Lance K. Donaldson-Evans
University of Pennsylvania
When reading Rabelais and indeed many other texts of the French Renaissance, twentieth-century readers often tend to pass over the numerous and sometimes detailed references to contemporary clothing styles as something unimportant or merely decorative, a kind of Rabelaisian "effet de réel". This is true even of specialists of Renaissance literature, although there have been some notable exceptions, such as Florence Weinberg's perceptive "Platonic and Pauline ideals in comic dress: 'Comment on vestit Gargantua'" and Daniel Russell's enlightening "Panurge and his new clothes". Both of these scholars have interesting and important things to say about clothes, and what I am proposing here is a supplement to and not a substitute for their readings. I shall approach the subject from a different perspective in order to examine costume in literary texts through the looking glass of fashion history, and to determine, as far as possible, its function in specific texts of Rabelais. An awareness of the history of clothes, of their connotations not just as symbols but as those material (pun intended) objects meant to be worn, can enable us to understand more fully the role played by fashion in the context both of Renaissance literary texts and Renaissance culture in general. Clothes have of course always played a role in society as social, professional, sexual or ethnic markers. However, it was not until about the fourteenth century in Western Europe that our modern notion of "fashion" was born -- and by "fashion" I mean the regular and often dramatic changes that occur in clothing styles over a relatively short period of time and that have no necessary practical explanation. Up until this time, clothing styles tended to reflect only seasonal or occupational considerations, although among the nobility utilitarian concerns were usually superseded by the desire to indicate wealth and social status. The fourteenth century was the era when clothing started to change radically in shape, when the draped "unisex" garment, typical of most of the Middle Ages, gave way to more gender specific clothes which began to undergo regular and often substantial transformations. The masculine costume that came into fashion, perhaps inspired by new, form-fitting suits of armor, emphasized men's legs, arms and chest. Women's costume, undergoing a less radical change, maintained some of the characteristics of pre-fourteenth-century dress. However, it too began to emphasize certain parts of the female anatomy, drawing attention alternatively to the bust, the belly, and the thighs. James Laver, attributing these transformations to "changing erogenous zones," considers one of the fundamental driving forces of fashion to be the need to maintain sexual interest by highlighting different parts of the body in successive sartorial changes. Whether these transformations are wholly attributable to sexual interest or not, they certainly show a heightened interest in the human body and its various possible manifestations. Moreover, as we shall see, the erotic dimension of costume clearly inspired Rabelais's treatment of clothing in the Gargantua.
Certain late medieval texts, such as the Roman de la Rose lend credence to Laver's theory. The Old Woman's speech, which is, among other things, a cynical manual of seduction, contains the following advice:
It is significant that once fashion began, it instituted a continual refashioning of the human body which was very much in conformity with the Zeitgeist and which often provided striking parallels with contemporary architecture. When the draped masculine costume so typical of the Middle Ages was abandoned by all except those in professions such as Law, Education or the Church, the masculine body was elongated by the tights and doublet which were the basis of the new male look. Women's dresses of the same period were fitted more closely to the body and the female head was surmounted by a tall hat, often pointed, which appeared to copy in miniature the thin verticality of Gothic architecture and the slim, column-like shape of the sculptures adorning the exteriors of Gothic churches.
The Renaissance brought a much more solid and substantial look, in which breadth and girth were stressed. Contemporary portraits of Francis 1 and Henry VIII suggest sturdy corporeality, a tendency that can also be observed in the more squat, massive silhouettes of Renaissance edifices, in which the Gothic pointed arch, stressing verticality, was replaced by the rounded arch, bringing the building, at least visually, closer to the earth. An understanding of this relationship between sartorial and architectural styles is, as we shall see, essential to an appreciation of Rabelais's description of Gargantua's costume.
Fashion, as we have defined it, was at first confined to courtly society. This situation was to change as the "trickle-down" effects of aristocratic fashion reached the upper echelons of the merchant and banker classes. As their wealth and power increased, the richest and most prominent members of these classes began to emulate and even compete with the aristocracy, a situation which resulted in a blurring of the social distinctions which clothes were supposed to conserve. This was one of the principal reasons for the promulgation of sumptuary laws, which attempted, usually in vain, to limit the wearing of certain clothes and of certain fabrics to the upper classes, to establish limits on the amount of money that could be spent on one's wardrobe (the aristocracy spent lavish sums for their garments) and to ensure that clothing would continue to be a reliable social signifier. The lower classes were completely outside what Barthes has called "the fashion system," although even here clothing usually served to indicate, not only social rank, but also occupation.
