It is a commonly held view that fashion and makeup are trivial concerns: Superficial, unnecessary, and concealing by trickery what is held to be ‘real’ beneath. Fashion is surface, fad, transient. Yet time and again one uncovers moments when clothes and makeup become the things that render us human. Stubbornly, humankind resists the Puritan instinct. In mid-17th-century England, 10 long years of Republicanism, black clothes with no adornment, and the closure of those pleasure pits, the theatres, were forcibly rejected with a return to the monarchy and the adoption of long curly wigs and a great deal of lace and bosom.
The writer is supposed to be above fashion. The writer’s eye gazes ever inward toward deep consciousness. The writer cares nothing for how he or she dresses and of course their characters walk about naked, or all they wear is actually described. This myth does not survive the lightest scrutiny. Photographs of Saul Bellow show him in a series of loud checked jackets and snazzy headgear. The history of literature shows that the high-minded denunciation of dress and personal appearance appears to be a late 20th-century phenomenon. Chaucer carefully describes the attire of each of his pilgrims setting out for Canterbury, Shakespeare’s Malvolio wears cross-gartered yellow stockings, George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke, on the opening page of Middlemarch, is described as wearing plain dress because she knows it sets off her fine figure.