In 1755 the Sumptuary laws or ‘Prag en Praal wette’ as they were known came to dictate what may or may not be worn by persons of varying social rank. Though these laws may not have been fiercely enforced, the effect of desire to be as those perceived as ‘great’ certainly was.
In the public exhibition of ‘Lady in our Reflective Dress’ a young woman is dressed in the fashion and code of her day - yet seems to casually walk out on the pavement in our present moment.
As we marvel at the elaborate gown, the enormous hoop dress and whalebone stays, the implied discomfort suffered for maximum extravagance – we suddenly catch ourselves.
In the shimmering bronze of her dress we see ourselves, reflected back to us. And though the clothing items worn in everyday pavement interactions are no longer intricate heirlooms destined for only the privileged few, still we see the strict codes to which we now adhere - as even the resisting of prevailing fashion has in itself has become a form of ‘fashionable’ and ‘accepted’.
These un-stated modern ‘laws’ still jostle and push us as we state our identity by our by what we wear, in as powerful a manner as it did in her day.
In this unexpected interaction, where the span of time is interrupted, we see our past - but we also see ourselves. Perhaps we startle at our own ‘obedience’, become aware of the ever-stringent socially imposed acceptable demands.
And hopefully we walk away a little wiser, with a smile.