By Denise Barkhurst
Sopris Sun Contributor

With the CCAH fashion show on the
horizon, those of us at The Sopris Sun
thought Carbondale’s sense of everyday
fashion was worth a closer look.

We are already keenly aware of the
cultural mix that fills our nest of a
town, but do the social, professional,
political, and age spectrums somehow
lose their delineations with how we
present ourselves? Perhaps we can attribute the looming Mount Sopris, which
has come to represent us, with lending
a sense of personal power to the very
air we breathe. Maybe the confluence
of rivers translates into a confluence of
styles, or the clarity of blue sky infuses
us with clarity of physical articulation.

We are paramount masters of self-
expression (of sorts), so much so, that there are more appreciative than appalling glances when any of us walks Main Street, attends a lecture, or enjoys a local meal. Can we venture to say that we have a virtual “leg up” on Aspen? While tourists are working to outdo each other with who can sport the highest spiky heels on icy or uneven brick malls, and who has the fattest fur or the most slick looking ski
jacket, our individualism shines. “Tatted-up” arms repre-
sent as much of a story as Bill Fales’ hat or Cami Britt’s
dancing dress. We are who we are, and we enjoy how we
manifest ourselves. 

World of fashion

The world of fashion has become a consumerist in-
dustry that we, as a modern society, associate with the
rich and famous. But fashion has marked social standing
from its earliest roots. Greeks and Romans wove wools
for their tunics, but the wealthier among them had clothes
made of silk or cotton. A purple sash indicated someone’s
status as well, as the dye was rare and involved an intense
process derived from Mediterranean shellfish. Politicians,
rulers, actors and courtesans were held in high social re-
gard, and purple marked their elitism. As class became
delineated by dress, laws fell into place that reinforced
image. In the seventh century, and as part of the first set
of written laws, only Greek prostitutes were allowed to
wear gold jewelry and embroidered robes.

Fast forward to the Middle Ages and the existence
of “sumptuary laws,” which limited private expenditure
on food and clothing; these laws came into play to keep
the lower classes in their places by dictating the design
and quality of clothing different ranks of citizens were
allowed to wear. These regulations accumulated and be-
came common by the 13th century, making clothing the
definitive mark of social class.

By 1363, English law dictated that women’s clothing
must be reflective of their husbands’ or fathers’ standing.

For example, the wife or daughter of a knight
was not allowed to wear either sable or silk, and
the wife or daughter of a laborer was not al-
lowed to have silver adorning her girdle. And
remember the purple and gold that was once re-
served for Greek prostitutes? England ruled that
only women in the royal family were allowed to
wear gold cloth and purple silk. Fashion has its

This politicizing of fashion came to light
when, in 1732, England banned the wearing of
American-made hats, indicating that the colo-
nists were of lesser standing in world society
— a move that supposedly infuriated Thomas
Jefferson. The ultimate mark, of course, was be-
stowed on slaves, who, by law, were not allowed
to wear hand-me-downs from their masters.

As the American Revolution forced a boycott
on clothing imports from England, colonists borrowed
styles from Native American culture, including the use
of leathers, and began to cultivate a textile industry that
combined the use of cotton from the south and sewing
skills from northern women who had learned to sew gar-
ments for their families. When American independence
was won, importing clothes from Europe returned with
France as the center of fashion trends.

Current freedom

We currently have the comfort of fashion freedom,
limited only by what’s in our closets that morning, what
mood we are in, or how much imagination we tap into.
Our individualism is displayed, and we have the luxury of

expressing our values, our interests, and ourselves by what
we wear. Fashion is comprised of multiple forms of body
adornment, communicating in a visual language. We are
“reading” each other, even in the simplest of contexts: silk
pants from Thailand, dirty cowboy boots and Girl Scout
uniforms all send a signal, and happily, we in Carbondale
love to see and appreciate those individual signals.

There is something to be said for a sturdy pair of Car-
harts from the Roaring Fork Valley Co-op as preferred
by men who make a living swinging a hammer as well
as those pounding a computer keyboard. There is also
something to be said for college campus administrators
who feel more comfortable in Himalayan wool hats
than a suit and tie. Outdoor gear has evolved into its own meld of form and function, giving
color and design to fabrics meant to wick
away hard-earned sweat. The global tex-
tiles, dyes and patterns once reserved for
queens now grace Carbondale’s women
and their daughters. Clothes are function,
comfort and identity.

While fascinating pictorials in Nation-
al Geographic of adorned tribes tell our
inner selves that the definition of beauty
varies with culture, the need to belong to
a “tribe” does not. Adhering to trends
makes a person part of the tribe. Tattoos,
once the mark of WWII service men and
Marlon Brando-esque bad boys, have
transcended into their own art form. Na-
tive Americans used feathered headdress-
es as marks of bravery and wisdom; lately, small feathers are common hair
accessories. Can we compare the braided
hair garlands of 1500’s Venetian women
to the cascading dreadlocks we see now?
Maybe what’s so great about Carbon-
dale’s fashion sense is that being part of
the tribe means complete individualism
and acceptance of that individualism.

The author David Sedaris gave a re-
cent interview on the The Daily Show and
he noted that while on his 56-city book
tour, there were definite fashion trends in
his audiences. San Franciscans were the
most formally dressed, but in contrast, he
found himself asking one woman at his
book signing, “Is that your best Count
Chocula T-shirt?” Perhaps we can entice
Mr. Sedaris to Carbondale the next time
he speaks at The Wheeler Opera House
so he can appreciate our fellow Bondal-
ians as the “fashionistas” they truly are.
Maybe our tribe will break the mold.