The importance of clothes for sixteenth-century society in Europe is shown by the fact that diplomatic reports of the era regularly include sections devoted to what members of the foreign courts were wearing. National and personal pride dictated that European aristocrats be dressed according to a certain international standard set, in turn, according to their political importance and military might, by Italy, Spain, France and the German states. The aristocracy was also kept abreast of changes in fashion across Europe by the exchange of fashion dolls dressed in the latest costumes favored in Florence, Madrid, or Paris. The Renaissance passion for clothing is also demonstrated by the appearance of the first costume books which documented various styles of dress, including regional and trade costume. Clothing was central to the construction of the individual and of the nation and this helps to explain why so much attention is given to the young Gargantua, heir apparent to his father's kingdom, in Chapter 8 of Rabelais's text. Clothing had by the sixteenth century become a manifestation of personal, political and social power, a phenomenon illustrated in the famous meeting between Henry VIII of England and Francis I at the Champ d'or, where the monarchs competed not only in the field in jousting matches, but also in the extravagance and magnificence of their clothes.
No author of the early Renaissance in France evinces a greater interest in clothes than François Rabelais, and nowhere in his work is this more in evidence than in his Gargantua, particularly in Chapter 8, "Comment on vestit Gargantua" and later in Chapter 56 "Comment estoient vestus les religieux et religieuses de Thélème". Chapter 8 was in fact inspired by a chapter found in the Grandes et inestimables chroniques du grant et enorme geant Gargantua, the anonymous popular prose narrative which appeared in 1532 and which, according to the prologue of Rabelais's Pantagruel, was the inspiration for that work. Chapter 11 of the Inestimables is titled "Comment Gargantua fut habillé de la livrée du Roy Artus" and describes the quantity and color of the material used for each of the principal articles to be worn by the giant: chemise (and it is important to realize that a chemise is not the modern shirt but a universal undergarment worn next to the skin by both men and women), doublet, hose ("chausses"), jacket ("saye"), cloak, shoes, hat and feather, as well a ruby set in a gold signet ring. The fact that an anonymous "best-seller" of the period devotes a whole chapter to Gargantua's new costume is a reliable indicator of the importance sixteenth-century society attributed to clothing as a social signifier. Gargantua's clothes, which represent the latest in masculine fashion, literally make the giant and point to the central role he will play at King Arthur's court. Magnificent clothes are equated not only with status, but also with power and magnificent deeds to come.
Rabelais's version introduces a number of significant changes into the episode. Whereas in the Inestimables, Gargantua receives his new clothes from King Arthur (a substantial gift since clothes, particularly fine ones, were a very expensive commodity) at a much later stage in the narrative, Rabelais situates the episode during the infancy of Gargantua. On the one hand, the clothing in which the young Gargantua is dressed can be seen as symbolic of his importance in the text and of the way in which clothes assist in constructing the individual and his or her role in society. On the other hand, in a typical Rabelaisian paradox, the fact that Gargantua is still little more than a baby when he receives his magnificent costume adds an ironic dimension to the chapter and provides a humorous commentary on the vestimentary splendor of the French aristocracy, while at the same time marking Gargantua as the work's protagonist, whose power, political, narratological and sexual, is at this stage only virtual and not actual. On yet another level, Rabelais's description of the young Gargantua's clothes does correspond, more or less, to contemporary custom in the sense that while very young children wore a simple chemise, at around age five they were dressed in miniature versions of adult costume (there being no distinct children's fashions at the time). The fact that the (very) young Gargantua is given his clothes before age three is both a part of Rabelais's comic strategy and a mark of the hero's precociousness.
