I spent last Saturday in the land of my forefathers (North Georgia) celebrating the birth of my father as well the births of my niece and my daughter. Attempting to choose a gift for my father is an impossible task….either I can’t afford it, or he already has it.
I was pleased when Dear Father handed my husband a pair of computer speakers and had a perplexed look on his face. Dear Husband set to work hooking the speakers up, downloaded Real Player, and suddenly Dear Father’s music suddenly filled the room. We enjoyed tunes from the Big Band era while we ate a wonderful lunch prepared by my step-mother. I told my father since I had come empty-handed for his birthday the installation of his speakers was his present.
I remember reading somewhere that we often reach a point in our maturity where we become comfortable in our style of dress, and we no long experiment with fashion and musical styles. When I was young girl I still remember many of the ladies at church and at school who dressed in the style of the 40s and 50s instead of wearing Jackie Kennedy inspired outfits. One friend of my mother’s could have been Beaver Cleaver’s mother complete with the single strand of pearls.
Many of us become anachronisms meaning that our outward appearance and our various style preferences can be dated to an earlier time. In the 1830s, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote about Major Thomas Melville, a real-life anachronism (he was also the grandfather of Herman Melville). Major Melville was one of the men dressed as an Indians at the Boston Tea Party and fought in the American Revolution. The Last Leaf, a poem by Holmes, describes Melville late in his life when he has reached anachronism status. The lines… But the old three-cornered hat, and the breeches, and all that, are so queer…identify the Major’s comfort zone as he continued to wear clothing from his heyday into his old age. I used the poem to teach about the anachronism concept and to revisit the Boston Tea Party because students always want to know who actually took part.
Go back a few hundred years and you can see drastic dividing lines between generations and what they preferred to wear and listen to. I believe it is harder today to date someone to a particular decade because current styles are so blended and the dividing line between various styles have become blurred. Nowadays if I wear a retro set of Nina platforms (how did I ever do that?) and a flaired skirt paired with a short vest I’m not only an anachronism to my own high school days in the late seventies I’m also very hip because my fifteen year old daughter has some of the same styles in her closet that we have bought brand new. If I go back to my early seventies days and choose to wear a short mini or a pair of low riding hip huggers (God forbid) I could also be accused of trying to look fifteen instead of simply being an anachronism to the era of my youth because Dear Daughter also has those same articles of clothing manufactured just a few months ago.
Since recent styles have become much harder to identify I’m not sure how my teaching colleagues will assist students in identifying the early decades of the twenty-first century, but it’s still fairly easy for me as I attempt to do the same with the first couple hundred years of American History.
I do know, however, that if you can get students to recognize certain forms of dress you have given them an important puzzle piece in analyzing historical sources. Political cartoons, a possible time period for a painting, or even a description of a particular individual can all become part of the questions with one of those pesky standardized tests, and being familiar with particular clothing styles is just one more skill that can become handy for students.
Knowing a little something about the history of fashion can also help to boost comprehension when students are reading a literature piece. Clothing can help to identify the time period which is just as important to the setting as location can be. This can lead to understanding certain details that only make sense when the time period and social mores are tumbled into the analysis.
Major Melville wasn’t the only anachronim walking about in the early 1800s. At one point my students discovered President James Monroe was a throw back to the Revolutionary era as well. One young man brought this to my attention when he came to me during independent reading time to show me an inappropriate word in a biography of James Monroe.
I identify the word and all the interesting details in my latest posting over at American Presidents.
Run along now….I’m sure you’re dying to know what word I had to address with students. I’ll be here when you get back.