Upon Julia's Clothes
Here's the thing: based on his poems, you might think that Robert Herrick really had a thing for some girl named Julia. We've got "The Night-Piece, To Julia," "Julia's Petticoat," "Art Above Nature: To Julia," "Upon Julia's Breasts," and of course, the poem we're tackling today, "Upon Julia's Clothes."
Here's the other thing: Herrick's mom's name was Julia. Yikes.
But to be fair to the guy, no one actually knows who the Julia of Herrick's poetry was. In fact, many critics believe that she was just an imaginative creation of Herrick's, a kind of catch-all for the general ladyfolk of the time (and Herrick was a big fan of the ladyfolk). It's entirely possible that he just picked the name Julia because it was handy. Yeah, we're gonna go with that version of events.
In any case, all these poems are known as Herrick's Julia poems (surprise, surprise) and a number of them are what we in the know call blazons. That's a fancy name for a particular type of poem that praises a woman by praising her body—in a metaphorical way, of course. Yeah, we know, it's not the most feminist of approaches.
While "Upon Julia's Clothes" doesn't praise Julia's body per se, the homage to her clothes in a profusion of metaphors fits the bill pretty well. A blazon is also, after all, a description of a coat of arms or armorial bearings (like those you might find on someone's outfit). In this poem, Herrick extols the virtues of Julia's sartorial choices, as yet one more awesome thing about this mythical, unidentified Julia.
The Julia poems first appeared in Hesperides (1648), one of Herrick's two books of poetry (the other was called Noble Numbers, and it was published at the same time). Hesperides contains some 1,100 poems, though many of them are quite short (like "Upon Julia's Clothes"). And in this collection, he names some other ladies of interest, too—Corinna, Sylvia, Lucia. Hey, maybe he just had a thing for girls whose names end in A.
Why Should I Care?
We like to think that, if he were alive today, Robert Herrick would totally roll with the Stacys and Clintons of the world. He definitely knew what looked good on a lady—liquefaction and brave vibration, to be exact.
Okay, okay, so modern day sartorialists might not be as into glitter as Herrick appears to be, but the point is, he understood something that Stacy and Clinton have been trying to drill into the brains of ugly ducklings everywhere: how you look affects how people see you. Whether you like it or not.
But then again, Herrick might also be making the exact opposite point. After all, we don't actually know much at all about what this Julia woman is wearing. A gown? A petticoat? Lederhosen? (Okay, maybe not that last one.) But we wonder if it even matters. The speaker seems so plumb in love with Julia that she could be wearing coveralls, and he'd probably swoon.
In that sense, we might think of "Upon Julia's Clothes" as an example of the cheesy cliché that you don't love a woman because she's beautiful; she's beautiful to you because you love her. In other words, how you see people affects how they look. We'd like to hear what Stacy and Clinton have to say about that.