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15 - Clothing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Dúnlaith Bird
Affiliation:
English at the Université Paris 13.
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Summary

Clothing, derived from the Old English clāth or cloth, is a collection of garments used to cover the body. Beyond this practical function, it can be seen as a form of sartorial semantics, communicating cultural identity, class affiliation or gender (Bird 2012, 120). Clothing's crucial relation to travel is reflected in the sartorial choices of the traveller, the costume of the inhabitants of the host country and the representations of both within the travelogue, dressed up for the delectation of readers back home.

Clothing for travel should be practical, adapted to the climate, environment and culture of the host country. In The Art of Travel; Or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries (2000 [1872], 111), Francis Galton devotes an entire section to the subject, and insists that when determining clothing the traveller ‘looks more to serviceability than to anything else’. Galton pretends to impartiality, yet the guidebook is dedicated uniquely to the male European traveller and native clothing is ridiculed, which is consistent with the logic of a text that presents everything outside of Britain as ‘wild countries’ to be discovered and conquered (112).

Although Galton is a particularly egregious example, the choice of ‘serviceable’ clothing for the traveller is rarely anodyne, even when presented in practical terms. T. E. Lawrence (1973 [1926], 662) claims his use of Arab robes not only protects him from the intense desert heat, but allows him to infiltrate enemy territory as ‘an unconsidered Arab’. In temperatures of -30° in Spitzberg, the French nineteenth-century traveller Léonie d'Aunet (1995 [1854], 16) feels more than justified in adopting men's clothing, which she describes as ‘very convenient and perfectly disgraceful’. Discourses of race and gender are often interwoven in the traveller's choice of clothing.

Clothing can be seen as a form of performance art, signalling identity and cultural belonging, as Marjorie Garber (1992) notes. Garber particularly focuses on ‘the way in which clothing constructs (and deconstructs) gender and gender differences’ (3). Nineteenth-century French traveller Jane Dieulafoy (1887, 133) almost creates a diplomatic incident when the Persian Shah takes her disguise as a young, smooth-faced Frenchman for reality. Such cross-cultural cross-dressing can send dangerously mixed messages, with clothing becoming the catalyst for new forms of gender trouble.

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 43 - 44
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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