Thursday 14 January 2010

Horrible Hoodie

It really is time to hug a hoodie, for the uniform of disengaged urban youth, of chavs and oiks, has made it into mainstream fashion! Gareth Pugh, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs have all made the hooded sweatshirt part of their range. And it’s not just at the low end. John Lewis reports that the sale of cashmere hoodies is currently up 650%, year on year.

Jess Carter-Morley says in her style page in the Guardian that an attempt has been made to re-appropriate the brand, removing it’s more menacing image. But hoods, as she quite rightly continues, cannot be separated from drama and fear, an association that long predates the ASBO-Anti Social Behaviour Order-generation. There is the black-hooded witch, the wicked queen in disguise, in Disney’s Snow White. There is the red-hooded and murderous dwarf in the movie Don’t Look Now and there are the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.

There are other associations of the hood and menace that she does not mention. There is La Cagoule, or the Cowl, a violent right-wing fascist movement in France before the Second World War, dedicated to overthrowing the Third Republic and much given to political assassination and terrorism. And there are the sinister hooded monks of the Inquisition.

But surely the greatest hoodie in history has to be the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus, the eldest son of Septimius Severus. Marcus, who reigned from 211 to 217, when he was assassinated, is better known to history as Caracalla, derived from the Gallic hooded tunic that he liked to wear, a fashion that spread through the army and the court.

Caracalla has the reputation of being one the worst of the emperors, a man in the same league as Domitian and Commodus. Edward Gibbon says of him that he was ‘the common enemy of all mankind’, a man who spent his reign travelling from province to province so each could experience his ‘rapine and cruelty.’ He had Gaeta, his brother and co-emperor, murdered, ordering the Senate to proclaim a damnatio memoriae-a damnation of memory-proclaimed against him, wiping out all trace of his existence, even forbidding his mother to mourn the loss of her son. When the citizens of Alexandria produced a satire mocking Caracalla’s claim that he had Gaeta killed in self-defence he unleashed his army on the city. The city was sacked as if after a siege, during which time some 20,000 people were killed according to the historian Dio Cassius.

Even his official portraits marked a change from the past. Gone is the philosopher-emperor, the ideal image marked in the busts of the past, no matter if the reality was far different. A new realism is present with Caracalla, that of the close-cropped and gruff-looking soldier-emperor, a scowling, threatening presence, a man dangerous to cross. It was an image adopted by his successors who dropped all pretence of allegiance to the Senate and the old Roman ideals, drawing their power and authority instead from the legions, a major source of political and constitutional trouble for the remainder of the third century.

Today the hoodie-emperor is best remembered by the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, a monument to the original feral youth of history. Try giving him an ASBO!

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