Is fashion an extension of architecture, or vice versa? Is a fancy car a type of suit in which to strut around the road? Are clothing and housing phenotypical traits that natural selection is now acting upon? In the future, will we wear our homes like hermit crabs wear shells, our bodies whittled down by evolution and surgical manipulations to the barest essentials? These are some of the questions Gerald Heard raises in Narcissus: An Anatomy Of Clothes (1924).
The thesis of this book is that evolution is going on no longer in but around the man, and the faster because working in a less resistant medium. Man becomes like a wireless valve, a transmitter which in the process immensely amplifies the current that he receives. When the Force that shaped all life evolved man, it seems that it kept him henceforward un-specialised, gave him, strangest of gifts, no vocation and equipment but, if not at one blow, freedom, innate opportunism. This was reserved for the favourite. To all the others their function and place. They sink into their groove, deeper, ever deeper; they run their appointed race; they become every generation more perfectly adapted to be what they are. Vague Trial and Error pass into the exquisite precision of instinct: restless wandering, physical preparation for doubt, distress and conflict, settle into a functioning so appropriate that by all to whom it befalls Nirvana is attained. Desire becomes ever obviously compassable until it follows unrest beneath the vast sea-level of indifference, and Life is justified in all her children: she has rounded their day in perfect completeness. But man she has not completed. That is her supreme bequest to him: he shall finish the story as he likes.
While the short book consists mostly of a history of clothing trends and their relation to architecture and the cultures that produced both, Heard's real goal, laid out in the final chapter, is a manifesto of fashionable transhumanism: we will reshape ourselves, both culturally and physically, through our most intimate of all technology, clothing.