As was the case in the Inestimables, the description of Gargantua's clothing begins logically, with his chemise, the first article of clothing to be donned. This most basic of garments was originally designed not to be seen at all, but by the fifteenth century parts of it were already beginning to appear, protruding from the sleeves and necks of men's doublets and women's dresses. In the décolleté fashions popular with both men and women at the time, it was often visible across the chest. It could also be seen through the then fashionable slashings, slits cut into garments and even shoes so that the layer of clothing beneath or the lining of the slashed article of clothing was partially revealed. As the chemise became more visible, its sleeves and neck were often trimmed with lace or gathered, and it evolved from an undershirt to something akin to the modern man's shirt or woman's blouse. To emphasize the fact that Gargantua's childhood is situated in the early years of the Renaissance, the narrator points out that the extremities of the chemise were not in fact gathered as in later fashion, which he describes in an apparently gratuitously lewd manner as an invention of seamstresses, who, having broken the point of their needles, were forced to work with the blunt end (then called the cul). In fact, the sexual double entendre is quite appropriate to the garment in question, since the chemise, as the closest garment to the skin at this period, shared many of the associations (good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant) of nakedness. For example, to be seen en chemise was considered as shameful as to be seen naked and the chemise was often worn by criminals who were about to be executed. The chemise also had erotic connotations during the Renaissance, since, after a hiatus of several centuries when people slept naked, it was back in fashion in the bedroom as a sleeping garment as well as an undergarment. In fact its increasing visibility in day clothing provides yet another example of the relationship Laver sees between changing fashion and erotic interest. It is not by chance that the seamstresses who sewed Gargantua's chemise and who were also by definition lingères, were quite likely to experience sexual longings through a kind of fetishistic transfer mechanism triggered by the fact that they worked with underwear. Perhaps this is why the lingère was assumed to be immoral, a prejudice that would prevail until the end of the nineteenth century. A case of guilt by metonymy!
Gargantua's doublet (pourpoint) is made of 813 ells of white satin (as opposed to the 700 ells of half crimson, half yellow satin in the Inestimables). In both cases however, satin was a material which only the wealthy classes of the period could afford and which was therefore associated with the upper echelons of society. Rabelais goes on to specify that the laces which attach the doublet to the hose were made of one thousand five hundred and nine and a half dog skins, a typically Rabelaisian nonsense number whose purpose is to stress Gargantua's gigantic size. Rabelais adds an equally ridiculous comment on what he presents as a radical change in fashion:
The giant's breeches are of the slashed variety, an ancestor perhaps to our ripped jeans , which reveal the body as being in dialog with the clothes covering it. In the description of Gargantua's costume, the slashing is presented not merely as a fashionable detail, but as functional serving to ventilate the body ("afin de n'echauffer les reins"). As Rabelais himself remarks, the slashing also makes the giant's legs look like columns, the type of Greek and Roman columns that were popular in Renaissance architecture, so that the young giant has the massive solidity of some great edifice.
The next article of Gargantua's costume (which is not mentioned in the Inestimables) is the codpiece (braguette), that strange feature of sixteenth century masculine attire which drew attention to the male member, exaggerated its size and gave it the appearance of being in a state of continual erection. Although the codpiece was originally "a pouch of fabric cut to accommodate the genitals and tied shut" at the front of men's hose, it completely changed its form and symbolic function in aristocratic fashion, perhaps influenced, as the "new" shape of masculine clothing had been in the fourteenth century, by the new form-fitting plate suits of armor. Many, but not all of these suits of armor, incorporated some form of protection for the male genitals. In this way, the patriarchal order of the period linked military and sexual power. The exaggerated and sexually suggestive decorative codpieces of early sixteenth century fashion are the logical extension of this tendency, whence the young Gargantua's enormous braguette. However, as an indication that aristocratic fashion provided a model for emulation by members of other social classes, Panurge, never presented as an aristocrat in Rabelais's work, also wears a prominent and provocative codpiece in the Pantagruel, renouncing it, to Pantagruel's surprise, in the Tiers Livre as an excuse not to have to go war.
Ann Hollander has remarked that, while we may tend to think of clothes as covering and concealing the body, they in fact often accentuate its importance and in many fashions make the body more potentially desirable than does nakedness, since they allow the imagination, that engine par excellence of eroticism, to create an idealized image of the body beneath the clothes. The braguette clearly focusses attention on the phallus in both its literal and symbolic sense thereby affirming the claims of patriarchy. Gargantua's codpiece is also valorized by its rich and costly decoration (gold, diamonds and emeralds) which stress both its "vertu érective" and its resemblance to a cornucopia, an association brilliantly analyzed by Terence Cave in The Cornucopian Text. And the narrator assures his reader that appearances here are not deceiving, and that the phallus is worthy of its container even though we are dealing here with a young child!
All the qualities, actual and potential, of the young giant - virility, political and military power - are symbolized by his gigantic braguette which covers what was known in the sixteenth century as "la petite jambe". Like the cloth covering his real legs, the codpiece is slashed so that the blue beneath, associated by Alcofrybas in the next chapter with "choses celestes," is visible. It is certainly the most obvious, indeed the central part of Gargantua's costume, and should the reader have any doubts as to its sexual symbolism, they are quickly dispelled when the young Gargantua begins to "exercise" his braguette several chapters later:
In the brief description of his shoes, only two details need elaboration. Firstly, they are made of a rich man's fabric, velvet, (as opposed to the leather of the shoes in the Inestimables). Thus they are obviously meant more for show than for practicality. They are also slashed like so many other articles of his wardrobe. In fact, as we have already seen, slashings abound in his costume, suggesting both the excessive body of the young giant beneath these courtly accouterments and its immense vitality which threatens to burst out of the boundaries established by its covering.
