History of Clothing

I wish to be excused for not offering you a full history of clothing and fashion at the moment. This website is under a constant construction and I intend at first to deal with periods I am better introduced to. For more information on specific periods you are welcome to contact me by e-mail, or use the message form on the contact page. Introduction It is quite obvious what the main purpose of clothing is (that the men don’t get aroused every time they get out on the street? Nooo… I actually meant the protection from injuries and elementals). For some time the practical was also its only purpose but as the society advanced, clothes became one of the means to express either the wealth, reputation or profession. Although the artistic ability to make clothes that would distinguish people into classes goes along with this secondary purpose, art and clothes come together even before the social differences. There are evidences of leather skirts decorated with patterns made of pigments or perforations dating back to the Stone Age. The reason why people started decorating their, by that time strictly practically worn clothes, could be found in the same reason why they started filling the walls of their caves with drawings. Many art historians believe that the original motivation for such activities is an emotion called horror vacui. Literally, this term means “a dread (horror) of space”. Not a space in cosmical meaning, though, but the blank straight surface. It is hard to explain this phenomenon that occupied people throughout the history and that obviously motivated the creation of Art. And the actual emotion that forces even you to leave some scratches and meaningless drawings on a school blackboard or a piece of paper in your office would be a kind of anxiety rather than fear. But the fact is that hardly any blank space stays such for a long time in a presence of Homo Sapiens. So a plain leather dress makes you anxious? Maybe not, but for a Stone Age man (or woman) it was a great medium of realizing the abstract, artistic aspirations in his or her mind. Thankfully, at that time people still had no clue about money and merchandize – everything still belonged to everybody – and whoever was imaginative enough to adorn his/hers clothes could have them such. Only later on did clothing become a status simbol and the more complicated or decorated the clothes were, they were affordable to wealthier individuals. But the one thing is important after all – at least for me and this site: since the earliest history the clothing and art go unseparably together. Top The Fashion For that reason the history of clothing embraces several different disciplines, from Art, over Sociology to History. Without historical researches we would hardly be aware of the fashion the way it looked like in some very early periods. Sometimes not even pictures can tell much if there are no remaining artefacts on the way some clothes was cut, sewn or fastened together. Also, somewhere until 16th century the fashion can hardly be limited by time, but rather by national borders. The Renaissance in England is something completely different from Renaissance in Italy, for instance. At this point I should maybe emphasize that I intend to deal strictly with the Western fashion, since I am not that well introduced with other fashions and national costuming. For these I will provide you with links to very informative sites on my linkpage. I also won’t miss to introduce you to certain events in history and social changes in some periods because they, as you will see, usually have a strong impact on clothing. You are now welcome to browse any desired (and offered) period!

