Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fashion Victims

Dressed to Death

Fashion Victims is a collection of very interesting facts, folklore, and, sometimes dangerous misconceptions in the history of textiles and fashion.

Fashion Victims - The Dangers of Dress Past and Present
Alison Matthews David, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2015

We know the textile industry has a somewhat dubious history concerning the safety of its workers (see my blog series “Slavery in the Factory”) and many early textile techniques relied upon the use of potent chemicals and unsanitary practices.  But there is much, much more hidden in the closets throughout fashion history.  From time to time, I will share some of these, often gruesome, tales. 

Today I wish to consider one short piece of fashion history presented by the author.  I had never considered  the wearing of long skirts in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as a potential health concern ( beside the obvious tripping hazard when crossing the street) but Alison David discusses the scenario of fashionable women dragging their skirts through the filthy city streets.  We all have heard accounts and seen pictures of the unsanitary conditions prevalent in large cities at that time ( and, I might add, today in some sections of our modern cities).  The streets were clogged with horse drawn carriages, and anyone who has mucked a stable can attest to the obvious problem here.  Waste water was thrown from windows onto the street below and there was no shortage of animals, vermin and other distasteful elements present.  Obviously, the hems of the garments would inevitably become soiled and dusty and all those little microbes would then be carried into the family parlor.  The idea of the germ theory, was just a theory, and most people had little idea of the potentially dangerous consequences of their ordinary lifestyle.

We live in a very different time.  The other day I stopped to buy some bathroom cleaner at a big box store.  There were 4 long aisles, floor to ceiling, with products to clean, disinfect and sanitize the home.  Rows of detergents for the washing machine, bleaches and stain removers shared space with floor cleaners and carpet steamers.  Soaps for your body and dishes were next to several rows of hand sanitizers and wipes containing bleach, presumably to be used to destroy any virus, bacteria or other harmful pathogen.  Next came the insecticides and pest control products.  Good grief, I thought, we must be the most sterilized  civilization ever. 

But, how clean are the clothes we buy?  When you purchase items do you immediately go home and throw them into the washing machine?   After all, where have these items been?  From fiber through manufacture of the cloth, to the cutting and sewing of the garment, through packaging and shipping and finally arriving at the retail establishment there have been dozens and dozens of contacts with the environment and the textile workers.  Of course this can be said of anything we purchase, from TVs to corn soup.  But I might throw a bit of cautionary advice.  Be aware that clothing can be a conduit for those little “germies” we cannot see.  When we try on jeans to find the perfect fit, we surely know that perhaps others have been in that same dressing room, or that those jeans may have been returned after purchase.  Perhaps judicious use of  those products at “big box” is a fairly good idea.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Morocco Part 2

A trip to a Berber village

Berbers (Amazighs) are an ancient ethnic group indigenous to northern Africa. The Romans named them Berbers,”barbarians”. While they worshiped various dieties, some were Jewish Berbers and some Christians. By the 600's most were converts to Islam. While some were stereotyped as nomads, the majority were traditionally farmers and lived in villages. Today most Berbers live in Algeria and Morocco, although there are large immigrant communities in Europe and Canada.

There was no standard writing system for the many distinct languages. For instance, when I visited a carpet house the manager showed me modern Berber carpets which told the story of the maker, her family and her village, pictorially, in the designs she had woven into her carpet.
In 2011 King Mohammed VI, ordered Berber as an official language of Morocco and compulsory in all schools. Today it is spoken by 30-40 million Arabized Berbers.

On a trip to the Ourika Valley at the foot of the Atlas Mountains we visited a Berber family. Lest you think Morocco is only desert, the Atlas range is the highest in North Africa (known as “mountain of mountains”), snow falling regularly from September to May. In the High Atlas Mountains the language is a dialect of Berber Tashelhit (with some Tamazight).

While Arabs tend to leave the family home upon adulthood and marriage, Berbers typically live in compound houses with extended family.

In Morocco, hot, freshly brewed mint tea is served to every guest. Made of green tea and mint it is quite refreshing and it is considered very rude to not partake of a small glass (even if it is your 3rd or 4th of the morning). The offering ranges from a full brewing ritual with many silver pots and kettles to brewed tea served in small glasses on a silver tray.

The lady of the house wore, for us, a traditional Berber costume,matching green pants and caftan, richly embroidered, and small green hat. Although no English was spoken, she graciously showed us her home and terraces , which held striking views. 

No home, however off the beaten path should be without TV!!!  The present king had electricity brought to the valley.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


The Bazaar

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
       Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy – The Inferno

We just ended a perfectly wonderful vacation in Morocco. The weather was pleasantly warm and the people were fabulous hosts. If you have not traveled there, I would urge you to plan a trip soon. We stayed in riads (guest houses, usually with 4-10 rooms with baths,food service and most western mod-coms,even wifi. English is no problem,nor,of course is French or Arabic.

Riad in Marrakesh

The riads are located in the “old city” part of town, called the Medina. The Medina of each city is a miniature city in itself, walled from invaders or perhaps to keep the citizenry inside, the walls are reminiscent of castle walls. Within the Medina there are shops for everything necessary for daily life, as the inhabitants both live and work within these walls. 

The streets are not really streets, but a series of winding alleyways, often without names. They are often too narrow for cars and transportation is walking, motorbikes and carts (pulled by donkeys or people).

 Of course it it very easy to get lost, especially at night, with no street lights and everything looking the same. But there are two types of “lost” in the Medina. The second is the area of the bazaar, the market , the souks.

Every tourist guide book will have pages about the market sellers. Some areas are shops where the bargaining is civil (and somewhat limited, although one should always try for the best price). Other areas are stalls where the seller sits outside and tries to entice you to buy. The amount of merchandise is staggering. Hundreds of thousands of key chains, scarfs, tee shirts, jewelry. 

 Early in the day one can see throngs of tourists energetically pushing their way through large numbers of other tourists (just in case there would be some shortage of goods to buy).
They are sheep going to slaughter. They are accosted immediately by the sellers.
The words “just looking, not right now, I'll be back” or just plain “NO” are ignored. Having read their guide books, tourists know about the bargain process. Believe me, they know nothing of what is to come. By midday the energetic shoppers have slowed their pace, their eyes have a glazed look. The crowds, the noise, the heat are taking their toll. By early afternoon they are “lost”. They wander along loaded with large plastic bags filled with their treasures. It is not until they pack their bags for home that they realize exactly what has happened.

Do you avoid this experience? Never!!! It is part of a lifestyle different from our usual trip to the mall.

This is the stuff that makes the tales of our trips interesting. But remember this is the livelihood of the vendors. This is how they feed their families. No matter how strongly they push, be polite. Just walk away if you are not interested. Also be aware that using a credit card for small purchases decreases the money available to the vendor. In fact, many small merchants hesitate to accept plastic at all.

In the coming weeks I will share my other experiences, including the master of all sellers: The Carpet Seller.