Malta Diary: Yesteryear’s “protective clothing” – from prying male eyes! Now back to square one for different reasons?
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The explosion for the need of anti-viral protective clothing has probably achieved in solidifying the concept of unisex clothing to remove gender differences as well as to remove visual appreciation or disapproval of whether one is beautiful or ugly, sexually-bodily attractive or not, curvaceous or plain and a whole list of contrary adjectives.
How long will wearing it persist and is this the end of the road for fashion houses? In addition, is this a novel concept that will change our whole appearance and our outlook?
However, protective clothing is by no means a modern phenomenon – for different reasons. Today’s apparel is to ward off viral infection possibilities. Yesterday’s protective clothing was to ward off lustful thoughts with – mainly females – covering almost ever millimetre of their bodies to ward off the lustful visual aspect from the prying eyes of rampant males.
As recently as 50 years ago in Malta and Gozo, one could still occasionally see the odd woman or two wearing the “Ghonella” sometimes also called the “Faldetta”. They were mainly elderly spinsters and members of an ultra-religious Christian sect known as “Il-Muzew”.
Back further in time however, the “Ghonella” had deeper aspirations going back to the time of the Knights (15/16/17th centuries) when it was coyly and decorously worn by noble and rich women as a sign of modesty at a time when female dress code required that every part of the body should be covered and only the face could be seen and this too was normally covered by a large hand-held fan.
In time the “Ghonella” was relegated to the common streets where it was converted to being totally black and resembled a mix of the Islamic “Burka” and the “Niqab” and was mainly worn by virgins and spinsters.
However, there was still the Victorian-style dress code for other women specifying that all bodily parts should be covered and that included men who wore a horrific full-length woollen bathing costume at the seaside that covered back, chest, trunk and everything else.
By the 1960s and 70s times however began to change, largely influenced by external factors but mostly Italian television viewed in Malta and the often outrageous exhibitionism of Italian singers and stars. The change was gradual at first but gathering pace.
Consequently, the bikini was banned in the islands and a fleet of censors were kept busy 24/7 inking over each and every copy of newspapers like “The Daily Mirror”, “The News of the World” and later “The Sun” to cover pictures of bikini girlies. I distinctly remember one occasion in the late 60s when I wrote an irate letter to the Maltese PM because the censors had even inked over pictures of classic nude paintings in a (London) “Sunday Times” colour supplement.
At the back of all this staid and stunted “morality” were the Church authorities holding a great influence over the Government. This was finally broken in the early 70s with a change of party in Government, an altogether far more radical and left wing organisation and slowly but surely the facade began to crumble.
The odd mini-skirt had already made its appearance in the mid-60s, but from the mid-70s onwards all traces of an orthodox dress code completely vanished. This too coincided with the development of the Paceville disco area and an increased proliferation of drinking holes – so different from two decades previously when a woman entering a public bar was classed as being “common” or a “prostitute”, and those labels applied to women smoking in public.
Hemlines and necklines plunged. Skimpy tank tops and even skimpier skirts and shorts ruled the day. The weather too has a lot to do with the conditioning that rules clothing. The hotter the weather the more necklines and hemlines plunge.
Now, suddenly, it’s all back to square one – and there is no Church morality behind it. People permitted to go out are strongly advised to wear face masks or visors, to keep their bodies covered and to even refrain from wearing sandals and flip flops.
I firmly believe this is not a “temporary” situation that will soon pass. I also firmly believe this horrid virus will remain with us. Our lives have changed overnight and I cannot see our “former days” restored or life to continue as it was.
“We have been swept into the sea”.
Everything has crumbled to pieces and the situation is beyond control.