Thursday, February 15, 2007

Saint-Simonian Utopian Socialists Invent the Sports Jersey

At Print Culture:
...thanks to a splendid four-room exhibit in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal (to which Prosper Enfantin, “father” of the religion after Saint-Simon’s death, donated all his papers), I was able to clamp my eyes on one of the famous Saint-Simonian shirts this afternoon. They buttoned up in the back, so as to ensure that every disciple, when he put on his shirt in the morning and when he took it off at night, was reminded of the need we all have to help and be helped—since you couldn’t reach the buttons yourself. The collared jersey (“gilet,” in the language of the time) went with a short blue frock coat, a belt, tight white cotton pants, and a red beret. The women’s version was more or less identical.

So in addition to inventing utopian socialism, the Saint-Simonians created the team jersey. And as far as I know, when “Le Père” went to jail in 1832 on a vaguely-worded charge of endangering public order, they retired his number too.

Forty disciples, most of them graduates of the super-élite Ecole Polytechnique, accompanied Prosper Enfantin on his retreat from Paris in 1831. On the heights of Ménilmontant, now part of Paris but then out in the country, they provided much amusement for the town as they took turns washing dishes, digging in the garden, polishing boots and making beds—all tasks that would have been handled by servants, but they had sworn to leave behind them the “exploitation of man by man.” And exploitation of woman they had taken off the table too, for the time being, for all these young men had sworn to remain celibate and bearded until “Le Père” had found the woman of his dreams, “La Mère,” who in her dealings with the Père would show the world how to run a household of equals.

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