I’ve been reading about the way Russia treated the Jews in the nineteenth century an it’s not any different than the way the USA treated the Native Americans. In some ways it’s not as bad as the way the USA treated the Indians. That’s what we called them, even when I was growing up in the 1970s. Them. Someone different. I wasn’t one of us but I didn’t know it then. I was one of them but from the Russian story. A Jew. A Russian Jew from the Pale of Settlement. A Lithuanian peasant. Also forced to be Russified in the 19th century the way the Indians were forces to be Americanized or Europeanized (“civilized”) at the same time. Forced to wear non traditional clothing. Forced to speak the language of the empire. Forced, by violence as well as brainwashing of the children, to assimilate. But isn’t the traditional teaching of children also a form of brainwashing? Is there any way to raise a child that does not mold them into one desired form or another?
We all think out group is unique. But we are all the same.
I love Pauline Wengeroff‘s description, in Memoirs of a Grandmother, of “garb” (the traditional clothing) and “fashion” (the trendy clothing) and how both force us to conform to the group. Both are a form of tyranny.
I can’t cut and paste text from my eBook so I’ve captured the pertinent passage as a graphic. Click to see it full size.
But what choice do we have? Is it even possible for all of the people in a society to dress uniquely? Even if we all made our own clothes, wouldn’t the materials and the patterns and the techniques of our group create conformity? It’s not as if we could all make everything completely from scratch without learning techniques from our family, friends, or neighbors.
What is nonconformity anyway? It’s something I wanted to conform to ever since I was first exposed to the words of Henry David Thoreau in school. What was I? Eleven or twelve years old? Already voluntarily a rebel and unconsciously a conformist. Isn’t that the only way we can be? Even rebels run in packs. Even solitary monks and hermits resemble each other in their solitude.
What do our clothes say about us? What I miss about the traditional clothing of the past is not its uniformity but its handmade quality. E pluribus unum. Unity in diversity. Each piece was unique because it was hand made and the quality was formidable. The depth of texture. The minute details. Clothing was not disposable. Perhaps that’s what draws me most. The idea that clothing was durable and long lasting and fashion wouldn’t force one to discard perfectly functional clothing.