The things people looked for in beauty were simpler then, but still as hard to meet as the highlights we place on beauty today. Women were not expected to have an hourglass shape. What was more attractive was a kind of cylinder shape, with a waist matching close to her hips. If you had wider hips, and a smaller waist, all would be concealed with padding on the inside of the kimono. This is something I’ve experienced first hand while wearing mine (See photo below). Thin, feminine shoulders were favored, as it made the kimono bundle better around the body. On top of this, your breasts would be bound down tightly to your chest. The effect of all this bundling is similar to wearing a corset.
Japan has one of those rare textile histories of real style. Most countries go through a hormonal adolescent phase, that many people look back on and think, ‘man, what the hell were we thinking?’. Aside from dying the gums and teeth black in the Heian era, Japan has managed, to this day, to be chic, and fashionable across the table. They focus a lot of detailed attention on color, light, shadow and tone. Color, whether people acknowledge it or not, has so much power over an outfit. People don’t wear enough colors these days. It’s mentally and emotionally stimulating to play with the interactions of different colors when creating an outfit.
This is me wearing a traditional Japanese kimono.
Underneath your kimono, (kimono can be referred to as any clothing, male or female, as well as the wrap dress pictured above.) you wear fundoshi. This was like a loincloth, and serves the same purpose as underwear. They are another example of some of Japan’s alluring style. Not the same as panties today, but back then, they were beautiful.
Men wear a different style of Japanese dress, starting with the visually prominent Hakama, which can be worn by both men and women- (I used to wear these when I did my Kyudo practice. Kanjuro Shibata Sensei (Sendai) gave me one of his antique Japanese silk ones he used to wear. It was just my size when I was about eight years old).
The Vikings appeared in the late 700’s were a power force across Europe, comparable to the Romans, not in function but in ruthlessness. They took on culture after culture, defeating, looting, and raping their women. They were not without moral code, their religion smiled upon being bitter on the battlefield, as your personal crusade legacy was one of the things that guaranteed you a place in Valhalla. The Vikings extreme confidence, and courage alone, while facing death in the eye, was one of the most effective battle techniques that made them such a powerful force during the dark ages.
The Viking culture, is in my opinion one of the most interesting anthropological studies to dive into. Their religion was incredibly unusual, and they really did bare their faith, and would die for their faith, which isn’t what made them unstoppable, it was their drive that was incarnated by their religion. I think that their religion was the reason for the Vikings legacy. Their faith led their culture to success.
The Vikings fashion sense was driven mostly towards warmth, their winters were harsh, long, and dark. They wove their cloth from mostly linen, and wool, and then layered themselves in animal skins. Belts, boots, and shoes would be made from leather, and helped make many different accessories. They used bone to create pins, and combs. The vikings were famous for their elaborate hairstyles, and grooming was very important to being socially stylish.
The Viking women’s braids were very intricate.
Women mostly wore dresses, in the winter it would be a thick woolen dress, which would drop to her ankles. This would be accompanied by layers, should the weather need it. In the warmer times of the year, their dress would change to a lighter, summer dress. Headwear wasn’t uncommon, but still in a simpler form. Braids, and long hair, was popular for women. Hoods were a way to keep the head warm. Brooches were the main form of jewelry, there were beads and combs which would tie onto their clothing, and use as a decoration, and status symbol. If you were from a higher class background, you’d be able to afford the nicest luxurious versions of these dresses.
Men wore a simple tunic, accompanied by a pair of hose - sort of like thick fitted trousers. They might wear a belt around their waist, and this would hang a couple personals on it. Money purses were popular, as well as hunting knives. Many men wore leather boots, and a hat atop their heads. It was popular for them to grow their facial hair, and braid bits of their mane.
The Vikings most impressive artistry came in the form of woodwork, leather work, and metal work. They used simple materials, to create true art forms, and this was the last major culture to do so. After this point in history, artwork took a turn towards painting rather than craft. The Viking people would craft individual boats into perfection, their jewelry, and metal embellishment far succeeds many people today. They had an old mythical element in their artwork which has never been achieved in the same way. I wish more of their art had been saved, it’s one of my favorite periods.
The Mughal period in the Indian subcontinent is one of the most important parts of its political history. Back then, India wasn’t so connected, and it was filled with religious and political prejudice. The Mughal period was the time in history when Emperor Akbar, a muslim ruler, conquored and then united kingdom after kingdom. It was a time of prosperity, trade and textile decadence. The combination of Sikh, Muslim and Hindustan peoples, led to much diversity in the cities, and many cultural norms. The diversity led to people wearing a combination of the traditional sari, the dhoti, and tailored silk trousers, vests, and jackets.
I’ll be going over, and showing you the contrasts between these three ancient ways of dress.
