Fashion humour and satire is a primary area of my research interests, and I am always on the lookout for media that lampoons dress in all forms and from all periods. I have come across poems and songs that criticize the whims of fashion and its followers, but until recently had never read a satirical fashion limerick.
Last Christmas, my mother picked up an antiquarian book at a flea market in New York as a present for my husband. The small hardbound black book, entitled The Limerick: A Facet of Our Culture, turned out to be a fairly rare privately printed edition published by a presumably Brtitish author in Mexico City in 1944. The book offered those who subscribed to its publication an historical survey of the folk genre of the limerick with plentiful, and often near pornographic examples. To today’s virtually shockless population, most of these come off as merely cheeky or saucy, but there are still a few which are downright rude!
What does all this have to do with dress history? The book has a collection of limericks indexed by topic and my urge to check ‘F ‘for Fashion was well-rewarded with this charming verse:
There was a young lady of fashion
Who had oodles and oodles of passion.
She smiled and said,
As she leapt into bed,
“Here’s one thing that Nelson can’t ration.”
The brief commentary following this limerick surmises that it is, “an obviously recent verse and one that may soon be forgotten.”
The reference to rationing, and the tale of a fashionable woman’s dismay at the practice tells much about life during WW2 in Britain, where clothing and textiles were rationed between 1941 and 1949.
Britons were issued rations books full of coupons that were traded in for limited amounts of goods. Wartime rationing of textiles led to the famous “Make Do and Mend” campaign which encouraged women to be frugal and clever to clothe themselves and their families.
My fascination with fashion satires as capsules of historical fact is supported by the words humour theorist Simon Critchley who says that ‘Jokes are like small anthropological essays.’ [ On Humour, 2002, Routledge] Indeed my discovery of this fashion limerick is both inspiring and supporting my research – and makes me chuckle every time I read it!