The Shining Cloth: Dress and Adornment that Glitters

a book by Victoria Z. Rivers


The Shining Cloth: Dress and Adornment that Glitters by Victoria Z. Rivers was published in Fall, 1999 in

London and New York by Thames and Hudson, Ltd. The softback edition was released in 2003. This book

is the first overview of the social contexts, meanings, and uses of light-reflecting materials used

throughout the world to embellish textiles, dress, and adornment from primarily non-western peoples.

With assistance from a Fulbright/Indo-American Subcommission on Education and Culture Fellowship,

two UC Davis Washington Center Faculty Research Fellowships, a UC Davis Faculty Seed Grant and

several Faculty Research Grants over a twelve year period, Professor Rivers searched for unusual and

fascinating images and researched the meanings and uses of these artifacts. The book contains 287

color images, substantive text, and bibliography.


The most basic question the book addresses is why humans devote so much of their time and

resources into the making or acquiring of shining surfaced textiles, which are hardly necessary like food

and shelter, for survival. Glimmering fabrics, dress, and adornment are prominent in the material culture of

people around the world and serve societies on many levels. The first important use of shining surfaces,

which appears very early in the history of visual culture, reflects ancient solar worship and the gods of the

upper world. Over time, substances like gold and mirrors transitioned from symbolizing the deified sun

and purifying firelight to banishing evil and protecting fertility. Through deified solar gods, the power of the

golden sun was transferred to gold-wearing god-kings and eventually became synonymous with wealth.

The evil eye, the malevolent gaze from an envious person, is believed to ruin fertility and bring about

misfortune, but glimmering materials distract the dangerous gaze from the wearer, so that the person is

symbolically shielded. Light reflecting materials play prominent roles in cultural exchange, economic

development, and geographical exploration through trade. Shimmering surfaces convey cultural identity

and social distinctions such as hierarchy, social accomplishments, and leadership. Some shiny

substances are often used to express the male/female metaphor through the contrast of paired

opposites like hard shell and bead, or male materials with soft textile, or female substances. Shining

embellished textiles and dress are frequently used to symbolize or communicate with the spirit world,

encapsulate soul force, and to reflect blessings of one's ancestors. Equally importantly, the artifacts

represented in The Shining Cloth reflect the human spirit, sense of beauty, high levels of artistry and skill

obtained, and peoples' abilities to constantly innovate and delight with natural substances.

 

Chapters in The Shining Cloth:
Introduction: the cultural contexts of shining materials
Dyes and Surface Treatments: polished cloth, shiny saps and plant products
Gold and Gilded Metals: dimensional work, printed, woven
Silver and Other Metals: applied, woven, the power of sound from tinkling metal
Sequins: coins and platelets, the evil eye, tethered, dazzling light
Minerals: natural glitter- pyrite, mica, hematite
Mirrors: language and identity, mirroring the sun/water
Beads: trade, prestige, protection
Shells: male/female metaphor, diverse forms and meanings, white buttons as shell substitutes
Seeds and Fibers: grasses, seeds, orchid straw
Feathers: diverse birds, iridescence, spirit world and wealth
Beetle Elytra: novelty, brilliance/non-fading colors, folk and court uses
Change and the making of the new: tradition and innovation, recycling

 

 

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