The history of clothing-fashion in the Commonwealth does, in many key aspects, largely mirror that of our own timeline. In particular, the same fabrics become available at the same points in history, and the arrival of mass-production and, later, the sewing-machine, occur at much the same points in history.

There are, however, two huge differences, arising from two different aspects of the egalitarianism of the Commonwealth:

  • an absence of ‘conspicuous consumption’ clothing – rare fabrics, excessive labour, excessive-jewelry – typical of the very rich in other countries (and also the absence of sumptuary-laws to enforce such class-separation via forms of clothing and decoration)
  • an increasingly ‘de-gendered’ society leads in turn to ‘de-gendering’ of some types of clothing – particularly work-clothes and military uniforms

Sumptuous clothing does occur, but mainly as support for social events such as weddings or formal ‘pomp and splendour’. The royal court shows off a visible splendour – if literally ‘putting on a show’ for foreign diplomats and the like. Amongst many other groups, though, there is often a deliberate theatricality of dress – ‘going out in style’ – with bright colours in use everywhere.

Work-clothing is in distinctive styles to match up with and symbolise the respective profession or trade – though it does tend to be somewhat more drab, for practical reasons, to minimise wear and stains. It will also often often be decorated in personal style, and to again reflect the respective profession or trade: viners might wear decorative knotwork, for example, a miller wear white with the groove-pattern of a mill-wheel, or an enginer wear black to hide stains from coal-dust and grease.

A foreign visitor might note, with some surprise, the almost complete absence of children and adults dressed in filthy worn-out rags – the omnipresent sign of poverty in almost every country beyond the Commonwealth. The egalitarianism of the Commonwealth means that such overt signs of poverty would be considered a failure not of that one family, but of society as a whole – a failure of the community to uphold its social responsibilities. If someone in the Commonwealth is dressed in rags, it is most likely the result of some deliberate choice – for religious reasons, for example – or as an outcome of mental illness, to again be cared for as best possible by the community itself.

Most striking of all for many foreign visitors, though, is the way in which the egalitarian emphasis of Commonwealth culture is expressed in a frequent ‘de-gendering’ of clothing. Following the style and fashion from other countries, men may well wear long robes or gowns. Women will often be seen wearing jackets and trousers (‘pants’) – particularly as part of a military-type uniform – rather than skirts or dresses. And the social tendency towards theatricality means that clothing-styles from previous decades and centuries may well be revived at random in later times, often in ‘mix-and-match’ forms, blurring the ages as well as the genders.

In short, and in the same way as the Agreement of the People asserts that religion is a personal responsibility, clothing and style are likewise a matter of personal faith and personal expression. In the Commonwealth, conformity, if any, is always a choice – and not a requirement to be imposed from elsewhere.

Last Update: August 29, 2017  

August 29, 2017    Fashion  

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