The traditional saree, is a long piece of fabric which is tied around the body as clothing. You would wear this with a saree blouse, which is basically a crop top which exposes the back and stomach area. Generally speaking, a sari is sold, long enough so there’s enough fabric to make a matching blouse to be worn with it. There are literally dozens of ways to tie a sari around your body, because of the diversity of the Indian cultures. If you were from the North, you’d represent it by the style with which you wore your saree, the same goes for all parts of India. There’s an almost unlimited supply of silk, colors, quality, and prices to choose from. The sari world is a vast and exciting place in India to this day.
This shows only four, out of the dozens of styles you can wear your saree. With this much history of the saree being worn, you’d hope they’d have a few different ways of wearing it.
The Dhoti is a simply designed long jacket like shirt. It goes down just below the knees, and can be worn in plain cotton or linen, or something like viewed below, covered in jewels and made from luxurious silks. Long baggy trousers were worn, similar to what the Turkish Ottoman were wearing close to the same time. Lastly, a popular accessory would be a shawl scarf.
This is a very luxurious modern day Dhoti, most likely for his wedding day.
Mogul Empire Dress
The Mogul way of dressing, was probably the most advanced when it came to fitting, design, and complexity. It was the fashion for both men, and women to wear fitted trousers, and jackets. What really marked your station in society was the silks used to make your clothing, and the jewels you wore.
Women from noble birth would wear fitted pants, with a long decorative skirt, which would fan out around them in a circle. This, they would pair with a blouse, some covering the belly, and others leaving it exposed. On a hot day, the girl would probably wear this and a shawl, which in public would cover her head. In more formal circumstances, she might be wearing a tight fitting jacket as well. This was far from the end of it, the bling was some of the most important part. Bangles have been a part of Indian history for thousands of years. The silk road was booming further East, and in their lands. Merchants, and bankers were the richest people in the world back then. Pearls were found in the strands, precious jewels, silver and gold. The richer you were, the more jewels you had, it was a simple way of life, but an expensive one. Facial piercings were common, but mostly just in the nose. Earrings were popular, as were many different kinds of rings, necklaces, anklets, and silver/gold weave fabric.
Men wore a much more masculine version of what women wore, without the skirts or crop blouses. They wore fitted trousers, or more flowing trousers which resembled what the turkish were wearing at the time. The patterns were relatively simple, but grand. Their shirts could either be tucked into their trousers, and dramatized with a bling belt (as seen below), or they would drop down over their clothing in an oversized look, good for displaying the silk which they used. Jackets were fairly common.
This is an historically accurate textile representation of Emperor Akbar’s clothing from the Mughal period. It’s from the movie Jodha Akbar, a great movie to see if you’re interested in this era of dress. This actor is Hrithik Roshan, and he’s a very dreamy Bollywood actor, who I’d very much recommend.
In this period of fashion, names must be thrown, as it contains probably THE biggest fashionistas of all time, including Marie Antoinette, Madame du Pompador and Madame du Barry. The luxury in which the aristocracy lived during this time is almost inconceivable to people of today. Luxury was not just limited to clothing, it was jewelry, hats, shoes, handbags, parties, hair, food, dogs, carriages, furnishings, and palaces. The high class lived in such elegant beauty, it’s no wonder that the entire country was bled and nothing was left for the poor. This is one of the hardest fashion eras to explain, as the trends were changing so rapidly. The aristocracy would set the trends, and people of lower station would try and mimic their style. This would mean that people of a higher station would feel the need to create new trends to set themselves apart from people beneath them.
Getting the husband to help out. Notice the monkey hanging out on the floor.
Women wore a slip to begin with, which was immediately covered with a corset. Every morning a lady would lean against a post and have her corset fastened. Women would be expected to wear corsets every day of their lives from around 9-11, until the day they died. The combination of wearing them from such a young age, and having them pulled in so tightly, led to a literal deformity. All of their organs would be pushed in odd ways, and this is presumed to be one of the reasons for the health problems women had back in this time.
As you can see, the ribs of the corseted woman have literally grown into the shape which the corset demands. All of the vital organs are squished down low, deep into the gut. The corset was designed to flatten the stomach and lift the breasts, while pulling the shoulders back, which increased the wearers posture greatly - wether they wanted it to or not.
NOTE: FIND SOME PICS OF BEAUTIFUL STAYS
On top of the corset, a heavily decorated bodice would be placed. Usually laced up from the sides, or sometimes the back. This resembles the under corset, yet is usually made of finer materials. The front panel you see heavily decorated with ruffles and embroidery is called the stomacher. This was usually a very luxurious and overly exagerated. Low cut bodices barely covering the nipples were the height of fashion, the vest worn so tightly that the breasts typically puckered over the front seam. It wasn’t uncommon for a ladies nipples or areola to simply slip out from time to time at parties and balls. Mind you the women would, of course, be ‘so shocked’ and ‘mortified’ by the occurrence. In many illustrations of women from the time, nipples peak out from the tops of their stomachers.
