I have been ruffled for months now by the staggering cynicism

of our ruling politicians subverting the institutions of state and our language to their vile, petty, self-aggrandizing ends……. 



until, at length, my mind turned to the other meaning of ‘ruffled‘.


A turning from negative emotion to the experience of something of beauty which I learned at school. 


It began with the many punitive detentions (for what I considered specious reasons) in which I was required to learn poetry by heart and then declaim it faultlessly to my punishers sitting as judge, jury and executioners.


An exercise from which I learned that  man-made outrages (but not, unfortunately, the catastrophes of Fate),  can be transmuted into the experience of beauty:


with more poems,

with perfume (notably my favourite, Calèche); 

with the richness of worked fabrics:





American ribbonwork, 1930; 


Philadelphia Quaker lace (machine-made), before 1950


with colour; 


with the myriad, wondrous forms of the natural world.




The chrysalis of the Monarch butterfly

(I am unsure what the source of this image is.  It was sent to me by the Woman Who Posts Poems on her Door in Philadelphia)



and with museums; 




Detail of upholstery of a sofa: green plainwoven watered (moire) silk with pink satin weave stripes edged with a line of white. European between 1770 and 1810, 

 Winterthur, Delaware



repositories of uncounted numbers of the beautiful objects of Sapiens’ creative adaptation to the human condition.



A psychological trick – this conversion of the outrageous wickedness of human action

into the experience of beauty:






Ruffled roses at NY Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY




a conversion as mysterious to me as when, a child, my frustration with undeserved – as far as I was concerned – punishment was lifted away by the sound of Shakespeare coming out of my mouth and filling my mind with pleasure and consolation.



And so from the maddening nonsense of our politics to


the ruffling of ruffs….


until I get ruffled again by the next wicked political escalation.



A curious article of clothing was the original neck ruff:  the quality of the fabrics used are very fine and the techniques of its manufacture and embellishment are dazzling.

And always a sign of status because of the time involved in its manufacture, not to speak of its maintenance. 





The real ruff,  Philomachus Pugnax, a sandpiper whose stamping grounds extend from northern Eurasia to southern and western Europe, southern Asia, Africa and Australia.


Sapiens, in customary excess, now has the ruff running all over the body of the female of his species.

A curiosity still because it constrains movement.


But fabulous in its insouciance, its theatricality, its excessiveness and exuberance.




Marc Jacobs, 2020 ,Haute Couture, New York. 

Photo for the NY Times by Nina Westervelt, September 2019 

Let’s just say it: gorgeous!






Portrait of a Man and detail, 1632, oil on wood.  Rembrandt, 1609-1669, Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY



Junya Watanabe Dress with neck ruff

Junya Watanabe, Fall/Winter couture, 2000 

A ruff which seems to have arrived from outer space to land haphazardly like a harpoon.




Portrait of a Gentleman in a Fancy Ruff, oil on copper, 1627.  Thomas de Keyser, 1596/7 – 1667.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC



Giambattista Valli, Italian, Fall 2014 , Haute Couture, with one of his many signature ruffled skirts




Portrait of a Gentleman, and detail, c. 1615, oil on panel.  Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, Flemish.  Philadelphia Museum of Art





Jun Takahashi, Japanese, born 1969, couture for Undercover, Fashion Week, March 2017, Paris. 

Honeycomb ruff.






Herman Doomer and detail, oil on wood, 1640.  Rembrandt, 1606-1669, Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY



Jean Paul Gaultier Autumn 2016, Haute Couture.

  Ruff gone to the hips. 





Portrait of a Man with a Ruff, 1625, oil on canvas.  Frans Hals, 1582/3-1666, Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY




Jean Paul Gaultier, French, born 1952,  Autumn 2016 couture.

  Ruff gone to the head.




Mara Theresa, Infanta of Spain (1638-1683), oil on canvas, 1651-4.  Velazquez, 1599-1660, Spanish.  Metropolitan Museum, NY.

