Pazazz: The Impact and Resonance of White Clothing by Nina Edwards - review by Thomas Blaikie

Thomas Blaikie

Bed Linen & Briefs

Pazazz: The Impact and Resonance of White Clothing


Reaktion Books 224pp £20

The premise of this book is that there’s a book to be written about white clothes. After all, white is said to be worn more frequently than any other colour (except that it’s not a colour, of course). There’s The Woman in White and The Man in the White Suit. The last lines of the carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, fresh in the memory from Christmas, describe how ‘like stars his children crowned,/All in white shall wait around.’ Forty years ago, it was often said that if you wanted to discover the gay life when in an unknown place, you just had to follow any man in tight white trousers. Men and women in white coats are a different matter. Although nowadays doctors and nurses wear those awful ‘scrubs’, a person in a white coat is still a sure way for advertisers to signal that we are in the presence of an expert of the scientific kind. White suits on men make an impact that no other pale shade can. You might remember Don Johnson in Miami Vice, John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and the BBC war correspondent Martin Bell, who believed his white suit was a lucky charm. 

Nina Edwards points out that white pulls in every direction, at times modest and virginal, resonant of the convent, at others sumptuous and conspicuous, conveying the ‘pazazz’ of her title. There is a timeless quality to white that puts it beyond fashion. Often there is a ‘new black’, usually grey or khaki, but never has white been the new black. White is always just there, and not only on the outside.

In the ancient world, white cloth was almost impossible to come by and its whiteness had to be maintained with vile and elaborate processes. White attire came to denote status, though the Roman toga can hardly have been luxurious to wear, being coated in chalk, kaolin and sulphur

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RLF - March