Costumes: Part 1
Halloween usually comes to mind when most people think of costumes. However, the dictionary definition of costume is "the style of dress typical of a certain period, people, etc." or "a set of such clothes as worn in a play or at a masquerade."
Costume through the Ages
Our earliest knowledge of historic costume comes from ancient Egypt. Their garments were few and light, usually white, basically a wrap-around skirt for men and tightly-fitted ankle-length dress for women. The poor wore coarse linen, and the higher class dressed in sheer, finely woven fabric. They walked in sandals or bare feet. Young children ran around naked. Both sexes shaved their heads and wore wigs. The wealthy wore necklaces, armbands, perfumes and makeup.
Babylonian and Assyrian costume for both men and women consisted of two garments - a body tunic, and large fringed shawl. Tunic and shawl were embroidered in an allover design and edged with fringe and tassels. Colors were vibrant reds, greens, blues and purples. Footwear consisted of sandals, slippers, and boots. They curled their hair and beards. Women wore veils, and you could tell by a man's head covering whether he was a king, priest, official, musician, or even a cook.
The Persian tunic was more coat-like with set-in sleeves, the same for men and women. It was made of linen, wool, or silk. Under the tunic they wore a shirt, drawers, and stockings. Persians were fond of jewelry, embroidery, fringe and tassels. Boots and shoes were of felt and leather. The Persians dyed their hair, dressed it in spiral curls, and wore headdresses such as turbans.
The Hebrews of the Old Testament wore long, baggy trousers and a loose shirt, both of white linen. Over this was worn a long, straight coat, open down the front and held by a wrapped girdle. Over that they wore an outer cloak of brightly striped wool. The women painted their faces and were fond of jewelry. On the head, they wore a ribbon or a silk handkerchief.
The ancient Cretans had tiny waists. It is thought that a metal belt was welded to the body in youth to keep the waist small. A Cretan woman would have a gored skirt flaring from her tightly laced waist, and a short jacket over top of a corset. Men wore a sort of apron over a loincloth. Both sexes wore their hair in long wavy strands. For footwear they had sandals and boots.
In classic Greek fashion, pieces of cloth were draped upon the body and pinned into place with brooches. The chiton was a simple tunic, usually white, sewn part way up the sides and fastened on the shoulders, leaving the arms bare. Both men and women would wear a cloak, a large square of wool or felt, usually draped over one shoulder. They wore leather sandals on their feet.
The ancient Romans always wore a white tunic, a short woolen one for men and a long linen one for women. The cloak or toga was circular in shape and large enough to drape around the body. The citizen's toga was white and the emperor's toga was purple. Dark-colored togas were for periods of mourning. A circular cape of cloth or leather with a hood was worn for travel or bad weather. Roman men had short hair and a clean-shaven face. Roman women liked jewelry.
The Barbarians of the north wore trousers and a short tunic with set-in sleeves. Woolen and linen fabrics were brightly colored in stripes and checks. Barbarians were very proud of their long hair.
In the Byzantine Empire, people wore a long-sleeved tunic, or chemise. Over it, they placed a long, loose robe with short sleeves. This was the costume of the early Christians. The toga now became a cape, semicircular in shape. Among the wealthy, robes were lavishly embroidered, jeweled, and lined with fur.
Early Medieval costume consisted of three garments: an undertunic, a long-sleeved outer tunic, and a mantle. Clothes were not buttoned or hooked, but were laced together with tapes. The knight of the Crusades in the 13th century wore a sleeveless garment over his armor, often appliquéd with the family's coat of arms. Flowing hair was the fashion for a knight's lady.
Renaissance fabrics were rich and colorful velvets, satins, and brocades trimmed with embroideries, gold and silver, jewels, and rare furs. In the 15th century, women began to wear a real dress called a robe, with a full skirt joined to a bodice having tight sleeves. From Spain came the first knitted silk stockings. There were capes and cloaks, caps and hoods.
The Elizabethan figure was tight-waisted. Sleeves were puffed and collars became starched ruffs. Spain introduced the petticoat of graduated hoops and the steel corset. Slippers and heels were first worn at the Spanish and Italian courts. Fancy pins came from France, and ladies were given "pin money" by their fathers and husbands so they could buy these expensive pins.