His jacket is a saie, an outer garment which could either be sleeveless like a cloak or have regular sleeves like a coat. Also cut of velvet, it matches his shoes, has the same surfeit of ornamentation as the braguette and is likewise semantically charged. It is embroidered with silver drinking cups and gold rings inlaid with pearls as a sign that Gargantua is a bon buveur. However, the ornamentation has a sexual connotation as well, since the golden rings (verges d'or) also evoke the phallus, thanks to the double meaning of the verge. As for the pearls, the Greeks saw them as an emblem for love and marriage, although in Christian symbolism they have other meanings as well. However the fact that the young giant's sexual and reproductive powers are still potential rather than actual is underlined by the weapons he carries, since his sword and dagger are made respectively of wood and boiled leather, mere toy swords and not yet the real thing.
Throughout this description, we find a constant interplay between the potential, suggested by certain accessories or articles of clothing, and the actual. If the mock weapons evoke the young giant's phallus and its related military potential, his purse, the next article of clothing singled out by the narrator, is equally evocative. Manufactured from the testicle of an elephant, the purse suggests the giant's own corporeal dimensions and his gigantic potential for procreation, since bourse in French has the double meaning of both "purse" and "scrotum". He who has the purse/scrotum of an elephant should be capable of (re)producing great things. Here again, we see the intimate relationship between sexuality and clothing.
Gargantua's long outer coat (robe) is decorated with gold, and the narrator's comment on the effect created by this garment recalls one of the principal aims of clothing, since the coat is described as something "qui réjouissait merveilleusement les yeux des spectateurs" (p.139). Clothing is not simply for the wearer; its purpose is also to create a link with its spectator. It is a means of fascination in the etymological sense of that much abused term, and of seduction in the broadest possible meaning. Fashionable and costly clothing can certainly be a sign of power, even of oppressive power as Kaja Silverman reminds us, but it is also something designed to provoke pleasure and desire in both the wearer and the spectator and this is one of the sources of its power. Except for its color, the cap of contrasting white velvet is very like the hats represented in contemporary portraits. Indeed, Gargantua's hat as it is described here bears a striking resemblance to the hat Francis I wears in the famous half-figure portrait of him attributed to François Clouet. Like the King and his prototype in the Inestimables, Gargantua wears a feather in his cap, but this perfectly banal ornament is given an exotic cast, since it is no everyday feather, but that of a Hircanian pelican, Hircania being a part of central Asia noted for its savage tigers. The implicit association of tiger and pelican suggests brute force tempered by a spirit of sacrifice, since the pelican was reputed to feed its young with its own flesh and was thus one of the traditional symbols for Christ. Gargantua's hat resembles Francis I's not only in shape but also because it too has an emblem affixed to it. The emblem, a combination of picture and motto is, in Gargantua's case, a syncretic mixture of neo-platonism and Christianity, representing Plato's androgyne accompanied by a quotation in Greek from Corinthians 1: 13: agapê ou zêtei ta heautês which can be translated as "Love is unselfish." However, as many scholars have pointed out, this syncretism also has strong burlesque and erotic overtones, since the androgyne in this case suggests a couple in the act of copulation. Here Rabelais introduces a note of comic tension between two texts: the Bible which speaks of agape, and Plato's Symposium with its description of the androgyne. Rabelais's playful version of the platonic concept implicitly joins agape and eros, and it is in this conjunction that the burlesque quality of the image resides. Gargantua's emblem has also been decoded as a symbol of Christian marriage, and as commentators of this episode have pointed out, the description Rabelais gives of the androgyne is different from Plato's since the latter portrays the androgyne as having one head with two faces turned away from each other, while Rabelais's version has two heads, each turned towards the other.
Many other elements of Gargantua's attire allude to the young giant's sexual potential. From the massive gold chain around his neck hang several green jaspers which rest on his diaphragm. The color green typically symbolizes youthfulness, but the stone itself was used in antiquity for its reputed ability to diminish the pains of childbirth. The fact that it lies on the petit ventre of Gargantua suggests his own future fertility.
