In the course of
having a history professor for a boyfriend reading ancient Roman history for fun, I recently came across some passages that put the lie to that old myth that serious, important men do not care about women’s fashion. (Take that, Anna Wintour bashers.) However, they are also rather slut-shamey. So maybe those two things cancel each other out, feminism-wise.
The passages in question are by Pliny the Elder and Seneca the Younger, and they address some of the concerns they had about the lascivious fabrics flowing into the region via newly opened trade routes with China. The first comes courtesy of Pliny the Elder:
The Seres [Chinese], are famous for the woolen substance obtained from their forests; after a soaking in water they comb off the white down of the leaves… So manifold is the labour employed, and so distant is the region of the globe drawn upon, to enable the Roman maiden to flaunt transparent clothing in public.
He’s lucky he didn’t live long enough to see what people wore to the Grammys! Perhaps having more energy to get exercised about these matters due to his younger name, Seneca the Younger was even angrier about the eastern textiles that were corrupting the Roman maidens’ virtue left and right:
“I can see clothes of silk, if materials that do not hide the body, nor even one’s decency, can be called clothes … Wretched flocks of maids labour so that the adulteress may be visible through her thin dress, so that her husband has no more acquaintance than any outsider or foreigner with his wife’s body.”
You call that a dress, young lady? SAYS WHO? (Calvin Klein!) Kids today.
So what is the takeaway from all of this?
1.) Even the libertines of ancient Rome were inordinately concerned with what women decided to wear.
2.) However, they may have been exaggerating their moral outrage due to the somewhat more pressing concern of gold flowing out of Rome due to excessive silk buying.
3.) Ancient Rome could probably have used a Slut Walk.