We all have that one piece of clothing in our closet that we have had forever. Whether it is a bath robe, a pair of ‘lucky’ jeans, or a pair of old sweats, it probably holds some sort of significance to you. Can you think of yours?
Mine is a particularly pathetic-looking sweatshirt I have had since 2007, when I was a junior in high school. On the front, faded letters read “Skyline High School Fastpitch”. Each sleeve has a gaping hole where my thumbs have a tendency of sticking out, and the drawstrings have both had the plastic end protectors chewed off (You know you’ve done that before). It may be nothing much to look at, but when I wear it, I feel comfortable. It’s as if I slipped on a little bit of home, and no matter what anyone thinks about its tattered appearance, it feels like the one thing that makes me look best.
In ‘Regrets for my Old Dressing Robe, or a warning to those who have more taste than fortune’, Denis Diderot writes about a life consumed by society’s pressures to want after only the ‘finest’ things. He speaks of his old beloved dressing robe, in all its moth-eaten and well-worn glory, and laments about his purchase of a new one, which he describes as “stiff, and starchy, makes me look stodgy”. Haven’t we all experienced what he’s talking about? I know that if I were to lose my high school sweatshirt, I would probably be devastated. Sure, I could buy a new one, but the replacement probably wouldn’t be a beacon of who I am, like its predecessor. It wouldn’t be me.
Now, let’s take a step back from this idea of an article of clothing. After all, Diderot isn’t really referring to an old robe. Instead, his metaphor represents the idea of societal pressures pushing us away from who we are, with the expectation of one uniform sense of taste or class. Such an idea is a common theme in every society, as there are always norms which people are encouraged to follow, both in their behavior and beliefs. In Victorian society, such pressure was particularly strong, as the era in general emphasized things being as they should, and not how everyone would be comfortable.
So what is to be taken away from Diderot’s essay? It’s not simply about a very loved piece of clothing. It is about knowing to hang on to what makes you you, despite at-times heavy pressures to value your life based on material and ostentatious things.