end result is more or less, the same: “Whereas the Japanese face is a minimalist form of decoration, it is equivalent to the elaborate, highly individualised headdresses of the Hageners, the intricate body paintings of the Caduveo in South America, and the unique expressivity of western cosmetics. Each produces the social body in culturally specific ways.” (Craik 1998: p.156) Thereby arguing that while the western use of make-up may be less obvious than other cultures, and could possibly be argued as being deceitful and manipulative, the idea is the same as many other cultures who use makeup as a form of body decoration. From a cultural perspective, body decoration and makeup are the same because they are both used, to create an identity or a “social self” to the outside world. Whereas, in South America it is accepted that to create this “self” one adorns the body using brightly coloured paints and elaborate headdresses, in the West, it is equally accepted that to create this same identity or, “self” one applies natural makeup or cosmetics. In the West we are beginning to lose sight of the idea of simply enhancing what nature has gifted us with, in the form of cosmetic surgery: The transition of asking to change a nose, or lose some fat, or make breasts bigger or smaller or in extreme cases, get a completely new face or identity, (see image 7 page 16)

Cosmetic surgery may be a reasonably new

phenomenon but already people are starting to see it as something normal; that you can wake up in the morning and decide to change any feature you want. This must be the severest form of embellishment as one must feel so strongly about something on their body that not only do they try to hide it but they manage to manipulate the world into believing that it is all natural. If one has liposuction they will simply say that they have been dieting and exercising. It


would seem that while cosmetic surgery is becoming more accepted, people still refuse to admit that they have had work done because they so want the world to believe that they have simply worked to achieve this look. The same ideas can be related to clothing. While it may have once been the case that clothing was purely functional, it has not been this way for a long time. Although, in most parts of the world clothing is used as both function and as a label for where you fall in society, in the Western world, “The notion of individuality constructed by Christianity has produced an explanatory rationale for western body decoration in terms of constructing a „unique‟ identity.” (Craik 1998: p 154) Man seems to be ever-seeking, to be not only perfect (see image 6 page 15) but to truly understand who we are. Unfortunately, in the meantime it seems we have to use the art of body decoration or adornment via cosmetics and clothing to create an identity to portray to the outside world. As Ducasse believed: “Even when is possible, with a little effort, to speak and act the part of good will, nobility and equanimity” (Alperson 1992: p.619) It could therefore be argued that clothing is, “fundamentally for us today an ornamental mask” (Alperson 1992: p.619) because we use it to adorn our bodies in order to create the best possible identity, persona or “social self” to portray to the outside world. We use the clothing to display our inner personalities. Experts estimate that we make a first impression in the first three seconds of meeting, ( therefore it is important to make sure that one is clothed and decorated in a way that creates the right


impression of our inner self to the outer world. Every colour, style and combination exerts a semiological meaning and therefore we need to adorn our bodies in the best way to represent ourselves. “Body decoration constitutes „the visible exterior of an invisible interior‟ (O‟Hanlon 1983: 332)” (Craik 1998: p. 154) One could argue that clothing is a mask because we choose to show various parts of our inner selves to the world depending on the social situation that we find ourselves in. However, to say that we hide behind this “mask” of decoration would not, in most cases be accurate. For, although we do choose to create, this does not mean that what we represent is a lie. In actual fact it is probably anything but a lie. For, while clothes say something about us, the same could be said if we were to walk down the street naked, because our society makes it so! There are many theories about the connection between clothing and the body or self. Baudelaire says: “Everything that adorns women, everything that serves to show off her beauty, is part of herself... What poet, in sitting down to paint the pleasure caused by sight of a beautiful woman, would venture to separate her from her costume? ...Making thus of the two things – woman and her dress – an indivisible unity?” (Baudelaire 2008: p.30-31) This therefore shows that although man may have started out creating an identity through dress and living life through a mask; which may still be the case for certain social environments, clothing is no more a mask than our own bodies. The simple idea that we need to use clothing to portray certain ideas does not mean we are shielding ourselves from the world, because now, the body and the clothing cannot be seen as separate, for together is the way that they are read and therefore together is the way they must be seen. For separately they lose all meaning, it is only together that they exist.


