Strangest Book of the Week #12

The Unfashionable Human Body

by Bernard Rudofsky, 1971

“In our society, the naked body is believed to be incomplete-a body minus clothes. It is the packaged body that we take for the man and the woman.” – from the dust jacket flap.

This looks like a fascinating book, and not just for people with an interest in fashion! but also from a historical, social viewpoint, to see which trends transcend culture, which go in cycles, the fashions that are completely impractical and the ones that are made with particular activities in mind (say, swimming). Unfortunately with these strange books, I rarely have time to read them, but this book looks very interesting and not something I’ve seen before. People throughout history and throughout the world have always been strange, and attitudes toward nudity and the need to clothe and decorate ourselves tend to emphasize our particular varieties of strangeness. Scroll down for some snap-shots from the book, and click on them for full-size.

The first chapter, “The Birth of Clothes”, begins with the quote: “Man which glories in his raiment is like a robber that glories in the brand of iron wherewith he is branded, since it was Adam’s sin that rendered garments necessary.”  – St Bernard. From this starting point, this extreme, to the extreme of bondage outfits in later chapters. And “sweaters-for-two” from the 1960s. Corsets. Chinese women’s bound feet. Ecclesiastical vestments. The whole nine yards!

From wikipedia:

Bernard Rudofsky (April 19 1905 – March 12, 1988) was a Moravian-born American writer, architect, collector, teacher, designer, and social historian.

Rudofsky earned a doctorate in architecture in Austria before working in Germany, Italy, and a dozen other countries. He temporarily settled in Brazil in the 1930s and opened an architectural practice there, building several notable residences in São Paulo. An entry in a 1941 design competition brought an invitation from MOMA to tour the US; in the wake of Pearl Harbor, as an Austrian native, he was given the option of staying in the US. He remained based in New York City until his death, although he continued to travel (sometimes for years at a stretch).

In 1944 Rudofsky and his wife Berta were invited to Black Mountain College for two weeks. Bernard gave two lectures on the sad state of clothing design, calling contemporary dress “anachronistic, irrational, impractical and harmful” and literally unsuitable. One of his lectures was called “How Can People Expect to Have Good Architecture When They Wear Such Clothes?”.


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