Sunday, July 17, 2011


This seems strangely familiar. It's probably as true today as it was over five hundred years ago and no doubt as true as it has been throughout human history.

"I should readily excuse in our people the having no other pattern and rule of perfection than their own manners and customs; for it is a common fault, not of the vulgar only, but of almost all men, to aim at and abide in the manner of life to which they are born. . . But I complain of their special lack of discernment in allowing themselves to be so cheated and blinded by the authority of present usage, that they are capable of changing; their opinions and judgements every month, if custom so pleases, and that they form such diverse judgements about themselves. When they wore the busk of the doublet between the breasts, they maintained by vigorous arguments that it was in its proper place. Some years later, lo, it has dropped down to between the thighs; they jeer at the former fashion, declare it unbecoming and unbearable. The present style of dressing makes them incontinently condemn the earlier style, with so great a determination and so universal an accord, that you would say that it is some sort of mania that turns their understanding about. Because our changing is so sudden and so swift in this respect, that the inventive powers of all the tailors in the world could not supply enough novelties, it is inevitable that the despised styles should often come again into fashion, and the others themselves soon after fall into disrepute; and that the same judgement may, in the course of fifteen or twenty years, adopt two or three, not simply different, but quite contrary, opinions with an incredible inconsistency and fickleness. There is no one of us so keen of wit that he does not allow himself to be fooled by this contradiction, and his inner as well as his outer eyes to be unconsciously dazzled."

Michel de Montaigne
from Chapter XLIX Of Ancient Customs
The Essays of Montaigne

I would disagree with Montaigne only about the length of time involved. It may have been a few years when he wrote this, but today, fashions change every year, or less. And it's equally true in politics, as well as for celebrities, songs, books . . .


  1. I think that with fashion, there's only so many variables to begin with and so styles would have to repeat in order to keep selling something new. ( It's all about the money, after all.) However, I don't see a return to those styles that are uncomfortable or overly confining - at least for everyday wear. (Don't look for a return of the hoopskirt or bustle any time soon, LOL.)

    Some - perhaps many - people want to be popular and part of the "in crowd" no matter what, and so go with the popular opinion of the hour without really giving any thought to that opinion. I guess it's been that way forever.

  2. Cheryl,

    I agree. Fashions, etc., just demonstrate the herd instinct in humans. Humans have a need, as you say, to be like everybody else.

    I remember the '60s when the hippies "broke" free to do their own thing and demonstrate their uniqueness and individuality. They did this by looking like all the other hippies around. In fact, non-hippies were more individualistic in their clothing and behavior than were the hippies.

    If logic or rational thought had anything to do with fashions or crazes, then I would agree with you about the bustle or the hoop skirt.

    However . . .