“Mauss proposed that European culture witnessed a transition „from mere masquerade to the mask, from a role to a person, to an individual‟ (Mauss 1979: 90)” (Craik 1998: p.154)


Image 1 – Adorned Hagener: pg&imgrefurl= =&h=500&w=375&sz=179&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=zrDHshg1LlAZM:&tbnh=128&tbnw=100&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dhageners%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D10 24%26bih%3D594%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=646&vpy=22&d ur=536&hovh=259&hovw=194&tx=88&ty=157&ei=FAb5TJKRJcxhQfPlpnvCA&oei=IAb5TNjzLYnMhAemPXtCA&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=10&ved=1t:429,r:3,s:0

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Image 2 – Japanese makeup, symbols and semiotics: LI/AAAAAAAAAB0/-X5NhQgSwAY/s400/kabuki-3tag.jpg&imgrefurl= eBNM:&tbnh=117&tbnw=156&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtraditional%2BJapanese%2Bmakeu p%2Bsymbols%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D356%26gbv%3D2 %26tbs%3Disch:10%2C5101&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=724&vpy=55&dur=112&hovh=194&h ovw=259&tx=200&ty=163&ei=agj5TNGLEYjV4gaDg_2GBw&oei=5Af5TJDSHsWxhAfB mPnwCA&esq=44&page=19&ndsp=12&ved=1t:429,r:5,s:225&biw=1024&bih=356

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Image 3 – Adorned in tattoos: 20tattoos%2520women.jpg&imgrefurl= n&start=14&zoom=1&tbnid=w5NyuOjFrVT1uM:&tbnh=107&tbnw=111&prev=/images%3 Fq%3Dtattoos%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D356%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disc h:10%2C352&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=497&vpy=49&dur=46&hovh=216&hovw=233&tx=13 1&ty=221&ei=NAn5TMfDEYm14gaA1pzDBw&oei=IQn5TODcAtCwhAffoJn9CA&esq=8 &page=2&ndsp=14&ved=1t:429,r:10,s:14&biw=1024&bih=356

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Image 4- Indian adornment: &imgrefurl= N154dYMC29D9U=&h=268&w=358&sz=15&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=AxUZ2cV VQ92dRM:&tbnh=121&tbnw=162&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dwestern%2Bbeauty%2Bmakeu p%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D356%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1&itbs=1& iact=hc&vpx=470&vpy=71&dur=171&hovh=194&hovw=260&tx=86&ty=118&ei=0Qn5T MzzDMaWhQewwa39CA&oei=0Qn5TMzzDMaWhQewwa39CA&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=1 2&ved=1t:429,r:3,s:0

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Image 5 – Western “invisible” makeup/embellishment: t=35&zoom=1&tbnid=0AOmE8HxdHvCmM:&tbnh=110&tbnw=110&prev=/images%3Fq% 3Dhollywood%2Bmakeup%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D356%26gbv%3D2%2 6tbs%3Disch:10%2C926&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=321&ei=awr5TJ_OCpSK4gan3sjJBw&oei= VQr5TJG3IInMhAemPXtCA&esq=4&page=4&ndsp=14&ved=1t:429,r:7,s:35&tx=87&ty=72&biw=1024&bih= 356

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Image 6 – Western obsession with “being perfect” cosmetic surgery: dBI/AAAAAAAACtI/A5EGeENhjq8/s1600/HEIDI-MONTAG-PLASTIC-SURGERYPHOTOS.jpg&imgrefurl= nh=97&tbnw=149&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dcosmetic%2Bsurgery%2Bbefore%2Band%2Baf ter%2Bphotos%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D356%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disc h:10%2C248&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=534&vpy=84&dur=50&hovh=181&hovw=278&tx=16 6&ty=186&ei=Tgv5TPuOCImB4Qbvra3hBw&oei=NAv5TMiCKaKAhAeNtfT3CA&esq=3 &page=2&ndsp=12&ved=1t:429,r:3,s:10&biw=1024&bih=356

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Image 7 – Cosmetic surgery the most severe form of embellishment: UrIdvwI/AAAAAAAAARg/99ljNFrjFDo/s1600/ex_holly_madison_before_after.jpg&imgref url= nh=127&tbnw=168&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dcosmetic%2Bsurgery%2Bbefore%2Band%2Ba fter%2Bphotos%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1024%26bih%3D356%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Dis ch:1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=379&ei=Zwv5TL_kA4GB5Aa6qaXsBw&oei=NAv5TMiCKaK AhAeNtfT3CA&esq=4&page=1&ndsp=10&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0&tx=62&ty=80

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Bibliography: Books: 

Barnard, M., 2002. Fashion as Communication. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge

Barnard, M., 2007. Fashion Theory A Reader. Oxon: Routledge

Baudelaire, C., 2008. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. 2nd Ed. London: Phaidon Press Limited

Craik, J., 1998. The Face of Fashion. London: Routledge

Ducasse, J., 1944. The Art of Personal Beauty. In. Alperson, P., The Philosophy of the Visual Arts. New York: Oxford University Press

Websites: 









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Ducasse: Clothing is an ornamental mask  
Ducasse: Clothing is an ornamental mask  

Essay examining whether clothing is a mask or if it goes deeper than that.