The material of which his gloves are made is pure fantasy: goblin skin and werewolf pelts, evoking the fantastic and the supernatural and suggesting the giant's extraordinary powers. Even the numerous rings evoke his potency, besides being an accurate representation of the rich ornamentation worn by nobility. For example, on the index finger of his left hand, Gargantua wears a large carbuncle, a type of ruby often associated with romantic love, and which here is compared in size to an ostrich egg, yet another symbol of fertility. Among the other jewels he wears on his fingers, one finds another ruby ("un balais"), a diamond, symbol of purity but also of spousal unity and in this case perhaps of spousal union, since a diamond is known for its hardness and this one is described as being "en pointe". The emerald he wears, related in color and properties to the jasper, was also believed to have aphrodisiacal effects on its wearer. However the hyperbolic and fantasy elements of the description are stressed by the mention that Alcofrybas, our unreliable narrator, is one of the jewelers. The name of the other, Hans Carvel, brings to mind the crude story used by Rabelais in the Tiers Livre where Hans Carvel's ring is in fact the woman's vagina and wearing it on one's finger is the only foolproof way of ensuring a wife's chastity.
Gargantua's clothes are certainly a social marker, in spite of the comic exaggeration used in their description, since only members of the upper echelons of his society could be dressed with the magnificence and conspicuous display of wealth evidenced in the costume of the young giant. In fact, Gargantua's costume approaches the elegance and opulence of that of the French monarchy and reminds us of the young giant's royal ascendancy. Theoretically at least, sumptuary laws would have prevented even the richest bourgeois from indulging in such excesses. At the same time, his clothes suggest his sexuality, his virility and fertility, which will be demonstrated in the production of his gigantic son Pantagruel. Ironically, perhaps, in view of all the markers of fertility associated with him, Gargantua only produces a single son in the text, since his wife Badebec dies in childbirth.
However, just as there was comic tension in the suggestively ambiguous representation of the androgyne and its accompanying motto on the emblem affixed to Gargantua's hat, so there are many ludic details throughout the description of Gargantua's costume. Among the most striking of these is Grandgousier's choice of colors for his son's clothes: blue and white. In Chapter 9, Alcofrybas launches into a long disquisition in which he criticizes the traditional symbolism attached to colors in coats of arms, as expounded in what was then the standard reference work on the subject, the Blason des couleurs. According to this treatise, "white" signifies faith and "blue" constancy. Although these meanings were widely accepted at the time, Alcofrybas wants to substitute his own, supposedly more logical, symbolism of colors so that "white" would, in his system, signify joy, and "blue" heavenly things. Alcofrybas at first attacks uneducated heralds, who, in designing coats of arms, establish specious links between picture and motto based on pure word play. He then goes on to interpret the colors Grandgousier has chosen for his son's clothes, not according to traditional color symbolism but using a symbolism founded on what he tries to present as empirical evidence. However, his system lacks coherence: he contends that "white" signifies joy since its contrary signifies sadness but then abandons antithesis for analogy when he asserts that "blue" symbolizes heavenly things since "blue" is the color of the sky. Having attacked the dogmatism evinced in the Blason des couleurs, Alcofrybas expounds his own case in an equally authoritarian way and makes use of specious arguments which carry no more weight than those he criticizes. Once again, the credibility of Alcofrybas as narrator and scholar is severely undermined.
In yet another of Rabelais's ironic counterpoints, the chapter following the catalogue of Gargantua's new clothes and those devoted to Alcofrybas's treatise on color symbolism features a description of Gargantua's childhood from three to five years of age. Here he is shown to behave, not like the young Renaissance prince he appeared to be in Chapter 8, but like any other child of his age, playing in the mud, picking his nose, urinating on his shoes. This description of the actual is pointed, for the reader is meant to discover that the only way for Gargantua to realize the potential suggested by his magnificent clothes is through serious, humanistic education. Only when he is led out (e-ducere) of his animalistic state in subsequent chapters by his tutor Ponocrates will the giant become worthy of his costume and will reality correspond to appearance.
After the chapter devoted to the young Gargantua's sartorial finery, the most extensive treatment of clothing in the text is to be found towards the end of the work in Chapter 56 where the clothes worn by the "religious" of the abbey Thélème are detailed. Much critical attention has been devoted to this somewhat puzzling episode as a whole, although little has been written about the Thelemite's costume. I would like to suggest that the way in which their clothes are described and the differences between this description and that of Gargantua's costume provide important clues as to how to read the entire Thélème episode, which has given rise to many and varied interpretations. Among other readings, the abbey and its inhabitants have been seen as an ironic humanist utopia, a serious evangelical community or an idealized portrait of Francis I's court. The ambiguity of this section is underlined by the fact that the usually garrulous Frère Jean, the Abbot and supposed founder of Thélème, is silent almost from the outset and only makes his voice heard again once the episode is over. The words he utters just before falling silent interrupt the detailed description of the abbey's charter which opens the episode. After the rules describing the type of men and women to be admitted have been elaborated, Frère Jean interrupts, significantly with a veiled reference to seamstresses and chemises:
The next time the monk speaks is at the very end of the Thélème episode when he provides an alternate and playful reading of the Enigme en prophétie which closes the book. His interpretation reminds us of the double reading that can be given both to the enigma and indeed to the whole Thélème episode.
