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Fashion And Seduction From Behind

Why Our Back Sides Still Matter In the Age of The Selfie

fashion back
Words by Bernard Ford
Top Image:  René Magritte, La reproduction interdite, 1937

Paris was home to one of the more unusual fashion exhibitions of 2019. Held at the Musée Bourdelle, as the name suggests, Back Side / Dos explored the backs of garments (not the fronts that we usually focus on). But, more than focusing on the neglected side of garments, it was also an exploration of the human psyche.

Everything from the selfie to the passport places our face at the center of our identity. In such a world, our facial expressions aren’t used primarily for communicating our feelings but for communicating who we think we are. Although we want to (and we do) show off our bodies, our clothing, and our lifestyle, our identity is to a large extent our face. That’s why we have Facebook, why we might need to have a little “facetime” with someone, and why, before a professional MMA fight or sports game there might be a “face-off. 

Although there are subtle “tells” that will expose our real feelings and intentions to the expert, we believe we have control over our facial expressions and will, on occasion, when we are feeling low or insecure, fake expressions of happiness or confidence to try to fool those we are with (or anyone who might be looking at our social media profiles).

Yet “the back reminds man of his own limits,” says the Musée Bourdelle. We cannot see our own back and, as such, we cannot know how others see us from behind. And we probably all feel a little insecure walking into a room of strangers, and walking past them so that they can see our backs. (Women, in particular, dislike being approached from behind, claims behavioral investigator and author Vanessa Van Edwards.)

However, throughout the ages, we have become more conscious of the psychology of our back side. If we see a painting of the back of a person in antiquity, it is usually a woman, and the point is not to show us psychological complexity but to show us an image that might titillate the viewer.

Yet, during the modern era, we began to appreciate the psychological implications of the back side of the individual. Perhaps most notably, in René Magritte’s Not to Be Reproduced (La reproduction interdite, 1937), we see the back of a man who is looking into a mirror. Yet, he does not see his face but, like us, he sees his back side. There is something eerie about the man looking at his own back. To be conscious of our back side suggests a power that most people do not have. We see the backs of others, but not our own.

To the more daring, the back is made to play a role in identity and seduction, however.

Think of the biker jacket with its club patch on the back, proudly showing the wearer’s affiliation. The large blank canvas of a biker jacket might make this the obvious location for displaying a club patch. But a back adorned with a skull, grim reaper, eagle, or wolf patch, etc., serves as a warning to would-be trouble makers that they should not attack the wearer, even from behind, where he is more vulnerable, because the wearer is more dangerous than the average guy on the street. With the patch the most vulnerable side of the body is transformed into a kind of protection.

The exact opposite approach is taken when it comes to seduction. Instead of the thick, heavy, leather biker jacket with the implicit warning message, we find that the back is exposed and made, theoretically, more vulnerable. Fine or sheer fabric might be used. Or a woman’s dress might expose the shoulders and upper back. Or it might even be backless. And, notably, the backless dress is a favorite for female celebrities walking the red carpet, who know that they will be surrounded by photographers, and that the dress will probably help them to get their photograph in almost every major magazine across the globe.

Male bodybuilders are also aware of the power of the back to impress and seduce. Working out their backs is as important as working out the front of the body because, during competitions, they are going to show off their backs to the judges, who are going to judge their overall physique.

Today, when everyone is on social media, posting an endless stream of selfies, maybe do something a little counterintuitive but psychologically powerful: show your back occasionally. (Oh, and if you wonder what our favorite ORTTU back is, check out the 5th Element Top.)



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