Regency Clothing

The Regency – as it is known in Britain, or Empire – as known in France, lasted roughly from 1800 to 1830. It could be marked with the end of French Revolution as its beginning and the defeat of Napoleon as its end. The clothing was, the same way as the Arts and Architecture, inspired by ancient Greece and Rome which in the first case meant simplicity opposed to the former eras of “wigs ‘n’ panniers”. Wigs and all kinds of figure improvers were (supposed to be) abandoned, while the high waistline and lightweight materials marked the ladies’ fashion of the day. The Regency era is known in British history as a time between 1812 and 1830 when the king George III fell insane and his son, the future George IV, was appointed Regent of England. In France, Empire was the time between 1804 and 1815, when Napoleon ruled as the emperor of France. Society The society has changed a lot after the French Revolution in 1789. The power of the noble and the wealthy proved not to be so untouchable the way it was for thousands of years. The middle class finally got the freedoms it deserved, but also didn’t miss to take a revenge on centuries of deprivation by the noblety. This also became visible on clothes. Although many members of middle class owned more than some nobles, a certain kind of modesty creeped into their conscience. Showing off with wealth and glamour turned to be completely out. This meant discarding all the enormous wigs and panniers supply. However, the change wasn’t so fast and radical as it may be assumed. Before the style known to you mostly from Jane Austen’s screen adaptations, there was a so-called scarf-dress. In many ways this dress was quite similar to mantua, only that it wasn’t supported with panniers. Also, all the needless details like bows, fringes and jewellery were abandoned. At that time printed cotton was popularized and it was used for informal dresses, while heavy textiles like velvet and brocade were avoided. Scarf dressThe dress was, of course, shaped with a corset that didn’t change its rococo form too much. But what gave the name to this creation was a big triangular scarf that was put over the shoulders, crossed over the breasts and the edges were tucked into a waistband. With this detail women could still show off some of their wealth and pride, since the more expensive and elaborate scarves were made of lace and embroidered, while the simplest were woolen. Although hooped support was officially abandoned, a so-called duck-shape came in fashion, with very high bust improved with a corset and adorned with a scarf, and a bit emphasized posterior. Obviously, pads were used on the back to emphasize the duck-like silhouette. But the shape and fashion was in general changing very fast, with the waistline rising on its way to meet the breasts. The society at that time turned rather confused. After a great change and abandoning the fashion dictated by the wealthiest there wasn’t much left for the newly liberized burgeoisie to rely on. The old principles and authorities were gone and people were now in search for the new ones. Soon these new principles were found in Antics. The simplicity of living in ancient Greece and Rome were completely opposing to the wealth and glamour of baroque and rococo, which suited the modest middle class. At the very end of 18th century the Classicism marked the beginning of the new era in which the power was not to be reserved only for those with a title. Regency coupleIn visual Arts it meant returning to the simple shapes of ancient Greece and Rome. The buildings were made to look like ancient temples, while the flats and family houses were made in rural style and, by chance, in rural surroundings. If it wasn’t ancient, it had to be rural. People rushed to the countryside and turned their weekend houses into their permanent residences, leaving the flats in cities behind. Ironically, we may say that the society entering the 19th century went so far in copying the ancient world that it also produced a Caesar-like figure – Napoleon Bonaparte, namely. Top Fashion Of course that this antiquity-craze left its mark on the clothing. By 1800 the fashionable dresses had nothing more in common with the 17th century mantua. The need for simplicity was indulged in the forms resembling those of Rome and Greece. It certainly didn’t mean people again started walking in togas or chitons. Male clothing of Regency era certainly had nothing to do with togas, while the female dresses at least in basic shape resembled that of what was worn in ancient times. Top Female In the first place it was a very high waistline. The natural waist was actually completely neglected and the dresses were cut right underneath the breasts. Very short sleeves were preferred, although the longer version was needed in colder seasons. Similarities between classical (Roman and Greek) and Regency female fashion can be seen on this comparison — the Hellenistic statue of Artemis from the late 2nd century B. C., and the portrait of Madame Recamier by Gerard. Comparison of classical and regency style – female The matching textiles for this fashion certainly weren’t heavy silks and brocades of baroque and rococo. The same way the lines of dresses were no longer stiff, laced and supported, their mobility was accentuated with very light textiles like fine linen and transparent silk while the middle class wore cotton for informal clothing, which now became widespread thanks to the numerous plantations in America. Of course, the high heels were discarded, while light slippers with flat soles matched the simple dresses better. In general, light colours were preferred, like white, yellow and pink. The gold and silver embroideries were now meant only for very special court events and women started embroidering their own clothes and accesories as a fashionable pastime. It is said that in the first years of this newly discovered style the gowns were more transparent than not, so to say. To dispose the perfection of the body, unrestricted by any supports, women hardly wore chemises under their upper clothing, not to mention any other underwear. This extreme fashion was, however, abandoned after it was followed by some women of not so perfect proportions. Although even I myself mentioned in several places that the stiff lacings were abandoned, and although it is the common opinion about this style, it Regency Ladyis not completely true. Namely, the high waistline and low neck cuts certainly disposed a lot of skin and it was supposed for it to be tight and not flat and hanging. So it could be said that a kind of push-up bras was invented during this period. It was actually a corset which covered only the breasts and ended far above the waist. It was used to flatten the area covered by the dress and lift the parts that (in some cases) “popped” out of the decolleté. For outdoor use these layers of thin material had to be improved to protect lots of bare skin from elementals. For the needs of the style specific coats and jackets were made up. At first there was spencer, a long-sleeved jacket made of thick materials like wool or velvet that reached only to the stylish waistline. The other was pelisse, a coat or a jacket that offered a bit more protection by covering three quarters of a dress. The hat was still a must for outdoors and at this point there is the first appearance of bonnets which will reign for the next half a century or so. Top Male Already with 1770’s male clothes turned more formal, losing a lot on needless details and, generally, getting more “sober”. With the beginning of 19th century breeches were abandoned by the broader sex and were replaced by full-length trousers, which was one of the early steps toward the suit as we know it today (and for already about 160 years). While women followed a kind of grecian style, men preferred a Regency Gentlemanhorseman look. Instead of shoes, high and stiff boots were worn, together with a tailcoat and top hat. Instead of fountains of lace underneath the chin, men turned toward cravats tied around high and stiff collars. Especially in early days of this era fashionable men used to wrap their whole neck and chin up to the lower lip with lace scarves. Of course, according to a (supposed) ancient Roman style. I still have no clue why they didn’t switch to togas… Top Hairstyles Female HairdoAgain, the hairdos were mostly inspired by Roman and Grecian ones. Men had their hair cut short with long fringes and whiskers that were combed toward the face and were preferably curled. Women fastened their hair high at the back or top of the head with metal spirals or bands that resembled those of the ancient Greece. They also cut fringes and curled them at the forehead and in front of the ears. The specific hairdos were a good reason to invent bonnets which kept the buns in a desired shape. After many centuries (at least since Elizabethan England) short hair turned out to be fashionable for men again. With the exception of some shoulder-length hairdos in the mid-19th century, it was a sign of cultivation and good manners all the way from Regency until today. And long manes that were grown with so much care since the fall of the Roman Empire suddenly became a simbol of savagery. Very short hair wasn’t an exception among women either. Hairdos were meant to be as close to the head as possible and big buns were avoided. So many women grew their hair only to some modest lengths, while there were even some that reduced it to the men style. However, many of such extremes, along with the transparent fabrics, high waistlines and bare shoulders, faded with the upcoming years and soon everything turned back to “normal”. Here you can see how the typical male hairdos of Regency era were influenced by those from ancient Rome – Bust of the Emperor Trajan from the early 2nd century and Ingres’ portrait of Monsieur Rivière, 1805 Comparison of classical and regency style – male Top Court As we may all have noticed, royal courts usually weren’t the source of latest movements in fashion. Moreover, they hardly managed to follow them at all. Especially the proscribed clothes for official court events was usually full of expensive details, but rid of any fanciful and fashionable additions. That way, for instance, the baroque sack dress was never accepted at the court. The same way, royal courts of Europe were very suspicious toward the new casual fashion that arrived with 19th century. In informal occasions the members of royal families did wear clothes dictated by fashion, but many courts still kept mantuas and wigs as a must for official court events (weddings, crownings, dances, receptions…) One of the rare exceptions was Napoleon’s court, where anything that invoked the days of Marie Antoinette and royal dinasty was completely forbidden.