UNIFORMS: Why We Are What We Wear

Paul Fussell, Author . Houghton Mifflin $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-618-06746-6

Right from the start of this examination of the personal and cultural meanings of the wearing of uniforms, celebrated author Fussell (Class; The Great War and Modern Memory) creates a light, humorous tone by disclosing his almost fetishistic interest in his subject: "All my life, I have had a thing about uniforms." Peppering his historical data with campy asides, the author goes on to fondly—and obsessively—analyze the roles that uniforms play in all walks of life: the military, the church, hospitals, restaurants, sports and even everyday civilian life. In each of these contexts, Fussell explores the symbolism of every aspect of uniforms—fabrics, buttons, badges, bows. Readers will learn, for instance, that Italian troops in WWII were considered "dandies and losers" by the Allies, mostly because they wore headgear accessorized with such vain flourishes as feathers and horsehair tails. Although his view of people's sartorial proclivities can be a bit jaundiced—Nazi Hermann Göring's love of furs makes him a "heterosexual Liberace," Ernest Hemingway is a "semi-weirdo" because of his lifelong soldier fantasies—Fussell's funny, touching insights spring from an unmistakable compassion for people's need to feel "the comfort and vanity of belonging." Whether its wearer is striving for power, virtue, courage or cleanliness, the purpose of a uniform, the author concludes, is to intimately and symbolically connect him or her to a specific community with a common purpose—thus repeating the experience of home. 8 pages of photos. (Nov. 12)

Forecast:Fussell, a winner of both a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award, is guaranteed review coverage, and the appeal of his subject should translate into sales.

Reviewed on: 10/14/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 204 pages - 978-0-618-38188-3
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