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The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion spacer The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion
A Wolf in Pucci Clothing?
by Amy Plant
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I have always been a little suspicious of people who seem overtly fond of their pets, or 'animal companions' as some like to call them these days. Sure it's nice to have the creatures around, but I have always preferred my animals to be more on the feral side. It seems ironic that in a time when animal rights has reached a pet PC high (remember the replacement of the overdressed real PG tips apes to animated tea drinking animals) pet personification seems to be reaching a new extreme in the form of animal fashion. It's official, the percentage of Americans who said they like to dress their pets in clothing has increased to 24 per cent and it seems that more and more designer wear for Fluffy and Fido is creeping into Europe. So what is wrong with our pets living their lives as nature intends?
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People give many reasons and flimsy excuses for dressing the animals they own. One is practicality. Horse dressing - the most expensive of all animal attire - is really about the paraphernalia that goes with a sport or a hobby and this is reflected in the names given to garments of an equestrian nature -'Anti-rub Vests', 'Noseband Covers', 'General Purpose Numnahs'. They are kind of technical and seem to be designed to keep the performance of the horse to a maximum, especially as they live in chilly barns and outside in fields. A lot of these things are guilt-ridden inventions designed to alleviate discomfort inflicted by humans. Hoof boots, for example, are to prevent and cure injuries caused when the horse is forced to gallop for miles carrying a heavy human weight. Wild horses in the New Forest get along perfectly fine, wandering around outdoors, free and naked and just getting more hairy in winter.
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Beyond the purely practical there are more dapper variations of this apparel for spoiled horsey to wear on special occasions such as gymkhanas. Quality and style tends to have a very up-market, traditional, Burberry nature. Made from 100% Scottish wool, dress blankets keep horsey warm and comfortable, and come with leather buckles and in a range of classic designs - Fair Isle, tartan, two tone, cotton varieties for warmer weathers and the ponyequivalent of a Barbour jacket for the rainy seasons. You can even go as far as getting your horse's blanket embroidered with his or her name just in case he or she gets lost or something. Quite often, shops that provide posh pony clothes do so for humans as well, so horse/owner fashion co-ordination is obviously important. Matching clothes for dogs, such as Fair Isle cashmere sweaters and tartan coats are also available to complete the aristocratic, hunter-gatherer, family image.
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Most clothing for dogs is marketed on the best place to make embarrassing purchases discretely the internet. Waggin Wear and Pucci are just two of the numerous recent online enterprises in the designer dog trade. These weird fashions are described as 'sensible' and 'quirky'. I can't see anything sensible in forcing a dog's paws into a red plastic raincoat and its expressive ears into a complimentary sowester for a start, it probably takes ages to get a frisky, full-bladdered golden retriever, desperate for a walk, into the things and I thought dogs enjoyed nothing better than shaking out their water-logged fur all over their owners when they got home. And a small poodle in a 'Daisy Sunshine Dress', is not 'quirky', it's just perverse. It's not only glamorous widows in the south of France who dress their miniature Schnauzers in diamante collars and dickie bows - relatively sane young people seem to be into dog dressing these days too.
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Aimed at this new breed of dog-owner, the label, 'Puppia Tokyo' is a kind of Top Shop for dogs, providing 'trendy' gear including combat jacket complete with army style name tag and combat cap (obviously for those owners with a closet military fetish) or dog 'heat pants' medium and large (very scarily like babies' plastic pants). There's lots of sporty gear basketball vests and hooded tops (for owners who would love to be into hip hop but can't stand the music). Proof that the 'keeping pet warm' excuse, is just an excuse, these companies provide everything a dog really doesn't need for summer too - sun hats and dresses and even sunglasses. Dogs are intelligent enough to stay in the shade and avert their eyes from the sun. And dressing one in a sports vest is surely just going to increase panting and palpitations on a hot day.
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Most of the models in the pictures of these catalogues look positively pathetic. They look at the camera with deep humiliation and a 'get me out of here' look in their eyes. Some of them aren't even real dogs. The white 'dogekins' are obviously a testament to the difficulties people must endure attempting to encourage dogs to wear Funky 45 Top in Pink or Sunshine
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Cats on the other hand will probably get away without being dressed up all year round, apart from perhaps Christmas, when they might get a Santa hat as a present and can stop wearing it as soon as the photo has been taken. Perhaps this is because they are aloof and independent, easily offended. And there are few opportunities to show them off, as they don't need walks in the park. Whereas sadly our k-9 friends are rewarded for their loyalty and obeidience, with such belittling acts of 'humanity'. The more training and manipulating that can be done to a dog the more these people really do seem to want to curb as much of the wolf, instinctive nature as possible.
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The range of outfits for our smaller, furry companions seems totally limited. There's definitely a gap in the fashion market for guinea pigs, ferrets and hamsters. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before cadged creatures too, will be sporting specially designed go-faster hamster wheel booties and well-groomed guinea pigs will stroll up and down their runs in broiderie anglaise.
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Birds however have not been forgotten and the introduction of Flight Suits to the world of the budgerigar fancier seems something ofa revolution. The Moore family found a solution to ensure the happiness of their six pet birds, allowing them to fly around the house as long as they are wearing special lycra suits, which means, quite frankly, that they can poo in their pants. It's all rather depressing. People are actually buying these things and feeling good about keeping birds cooped up away from their natural environments and abilities. And if your bird is not already beautiful enough, the Moores can help you dress it as a witch, a biker or a hippy. There are some serious projection issues going on here.
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Human beings have for a long time enjoyed the act of personifying animals and most often it's been done in a fictitious way from Top Cat to Beatrix Potter. We like to see them in the image of ourselves. We like to see them talk, wear our clothes. Dressing animals in real life enhances a human's sense of hierarchy and power but on a lighter note, people sometimes also see animals as an extension of themselves. The pet itself may be a fashion accessory but it may also be a catalyst for the owner to live out his or her own fashion, lifestyle or identity dream. If you have no kids to dress in your ideal image (and designer children's wear is also on the increase) your hound or horse is the next best thing.
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Perhaps those who want to dress their pets have just never grown out of something. Kids love to dress dolls, their parents dress them so it's an act of adult imitation, and it's true that kids might play around with Blackie the dog or Snowy the cat - going through phases of squeezing them into T-shirts and pushing them around in buggies. That's why events like the Miss Crustacean annual beauty contest for crabs in New Jersey seem a bit more innocent. It's children who take part, dressing their pet crabs as Spiderman and surfer dudes and we expect children to behave like that.
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Animals can't tell us how they feel about wearing clothes, and I guess, like babies, they find it hard to take them off once they've got them on. But the Japanese have of course invented a collar that can translate barks and meows into English. I hope one of the Bowlingual's two hundred pre-programmed phrases is: 'Can you please get me out of this lacy dress. I look like a prat.'
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