The 17th century was a time of political and religious upheavals. Pilgrims, Puritans, Dutch and others settled in America. France now took the lead in manners and dress. The elegant "cavalier" style came into fashion, with graceful velvet and satin, exquisite collars and cuffs, and large hats with sweeping ostrich plumes. Men wore boots, ribbons, lace, ringlets, wigs and powder. Women wore ringlets, curls, wigs and dye. Scarlet-colored capes with hoods were popular, as worn by "Little Red Riding Hood." The Puritans dressed soberly, scorning the cavalier style of the day.
Around 1660, the man's fancy jacket became a tailored coat with pockets and buttons. Then the waistcoat was added over a white shirt. Next, a cravat or neckcloth came into use. From this beginning came the suit that men wear today. Men turned up the brim of the large beaver hat at various angles and it became the three-cornered cocked hat. Square-toed shoes were fashionable, and so were boots. There were leather gauntlets for men, long kid gloves for ladies, and knitted mittens for children. Both men and women carried muffs. Narrow waists were still the fashion.
The 18th century French court continued to set the style, with ribbons, laces, silks, velvets, and flowered taffetas. Powdered hair and wigs framed painted faces. Men wore a three-cornered hat of black felt or beaver, edged with gilt or lace and trimmed with ostrich feathers. Buckled shoes had red heels. Pale-colored silk stockings were worn for dress, white wool for everyday wear.
After 1750, ladies dressed their hair high over a framework, adding false curls, rolls, powder, ribbon, lace, and feathers. So high were some heads that it became difficult to pass under a doorway or travel in a coach! Hoops and stiff petticoats were used under skirts. Men wore cloth capes and greatcoats with deep pockets and wide cuffs. Women had daintier silk wraps. Both men and women carried walking sticks, muffs, purses, and watches.
Children's dress generally used to be the same as that worn by adults until about 1770, when the English began to clothe youngsters in simpler, more comfortable garments. Girls were put into muslin frocks with a sash, and boys into trousers and a short jacket. Babies and toddlers up to three or four years of age, both boys and girls, wore a dress and cap.
Here are excellent resources for costume designers and students studying the history of fashion:
Historic Costume in Pictures, by Braun and Schneider. (A monumental pictorial survey of historic costumes containing over 1,450 costumed figures in clearly detailed engravings, from the dawn of civilization to the end of the 19th century, with captions.)
Braun & Schneider's Historic Costume CD-ROM and Book (500 authentically detailed illustrations from Braun and Schneider's pictorial survey of historic costumes. The time span is from ancient times to the mid-nineteenth century. Includes both folk and formal dress.)
Historic Costume CD-ROM and Book: From Ancient Times to the Renaissance by Tom Tierney. (An invaluable collection ranging from primitive wraps to elegant robes and tunics. 200 permission-free illustrations depict ancient Egyptian royalty; Roman senators; Viking and Celtic warriors; Tudor monarchs; footwear, headgear, hairdos, and many other accessories. Includes 16-page section with background information on historical periods and details of each outfit.)
Everyday Fashions of the 20th Century CD-ROM and Book, by Tom Tierney. (Scrupulously researched, meticulously rendered collection spotlights multiple generations of a family for each decade of the 20th century. Includes sportswear, formal wear, military outfits, wedding finery.)
Costume Through the Ages, by Erhard Klepper. (Detailed drawings in a continuous chronological format provide a history of costume design from the first century A.D. to 1930. More than 1400 illustrations chronicle two millennia of Western garb, from Roman noble to Jazz Age schoolboy.)
A History of Costume, by Carl Köhler. (This landmark in the field of Western European costume includes Egypt, Babylon, and Greece through 19th-century Europe; based on surviving pieces, art work, etc. Includes many patterns for reproducing historic costumes. Full text, 595 illustrations.)
What People Wore: 1,800 Illustrations from Ancient Times to the Early Twentieth Century, by Douglas Gorsline. (Fascinating panorama of styles - from diaphanous gowns of Egyptian royalty to 1920s American flapper wardrobe, with accessories and hairstyles.)
A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern, by Mary Brooks Picken. (Fascinating, fact-filled compendium defines over 10,000 words associated with wearing apparel and fashion, from bateau necklines to vamps. Over 750 illustrations.)
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These pages are a continuous work in progress.
These pages are a continuous work in progress.