James Agee on Clothing (1936)

“Some pretty silly attitudes could be and have been struck over the subject of clothes: such as reproaching society for the fact that tenant farmers do not plow in swallowtails. The fact remains, however, that clothes are powerfully significant psychologically and socially: In every garment you see there is a badge and division of class as distinct as any uniform could effect and far more subtly exact. A human being is shaped by the clothes he wears quite as much as by the amount of money he is accustomed to feel the presence, or lack thereof, in his pocket. And as the world of today is the future of a marriageable girl, for instance, can be profoundly influenced by what clothes she can or cannot wear. Another fact to bear in mind is that ‘ugly’ or ‘humble’ clothes, shaped to their context, can like the people who wear them have an extraordinary dignity and beauty: and that this fact, in turn, is heavily qualified by considerations such as those mentioned above.”

Excerpted from Cotton Tenants.