Agency of Fashion: The Turkish Letters
As Lady Mary Wortly Montagu discusses her many travels, the mention of fashion and clothing seem to be present in nearly every description of a new people. While it can be said that as a female she knew more of the clothing, it is possible that this ability to describe and admire such adornment defines the agency of both the foreign subject and Lady Montagu herself. It is these interactions that will teach Lady Montague to "speak" within another culture and gain agency in it.
However, Lady Montagu encounters an entirely different scene when she visits a bath house in Turkey: "There were many amongst them, as exactly proportioned as ever any goddess was drawn by the pencil of Guido or Titian,-and most of their skins shining white, only adorned by their beautiful hair divided into many tresses..." (Adrianople, April 1 O.S. 1717) These women are a sharp contrast to the heavily made-up beauties of Vienna. Lady Montague admires their natural beauty more, as they exist as openly as possibly, but still does not undress to bathe with them. She does show her stays or corset, but refuses to join completely, showing that she is more open to acculturation within the foreign society.
Finally, Lady Montague becomes an agent for herself by acclimating to the ruling class of Turkey. She describes rose-coloured damask "drawers," a silk gauze smock, a waistcoat, robe, and fine headdress. As much as possible is covered with jewels, feathers, and flowers. Lady Montague notes: "I can assure you with great truth. that the court of England (though I believe it the fairest in Christendom) does not contain so many beauties as are under our protection here." No longer acting as passive bystander to the agency of fashion, Lady Montague becomes an active participant. She negotiates her agency to become the foreigner, empowering her to be noticed and respected within the culture.
The descriptions continue throughout the letters. Fashion is more than just clothing; Lady Montague uses her descriptions to comment on the society of the wearer, and the intended effect on foreigners. She seems to form venerated opinions of the Turkish people, though perhaps it is because it is the only culture in which she had agency through fashion. She retains her English cultural identity, but finds avenues to appreciate and communicate with the Turkish people.
Photo 3- http://didyouknow.org/graphics/people/wig-etch.jpg