Fashionable Distancing

Many cultures have known for centuries that the best way to avoid catching disease or pestilence is through distancing ourselves from such threats.  Below are two poems on this topic.  The first is about something many of us have needed to do recently.  But the second safety strategy has definitely fallen out of fashion.

The word QUARANTINE means strict isolation to stop the spread of disease.  It originated in Italy in the 1300’s.

Forty Days in Italian  by Celia Berrell

Venice, in the Middle Ages
feared infection from the boats
that visited its harboured stages,
ordering sailors to “stay afloat!”

For forty days they had to anchor.
NOT set foot on Venice land,
to make sure none were sick and rank
or had bubonic plague at hand.

Quaranta giorni (Kwa-rant-a jee-or-nee)
Quaranta giorni (Kwa-rant-a jee-or-nee)
is “Forty Days” in Italian.
That’s where the word for isolation
known as QUARANTINE began.

Some instances of social distancing made certain items of clothing trendy!  Voluminous crinoline skirts prevented suitors from getting too close; elaborate broad-brimmed hats stopped others breathing down your neck and the wearing of elegant gloves shielded hands from germs.  They have all served as kinds of fashionable personal protective equipment (PPE) in the past.

One famous outfit, associated with plague doctors in the 17th and 18th Century, included a funny-looking long-beaked mask.  The foot-long beak could hold perfumes or herbs to keep nasty smells at bay.  Looking rather macabre, this mask has been a popular item for fancy-dress events.  Can you see our recent use of masks taking a trendy turn too?

Hats and headgear have many purposes.   From keeping our heads protected to indicators of social status.  But the wearing of indoor bonnets such as the humble mob cap in schools has definitely fallen out of fashion.   However mother-of-four, Leonie McDonald, laments this because of head lice!

Bonnets and Headlice  by Leonie McDonald

Bring back bonnets I say
For children at school every day
It used to be part of our kids’ daily wear
To confine their own nits to their hair.

To get infected with a case of lice
Is as we know not very nice
The only known cure was the old kerosene
Or before that indeed a full shave it would seem.

So to counter this dreaded social plague
Bonnets became quite the fashionable rage
For to get your head shaved every time kids got nits
Would annoy any female to horrible bits.

With chemical treatments we get so blasé
To have nits abound has become quite blasé
Well enough I now shriek with my duty of four
To afford all this nit stuff is making me poor.

Not to mention of course what all of us know
Repeated toxicity can make your health low
So spare me I beg you from pecuniary divestments
In chemists rewarding financial investments.

Give me a break and check your kids’ hair
And if they have nits then you keep them there
Don’t send them to school with their hair wild and free
If you must send them in, put on bonnets for me.


Perhaps wearing a hoodie could help instead?