Once the abbey's charter has been codified by Gargantua, there follows a detailed physical description of the buildings and grounds which precedes the physical portrayal of the inhabitants themselves, based almost exclusively on the representation of their clothes. One aspect of the abbey's layout is of particular interest to us. Hexagonal in shape, the edifice is constructed around a central courtyard (la basse cour), which features, significantly, a representation of the human body in the form of a magnificent alabaster fountain featuring the Three Graces in a state of complete undress. Each of the Graces holds a cornucopia, and projects from her breasts, mouth, ears and eyes and other bodily orifices ("aultres ouvertures du corps") jets of water. At first sight these naked feminine forms seem to have little or nothing to do with the representation of costume. However, as is often the case with Rabelais, "l'habit ne fait pas le moine".
Firstly, the fact that each figure carries a cornucopia immediately links the group with Gargantua and his codpiece, thus conferring upon them the same erotic and even procreative connotations attributed to him in Chapter 8, particularly as Rabelais has taken pains to point out the aggressive ejaculation of liquid from all their bodily orifices.
Secondly, the cornucopia is not a part of the traditional iconography of the Three Graces. Fifteenth century neo-platonists saw these female figures as the incarnation of the three stages of Love: the contemplation of physical beauty, the birth of desire and the final satisfaction. Although this neo-platonic interpretation refers above all to spiritual love, any mention of desire and satisfaction also suggests physical love, so that there is often an additional erotic dimension attributed to the Three Graces during the Renaissance. Perhaps this is why the fountain is situated in the basse cour, which can be translated as "inner courtyard", but which also signifies the part of castle or manor where animals were kept, thus confirming the association of the Three Graces with earthly passion. In the same way in which the gigantic body of Gargantua appeared to be attempting to escape the bounds of his clothes through the numerous slashings in his costume, so the dynamic statues of the Graces are expanding their bodily space by spouting forth water from every possible opening. Rabelais's humor serves to add an erotic dimension to the fountain's statuary, the naked bodies of which are clad in a thin, transparent veil of spray, whose elemental simplicity is the antithesis of the ornate garments worn by the Thelemites.
Chapter 56, Comment estoient vestuz les religieux et religieuses de Thélème, features a reasonably faithful representation of the typical aristocratic wardrobe of the early Renaissance, so much so that it is rather like a contemporary fashion parade and has often been treated as such by historians of French costume. However, one of the paradoxes of fashion is that, although it prescribes certain types of garments, fabrics and cuts and excludes others, it is also intended to be, within these arbitrary limits, an expression of individuality rather than conformity. What is particularly striking in the description of the Thelemites' mode of dress is that, in spite of its colorful opulence, all wear the same garments at the same time, so that their clothes take on the aspect not of freedom ("Fay ce que vouldras") but of a uniform. Some critics have, quite legitimately, seen the surrender of individual will to the collective will of the community as a positive, even evangelical element in the episode and it is indeed true that the word "Thélème" is derived from a Greek word used in the New Testament to mean the will of God. There is nonetheless more than a hint of repression in the description of the way the Thelemites' costume was adopted:
The men's costume is also characterized by its uniformity and lifelessness. This description again begins with a description of the hose. No mention at all is made of the chemise, which had certainly become an important element in male fashion during the reign of Francis I. The laces which attach doublet to hose are not of leather but of silk. If the men are armed with real swords and daggers, as opposed to the toy weapons worn by Gargantua, theirs have a decorative air: the handles are gilded and the scabbards are made of a velvet that matches the color of their breeches. The weapons have no semiotic overtones of male power, either sexual or political. This is underscored by the fact that, here, there is no mention at all of that fundamental and central feature of contemporary male dress: the codpiece. The religieux have become mere clothes-horses, asexual and effeminate beings, wearing "robes autant précieuses comme des dames," (p.201) and subservient to the will of the Thelemite women: "Car le tout estoit selon l'arbitre des dames." (p.202). There is no dialogue between clothes and body here. The fashionably dressed inhabitants of the abbey are in fact vacuous and static fashion dolls like those which were exchanged by the courts of Europe as a way of keeping abreast of international fashion trends. The monotonous description of their clothes is one of the many elements which problematizes the Thélème episode, making it less a Utopian society than an enigma, one reason perhaps why the book finishes with a real enigma: the Enigme en prophétie, to which I have already made reference.
