Good Hair, Bad Hair – Part 2: Hair and Shame

Hair is both body and adornment. It’s natural presence makes it part of us, but in styling we treat it as equivalent to fashion. Hair is styled so that it has the same expressive potential as clothes (and even unstyled hair makes a statement). Some translations of the Bible describe hair as a “natural garment”[4]. Ruth Barcan observes that hair exists in a “borderline category between flesh and clothing”, and argues that it is this difficulty of classification that makes us feel uneasy about hairy bodies[5]. Barcan’s research shows that many women do not consider themselves fully naked until they have removed all of their unwanted hair.

Matthias Grunewald Resurrection 1515

Matthias Grunewald’s ‘The Resurrection’ (1515) shows that hair-free female bodies were the ideal long before Brazilian waxing.

The German word for pubic hair – schamhaar – translates into English as ‘shame-hair’[6], implying either that this hair is used to hide shameful body parts, or that the hair itself is shameful. This notion that pubic hair is considered shameful has been fostered by the laws of numerous countries, including Australia and Japan. Until 1982, Australian naturist magazines were obliged to airbrush pubic hair from their photographs. Until the 1990s, Japan’s obscenity laws banned the depiction of pubic hair with the unexpected side-effect of making the women in adult manga comics look like pre-pubescent girls [7].

When dealing with hair, there are contradictory rules for different parts of the body. Shaved underarms and long luxurious hair on the head conform to contemporary ideals of beauty and civility, but hairy underarms and a shaved head imply rebellious tendencies. Koppelman proposes that a shaved female head may be perceived as rebellious or threatening because female baldness is usually a sign of illness, or, historically, punishment[8]. From the thirteenth to sixteenth century, head shaving was one of many punishments for adultery[9]. At the end of WW2, French women had their heads shaved in punishment for conspiring with Nazis. More recently, a Japanese pop star who had spent a night with her boyfriend instead of rehearsing with the band, appeared on YouTube having shaved her head as an act of contrition. In her home country, criminals routinely have their heads shaved upon entering prison[10].

A French woman has her head shaved in punishment for collaborating with Germans, 1944. Image courtesy: Remembering History

A French woman has her head shaved in punishment for collaborating with Germans, 1944. Image courtesy: Remembering History

Advertisements highlight the constant battle that we seem to have with our hair. We seem afraid of an inability to control it. Bad hair days, or unwanted stubble, are a beauty nightmare. Whether it is styled or removed, there is an expectation that all hair is subject to some sort of control. Uncontrolled hair  – grown when it should be shaved, tangled when it should be tamed – is the biggest hair taboo.

[4] See Barcan, Ruth, Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy, (Oxford: Berg, 2004),74.
[5] Ibid. 30.
[6] Ibid. 26.
[7] Schodt, Frederik L., Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, (Stone Bridge Press, 1996), 54-55.
[8] Koppelman, as cited in Doan, 9.
[9] Virgili, Fabrice, Shorn Women: Gender and Punishment in Liberation France, (Oxford: Berg, 2002), 182.
[10] human Rights Watch, ‘Prison Conditions in Japan’, 12.

Images:
Nude: http://laurashefler.net/arthistory2010/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/01-Cranach-the-elder-nymph.jpg
French conspirator: http://historicalside.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/a-french-woman-has-her-head-shaved-as.html#.UYYRro73C_E

Context is Everything: The meaning of lace

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It is the case with many artefacts that context creates meaning. A urinal in a bathroom is a utilitarian object, but displayed in a gallery and re-titled it ‘the fountain’, it becomes art. Lace is similarly affected by context. Even colour, which can have such fixed meanings in fashion, can be read differently in lace garments. Traditional colour meanings are over-ruled by context. White lace can be virginal in a bridal veil, but trashy in a peep-hole teddy. Lace has surprisingly little inherent meaning, as it varies so much depending on when, where and how it is used. In an Ann Summers lace body, lace is risqué; in Valentino’s S/S 2013 Couture collection, it is demure.

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Two properties have given lace its special status. Firstly, its complexity makes it difficult to manufacture. Historically, it was made by hand, using a laborious process that required time and skill. This made such an extravagance that for many centuries it was a privilege of the aristocracy. In the Baroque era, lace was so prized that it was worn in equivalent contexts to gold and jewels. Cuffs and collars of lace were as much signifiers of wealth as bracelets and necklaces. It is this history that Valentino or Ellie Saab have in mind when they send a model down the catwalk draped head-to-toe in fine lace and tulle.

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Lace’s second distinct feature is its ability to conceal and reveal simultaneously.  Lace is an ‘openwork’ fabric, meaning that it features open spaces. Through these spaces are revealed whatever is underneath: sometimes another layer of fabric; sometimes bare flesh. Lace is able to cover the entire body, while simultaneously revealing everything. This intermediate state between clothedness and nakedness is, argues Mario Perniola, more erotic than nudity. Any garment that suggests the “transit” from dressed to undressed is the clothing equivalent to a striptease [1]. It anticipates nudity, offering an illicit peek at the bounty hidden beneath.

By concealing and revealing in equal parts, lace is much like a glass half-full or half-empty. It down to the user to select his or her interpretation. The designer or the wearer can use lace for modest or immodest purposes. We may consider lace to be erotic in a bra and thong, but an identical lace can appear modest in a funeral veil. Here, the distinction is made between concealing and revealing the body. Lace lingerie covers parts of the body that are normally hidden: its purpose is to reveal. By contrast, a lace veil covers a part of the body that is normally on show: its purpose is to conceal.

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[1] Perniola, Mario (1989) ‘Between Clothing and Nudity’, as cited in Barcan, Ruth (2009) Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy, http://www.scribd.com/doc/13378257/Nudity-a-Cultural-Anatomy-Ruth-Barcan (visited 03/02/2011)

Images:
Black dress, Valentino S/S 2013: http://www.fashionologie.com/Valentino-Spring-2013-Runway-25260486?page=0%2C0%2C60#60
White dress, Ellie Saab, S/S 2013: http://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/spring-summer-2013/couture/elie-saab
Portrait of Anne of Austria (c. 1625): http://passionatescribbles.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/going-baroque.html
Portrait of Margaret Layton by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (c.1620):http://thepragmaticcostumer.wordpress.com/tag/baroque/
Funeral veil: http://magdaleena.tumblr.com/post/418150243/daphne-guinness-alexander-mcqueens-funeral and http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/black%20veil?before=67
Maison Michel lace headpieces: http://misspennydreadful.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/maison-michel-headpieces-for-next.html
Anne Summers lace teddy: http://www.littlewoods.com/ann-summers-marydoll-plunge-lace-body—black/1111614818.prd
Lise Charmel black lace lingerie ensemble: http://blog.miodestino.com/designer-lingerie/lingerie-review-lise-charmel-soir-de-venise-collection/