There’s something different about the symbolism found in clothing. Mineral, plant and animal themes all refer to human coexistence with the natural environment, while clothing is used to represent states of mind. Other symbols express the human domain as well, but none of them, including gender, hold significance as specific as clothing.
What? More specific than gender? What does that mean?
Here’s why: Gender can have variable meanings in a reading. Court cards often refer to a particular man or woman, but can also represent the Spirit (King) or the Soul (Queen) of the seeker, regardless of gender. Additionally, some of the major arcana are androgynous. Paul Case refers to The Fool as the “heavenly androgyne”, for example. The Hermit is another, despite the long gray beard representing knowledge. The state of mind expressed in that card is transcendent and beyond all superficial divisions, including race, nationality, politics, religion, status, dogma, and gender. The symbolic significance of gender in the cards ranges from a celebration of the union of opposites to the exaltation of a state where gender is no longer the primary identifying characteristic of a person.
Clothing, on the other hand, holds explicit meaning. In the Rider-Waite deck this is most frequently found in the color of the garment. White, blue, red, black and gray are each indicative of a different force. In some cases, there is additional symbolism as well. The Magician wears a belted white undergarment, covered by a loose red robe. Several other figures in the major arcana also wear white, and it consistently signifies universal energy and perfect wisdom. Biting its own tail as it encircles him, the snake belting the Magus suggests wisdom and eternity. The red robe is a symbol of passion, desire and activity. This outer garment is easily taken off and on, and indicates the power of choice and self-conscious awareness.
The flowing robes of the High Priestess are white and blue, and symbolize the stream of consciousness. These colors together suggest coldness and moisture, which are the characteristics of the element of water, as well as the astrological properties of the Moon. The color blue is a symbol of the subconscious mind and memory throughout the deck, whether in clothes or environment, and the robes of The Priestess define her as the origin of those forces, wherever else they may be found.
The meanings found in the robes of The Empress and The Emperor are straightforward. Hers are an association with Venus, through astrological symbols embroidered on a white background, in keeping with a variety of plants that also recognize the Earth Goddess.
The red robes of The Emperor are a continuation of the forces found in the Magician’s outer robe. The Hierophant and Justice have the same connection, suggesting a correlation between all four cards. Strength also has ties to The Magician, as shown by her pure white dress, belted by a chain of red roses.
Although it’s not very obvious, The Hierophant wears three layers. Again, the outer red robe signifies self-awareness and willpower. At the throat is the blue collar of the next layer, associating The Hierophant with The Priestess. The white undergarment shows connection with higher power, and the white trim against red on the outer indicates the direct impact of the divine on the human life.
There are just a few more noteworthy garments among the major arcana. The transcendent Hermit wears the only gray cloak. Gray represents wisdom and is given that occult meaning because it is the result of mixing any two complimentary colors. The red leggings and blue shirt of The Hanged One refer to the opposing qualities of fire and water. The cloak of The Fool is laden with more symbolic meaning than any other garment in the deck. The white undershirt is almost completely covered by the black cloak of ignorance, and it is this state of naivete that gives the card its name. Embroidered on the cloak are numerous symbols that refer to the rhythmic patterns of the universe.
And finally, we have the nudes. In order, these are The Lovers, The Star, The Sun, Judgement, and The World. The state of mind expressed in each of these cards is that of heightened spiritual awareness. It’s interesting to note that with one exception, these are all among the very last cards of the major arcana, the final destination points of our journey towards a meaningful life. It seems the clothing we wear along the way may express and define us, but in the end, ultimate meaning is to be found only after the layers of attachment to the material world have been removed.