Following François Rigolot's lead in his "Deux lectures pour Thélème," one might also posit two readings of costume in the Gargantua. In a society in which clothing had specific social and political connotations, costume is a privileged sign, but like all signs, its interpretation depends on its context. Gargantua's garments, in their over-determined opulence, bestow on him the trappings of power, both political and sexual, appropriate to the role he will play subsequently in the work. The Thelemites' clothes suggest the other side of the coin: their ornamentation, although reminiscent of Gargantua's in style and richness, lacks the dynamic relationship between clothes and body that Gargantua's costume manifests. Here, "l'habit ne fait pas le moine" and clothes are an empty shell, showing the vacuity of the Thelemite utopia, where neither eros or agape appears to play any role. Indeed, the community is remarkably self-centered and hedonistic.
The most positive aspect of the Thelemites' costume is in fact the economic benefits it generates for those who are employed in the manufacture and maintenance of their clothes. Indeed the final quarter of a chapter purportedly devoted to a description of the Thelemites' vestments ("Comment estoient vastus les religieux et religieuses...") describes the activity of tailors, wardrobe masters, jewelers and even traders who bring gold, precious stones and silks back from the Orient by sea. However, if the Thelemites' passion for fashion benefits others, this is an unintended secondary benefit and only serves to underscore the monotonous and unproductive daily routine of the occupants of the abbey. As Defaux puts it, "la logique qui préside à la "fondation" de cette nouvelle abbaye aboutit à des impasses" (p.468).
Clothing, a distinctly human "invention" - much more "le propre de l'homme" than laughter (to quote the poem with which Gargantua begins) - can be revealing or concealing. Throughout the ages it has been seen either positively (Erasmus in his De pueris civilitate calls it the body's body and suggests that clothes give an idea of the dispositions of the soul), or negatively as in the proverbial "L'habit ne fait pas le moine." In the Gargantua, Rabelais plays with this ambiguity, evoking its positive connotations in the case of his protagonist (connotations which are tempered nonetheless by a certain irony), and showing its superficiality in the case of the Thelemites's costume. In both cases, a knowledge of the fashions of the period and of the form and function of individual garments, as well as the connotations associated with these articles of clothing, enables us to appreciate fully the important role of clothing in Renaissance society and the peculiar richness of Rabelais' comic genius. It also brings us closer to that ideal of Montaigne, the "suffisant lecteur", a state to which we all aspire and one which, whatever its permutations over time, never goes out of fashion.
 In Illinois Classical Studies IX (1984), pp 183-195 and Etudes rabelaisiennes, vol.14, pp. 89-104, 1977 respectively.
 See James Laver, Costume and fashion: a concise study , New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
 Le Roman de la Rose, ed. Ernest Langlois, Paris, 1923, ll. 13313-13318, vol.4, p.15. For a modern French paraphrase of this passage, see Guillaume de Lorris et Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la rose, Paris: Gallimard, 1949, p.228.
 Roland Barthes, Système de la mode, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1967.
7 François 1, for example, had many such dolls, dressed in the latest fashions, sent from Italy and Spain, the two fashion leaders of the period, the cultural superiority of the former and the military and political strength of the latter being reflected in the fashions worn by their most powerful and wealthy citizens.
 One of the first of these books was Recueil de la diversité des habits, qui sont de present en usage, tant ès pays d'Europe, Asie, Afrique et isles sauvages, le tout fait apres le naturel which appeared in Paris in 1567.
References to Gargantua are to the 1973 Editions du Seuil. Oeuvres complètes de François Rabelais, by Guy Demerson. The best modern edition is the Bibliothèque classique version edited by Gérard Defaux (Livre de poche, Paris, 1994). However this edition has two disadvantages: the spelling has been modernized and it is based on the 1535 Lyon edition by François Juste, which has different chapter numbering from most other editions. In spite of its qualities, I have chosen a more standard edition to avoid confusion.
 I shall use this abbreviated title for convenience and also to distinguish this text from Rabelais's. The text quoted is that which appeared in Les chroniques gargantuines, edited by Christiane Lauvergnat-Gagnière and Guy Demerson, Paris: Nizet, 1988.