Half ruffs in the royal coiffure





A member of the Hispanic community of the greater Philadelphia area marking her 15th birthday  (fiesta de quince años ) with photographs in the conservatory of Longwood Gardens, April 2017






Portrait of a Woman, probably a member of the Van Beresteyn family, and detail, 1632, oil on canvas.  Rembrandt, 1606-1669, Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY



Gianbattista Valli, Italian, born 1966.   2016 Haute  Couture.




Portrait of a Woman said to be Madame Charles Simon Favart, 1727-1772; oil on canvas, 1757.  Francois Robert Drouais, 1727-1775, French.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY




Roberto Capucci, Italian, born 1930. Couture of unknown date




Dancers, 1906, ink on paper.  Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1880-1938.  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY




Tight Rope Walker, oil on canvas, 1885.  Jean-Louis Forain, 1852-1931, French. The Art Institute of Chicago on loan to the Metropolitan Museum, NY winter/spring 2016-17





Girl in a Red Ruff, 1884, oil on canvas.  Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1841-1919, French.  Philadelphia Museum of Art




Valentino, Italian born 1932;  Haute Couture 2019-2020, Paris






Portrait of a Man, Possibly an Architect or a Geographer, oil on copper, 1597. 

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640,  Flemish

An exquisite little painting, 18 inches tall.  Metropolitan Museum, NY



Gareth Pugh, British, born 1981; Spring 2009 couture, Paris





Portrait of the Countess of Tournon, 1812, oil on canvas.  Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, 1780-1867, French.  Philadelphia Museum of Art







Dress, spring/summer, 2011 by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.  Black silk organza with orange feathers painted with black and white pigment.

On display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015






Issey Miyake, 1993 (recreated 2016).  ‘Pleats Please’.  Machine sewn polyester plain weave, machine garment pleated in paper.

  Ruffs stretched to the full body and wired.





Marchese Brigida Spinola Doria, oil on canvas, 1606.  Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, Flemish.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC




Molly Goddard, British fashion designer, born 1988.  March 2017, Haute Couture, Paris




The Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1585, oil on canvas. Nicholas Hilliard, 1547-1619, English.  Hatfield House, England 

The Queen of ruffs






Lanvin-Castillo.  Lanvin (the company founded by Jeanne Lanvin, died 1946), French, active 1950-1962.  Antonio del Castillo, 1908-1984, Spanish.  Evening dress, 1956, of light purple, nylon tulle.  Metropolitan Museum of Art on display in the summer of 2016 

Ruff to the tail



Gianbatistta Valli, Italian born 1966.  Winter/Spring, 2016/2017 haute couture

Full-body ruffs





Charles I, 1600-1649, King of England, 1629, oil on canvas.  Daniel Mijtens, 1590-1647, Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum, NY 


Deruffed by the Roundheads and their allies in 1649 for bringing disorder and chaos to the realm.





3 thoughts on “I have been ruffled for months now by the staggering cynicism

  1. I was caught off guard and amazed to look closely at Sarah Burton’s dress.
    Remarkable-truly a collar of butterflies.
    I was transported to the remote,high mountaintops in Mexico where “100’s of millions” of monarch migrate to their winter “sanctuary”.
    They hibernate and congregate in forrest groves of oyamel fir trees so densely that the trunks
    and branches are no longer visible.

    Imagine the moments when this multitude of glory “takes to the sky”!
    Imagine the sound of their wingbeats!

    Sarah,I can’t imagine that Sarah Burton did not have this in mind even unconsciously.
    Coincidence surely carries its own magic.
    Such spectacular creations over the ages you have offered us here.
    One right after another-
    Readers,Did any of your hearts get beating faster?
    I’m imagining that some of you dreamed of putting on one of these pieces of art.
    For me, Imagining I was limited to one,the choice was not easy.
    Sarah,Thank you. for stretching me-

    1. I must say the skill level used in couture is astonishing. Even though it is all an elite hobby, I am glad that the art and craft persist. Or everything would be so dreary!


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