Why a Creative Present is Better than an Authentic Past

Some of her choices would cause heart failure even on a Riviera beach. She believed that a woman’s costume was a failure unless it made men want to tear it off.
“Glory Road” by Robert A. Heinlein

A while ago I’ve decided to follow @AHappyFlower on Twitter, who sends around — among others — interesting photos from the 20s, 30s and 40s. The focus is mostly on clothes, but it’s an interesting mixture. My reactions usually range from “Ewwweeeee!” to “Oh, holla.“, with a strong negative skew (meaning more instances on the “Oh, holla“, side 😉 ).

Recently, another Twitter user (jimmyolsenblues) commented on one of her tweets:

wrong time
Note: The image preview is a bit … unfortunate, as it might lead to the wrong impression. The actual photo — original tweet by @AHappyFlower here — contains a … more complete picture.

However, I find this view of being born in the wrong time period a bit strange — at least, if we are only talking about clothes and the like. After all, one of the nice things today is that we have

  1. access to the designs of clothes from many different time periods (photos, drawings, descriptions),
  2. access to high-quality materials, and
  3. access to highly skilled craftspeople.

For example, a former colleague of mine regularly went to a seamstress to get custom-made clothes. And no, she wasn’t rich. In fact, she concluded that in the long run, she would pay about the same amount of money — given that she invested in high quality pieces that could easily be combined. What got her started though was actually an allergy to a frequently used material in clothes. But by getting high quality custom clothes, she now also gets clothes that really fit her body — and her style.

And the last issue applies here as well. In contrast to earlier time periods, where you had only limited access to designs, materials, and craftspeople, the options today are much, much better. Especially given that you can use some eclectic anachronism in your clothes: You can combine styles from different time periods and/or use modern materials for “old” designs. You don’t even have to go as far as Steampunk or creative anachronism. A subtle yet creative (= new and useful) combination of old and new is easily possible today. Something that fits everything you want from the style of your favorite time period, yet also fits today’s street and office environments, or “social gatherings”.

It’s a more feasible solution than wishing of having lived in the past (hey, you would then probably be dead by now) — given that time travel “has not yet been has been invented”. And it also avoids the downsides of living in another (earlier) time period. For example, the worse medical support (think dentistry), or the social problems and injustices. After all, in almost all earlier time periods, everyone, no matter whether male or female, was at the mercy of the ruling class/caste with little to no protection of the law. Not to mention that imagination and reality might be a bit off — Pleasantville (playing in part in 1958) is a beautiful movie in this regard. Highly, highly recommended if you see the past through rose-colored glasses.

And yup, I also never understood why people think that if they were born in the past they would end up as the local Cleopatra/Caesar, and not as the girl/boy who cleans her latrines. The chances are much, much higher to end up very low on the social pyramid, given that it had a very broad base in earlier times. A ‘practical application’ of the Veil of Ignorance (Rawls) that would not have worked in earlier times when things were ‘predetermined’ by God(s).

And there is the issue that if you were actually born in that time, you would not have become the person who has this feeling about the (now current) time period. You would most likely have the same feelings about either an earlier period, or the future. Unless you really think it’s a question of fit to the way you “really” are, independent of the time period you grow up in, it’s just the way you are — now. And that’s not a curse, it’s a blessing. It allows you to take a different view on the way things are and could (have) be(en). It allows you to make your own decisions, to follow your own interests, your own ideas of how things should be or could be, even if it’s (only) in personal style.

In this sense, happy researching, combining, creating, and living in your own style. 🙂