Thursday, August 23, 2007

You Are What You Wear

If you are ever in the vicinity of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it is worth a look around the battlefield site even if you are not addicted to reading historical markers or interested in military history. Although I am addicted to reading historical markers, those bronze lines etched by the side of a road usually telling more about who put up the marker than about why it is there, my eyes glaze over at the first glance of diagrams of whose soldiers were where at any battle site. For me Gettysburg, Culloden, or Bull Run are more compelling for what is not said--for the reading between the lines or understanding the iconography of a different era.

If you wander among the memorial statues in Gettysburg, you may well be startled to come across a statue of a soldier clad in baggy trousers, a short jacket, a wide sash and topped off with a fez. That is a Zouave. The brief note at the bottom tells you that it is a monument to a particular New York Infantry unit. I don't recall now if it mentions the word 'Zouave,' which is worth knowing just to say out loud to tickle your teeth and to help the often forgotten last letter of the alphabet get a little more attention. According to this site,, Zouaves were at one time better known than the French Foreign Legion. To add to the confusion inherent in the American civil war, in the first year of the conflict both sides adopted the costume of the Zouaves.

The Zouave costume contrasts with that of the majority of the Union soldiers both by the exuberance of the baggy trousers and the fez but also because of the bright colours. Rather than industrial Navy blue trim trousers and jacket or the raggle taggle homespun of the Confederate soldiers, which might be a demure grey wool or a home dyed butternut beige-yellow, the Zouave wore red trousers, a bright blue short jacket with fancy trim and a wide sash of a contrasting colour.

This morning as I looked out the window at another grey day, I thought not of the baggy trousers and fez or even of the outrageous contrast of the Zouaves from their comrades, but of the colours. The damp, close greyness oozed out of from the North Sea and over the fields, hovering so close to the ground that only the hooves of the cattle showed clearly in the field, and stretched right up to the window where it clung to the glass in lackluster dots. I realized in a instant that I needed the full armamentarium colour-wise of a Zouave to counter this pervasive, persistent clinging drabness.

In no particular order I collected my Fantasy in Blue hand knit wool socks of many colours. A mere glance at my ankle peeping out from between pants leg and shoe top would provide a quick fix for grey sidewalks or wet damp breezes, especially coupled with my Pink Sneakers of Invincibility. And so it went: each piece chosen for its colour power. Finally, topped by a purple raincoat, I felt brave enough to challenge the day.

In my full spectrum armor, I lunched at a bistro, met with friends, and bought clothes for a pirate costume, which offers up another persona with which to counter the greyness.


At 6:34 PM, Blogger muddyboots said...

no, our north sea has seen blue skies, but boy, what a wind blowing off it!

At 6:50 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

So that's where the wind went! It was unusually calm, but it is back and huffing and puffing now.

At 10:53 PM, Anonymous ampigglywiggly said...

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple and a red hat [and do whatever I damn well please]." You've inspired me to wear things to work or other places I HAVE to go that cheer me up or tickle my fancy--even if it's just something nobody else can see.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Skittles said...

Ohhh.. me and hubby visited Gettysburg a few years ago. I can honestly say I have never in my life experienced anything quite like it. What a reverent and sobering place.

At 2:53 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

ah, color! I use it with abandon these days, and am increasingly casual about it. Here in northern CA is not nearly so uniformly grey as your home, but we do have a silvered layer of fog dimming and blurring the world much of the time.

Growing up in Michigan I remember spending long, cold, winter-drab days staring out of the window. Often with no snow to brighten and conceal the browns and grays, and with a lowering sky sitting heavily just above our heads, there were long months to wait before the bursting color of autumn and the bright, tender greens of spring.

Staring out of the window I looked within the grays and counted the shades of lavender and purple I could see...priding myself on the acuity of my attention, I didn't realize that the real drama was that my color-starved self was desperately searching for signs of life to cling to....


Post a Comment

<< Home