 See Ann Hollander, Seeing through clothes, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993, p.159: "The smock (or shift, or chemise) was the one basic undergarment for all European women for a thousand years, and it was a voluminous white garment of extreme simplicity with little or no shaping and trimming [...]. It was also an essential domestic accompaniment to any actual nakedness, being always the last thing to be taken off and the first to be put on. It varied in style only a very little, sometimes reaching up close to the base of the neck and sometimes having a wide decolletage [...] and sometimes the gathered material at the neckline and wrists would be allowed to form ruffles and include some embroidery or lace [...]. Men also wore it, and wear it still in modified form [...]. It was a universal undergarment and in fact it acquired a certain symbolic importance. It stood for the humility of nakedness at a time when real nakedness was usually very well covered. Public penance might be done in one's smock or shirt, for example, or public punishment received as if one were naked".
 See Les Chroniques gargantuines, pp. 129-131.
 There is an interesting tendency in Western fashion for garments, originally conceived of as undergarments to become outer garments. The chemise is a case in point, evolving into the man's shirt and the woman's blouse. In our modern era, the phenonemon is exemplified by the fact that undershirts are now often worn as principal upper outer wear, and by the rock star Madonna, who in her "Blonde Ambition Tour" turned women's underwear into her stage costume.
Historians have been unable to explain either the abandoning of the chemise or its revival. See Cecil Saint-Laurent, A History of ladies underwear, London: Michael Joseph, 1966, pp.73 ff.
 This fashion was supposedly inaugurated by Swiss soldiers, who after defeating the troops of Charles the Bold in 1477, cut up the garments of the dead Burgundians and stuffed them into slits left by sword cuts in their own garments. This explanation is almost certainly apocryphal since slashing appeared well before 1477, but if this particular fashion does have a military origin, it would be a further example of the way military garb influenced the development of male clothing.
 François Rabelais, Gargantua ed. Gérard Defaux. Paris: Livre de poche, 1994, p.137.
 Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank, A Survey of Historic Costume, New York: Fairchild, 1989, p.99.
 Hollander, Seeing through clothes, pp.83-88. Although Laver's theory of changing erogenous zones is considered by some critics to be an oversimplification of the fact that the fashions of various periods accentuate different parts of the body, it is nonetheless true that the ideal body shape has changed significantly over the centuries. The ideal male body was successively slim (late medieval), square and substantial (Henry VIII and François 1), and slim and feminized (Henri III) during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The prominent female belly often seen in late medieval and Renaissance paintings was considered attractive by contemporaries and the fleshy female bodies depicted by a Rubens, a Rembrandt, or in more modern times a Renoir are in sharp contrast to the slim body in favor during the high medieval period. It is interesting that this "minimalist" female shape was resurrected in the flapper era, to be taken up again in the 1960s when the waif look again became the ideal female body shape, and is still very much in vogue (not to mention in Vogue).
 Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.
 Renaissance men were not above incorporating padding into their codpieces to give the illusion that they were better endowed by nature than was in fact the case.
 See "Fragments of a fashionable discourse", p.138 in Studies in Entertainment - Critical approaches to mass culture, ed. Tania Modleski, Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1986.
 These are usually dark.
 See Florence Weinberg, "Platonic and Pauline ideals ...".
 See for example Gérard Defaux in his edition of Gargantua, p.140, note 19.
 See M.A. Screech, "Emblems and colours: the controversy over Gargantua's colours and devices" in Some Renaissance Studies, Geneva: Droz, 1992; Jerome Schwartz, "Scatology and eschatology in Gargantua's Androgyne device" in Etudes rabelaisiennes XIV pp.265-276, Geneva: Droz, 1977; and Florence Weinberg (art. cit.). See also Marian Rothstein "Gargantua: Androgyne, Agape, and the Abbaye de Thélème" (paper presented at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference, Vancouver, April 1997.
 See Weinberg, art. cit.
 Michael Screech has pointed out that this Blason des couleurs was a supplement to that of the medieval herald Sicile. Although Rabelais assumed that it was anonymous, it was in fact the work of a certain Carroset. See Screech, Rabelais London: Duckworth, 1979. pp 137-138. Voir aussi Gérard Defaux Rabelais Agonistes: du rieur au propyhète, Etudes rabelaisiennes T. XXXII, Droz, Geneva, 1997, pp. 432-447.
 See Gérard Defaux's comments on this episode in his edition of Gargantua, p. 464.
 François Rigolot, Les Langages de Rabelais Droz: Geneva, 1996.
 Erasmus, La civilité puérile, ed. Philippe Aries, Paris, 1977, p. 71.