Sleeves were exaggerated and embroidered and toyed with. There are hundreds, and hundreds of different kinds of sleeves from this era. Three quarter length sleeves were the height of fashion. It was an age in clothing where anything went, and those of the highest station could basically do as they pleased.
The pannier was the skeleton of the dress. It came in all shapes and sizes, but this version is an oval shaped hooped skirt. The pannier was usually made from whale bone and would give the dress its famous shape. In between each section of the whalebone structure was a thick shaping fabric called crinoline. The weight of all the different layers would constrict the movement of females dramatically. This dress shape is where french doors came from, as women needed a larger gap opening to enter and exit rooms due to the size of their skirts.
The skirts would be layered on top of the whale bone underskirt. This photo above shows the back view of the skirts. This is a court dress of the finest quality (Honestly, it gives me shivers, and goosebumps). The silk used to create these skirts, mixed with the embroidery probably took a year or two of more then one seamstress to make. This period in fashion was extremely fond of drapery, the drapes in the skirts added to the texture, and floaty cloud like effect this period is so famous for.
This is one of Marie Antoinette’s MANY gowns.
As you can see from the picture above, the Rococo high fashion was so illustrious, it was literally covered in bows, lace, poofs, ruffles, and multidimensional layers. Shaping was absolutely everything. Next to the Japanese Heian period, this was another highlight in the dying, and silk trade history. Skirts were usually designed to drape down across the back, and open in the front exposing the numerous layers of interesting petticoats.
One of the hardest things to keep up with in this time was the numerous kinds of prints, silks, colors, and embroideries which went trending through the fashion scene. Every season had a different set of fashionable colors. The French and English silks differed greatly from each other. England had a great interest in Botany at the time, as Kew Gardens had just been founded in 1759, and thousands of different species of flora were being shipped in and studied from across the globe. This was reflected in English textiles, as not only did different plants and flowers appear embroidered or printed on their silk, they were actually accurate to the species. The French silks and embroideries reflected interests from the east, tropical birds, monkeys, and hunting dogs were quite common, although they weren’t exactly historically accurate.
This was one of the greatest eras of all time for shoes as well. People could do almost anything you could imagine with shoes. Feathers, embroidery, pearls, bows, metalwork, jewels ivory carving - the whole shebang! Men originally wore heels, and after a while women adapted them as their own, as a masculine highlight.
Just like women, dresses came in all shapes and sizes during this time. Ankle length skirts, floor length skirts, and long draped skirts. Some skirts were draped in the front, some in the back. Some had lace trim, some had ruffles, and some embroidery. Everyone was trying to make a fashion statement, and it wasn’t limited just to the women....
This was the time of the Macaroni, and the Dandy!
This was a giggle in the French history of fashion for men, never had they gone through such lengths in the name of clothing before. Although not all men dressed up to scrap to be worthy of the great title ‘macaroni’ or ‘dandy’. Those who did would be remembered for hundreds of years to come.
Here is an iconic comic doodle, probably in a newspaper in Paris. It’s captioned ‘what is this my Son Tom?’. This photo depicts a father, and a son who’m happen upon each other in the street. The father teases him over his appearance, but also remarks upon his hat. This was a time when old customs such as lifting one’s hat to one’s elder were overlooked because of how high their wigs perturbed from their heads. If one needed to tip ones hat to someone in these days, they’d need a small decorative sword or cane to reach.
The macaroni wanted to distinguish themselves from ‘just any other’ wealthy tradesmen or gentlemen of lesser title, so they’d peacock themselves by showing their loyalty to France, and the aristocracy. This was a time in France when the commoners, and the blue bloods were the most divided in history, and the nobles subsequently liked it that way.
A macaroni would wear the standard male garments, although they’d push their fashions to the absolute max. He would power his face, wear wigs of all shapes and sizes, and cover himself in a masculine(ish) version of the women’s lace, ruffles, silks, pearls, and jewels, including a jacket, waistcoat, breeches, stockings, hat, shoes, a and decorative sword or cane. A true macaroni even wore a corset, and point toed heels, with buckles to add height. They wanted to shock people. They wanted to look like a creature of myth, like something that wasn’t from this reality.
Medieval clothing is one of the turning points in fashion history. It’s a time when court dress exploded across Europe, and wool, linen, and especially silk industries boomed. Silk was prized so dramatically, that first, it could only be used at highly regarded religious ceremonies. Interest in fashion blossomed across Europe, and the silk road brought interesting jewels, silks, fiber, and ideas from the East. The textile business was flourishing so much, that it became possible for people from a range of classes, and walks of life, to buy higher quality clothing. It’s a part of history when men and women’s styles of dress distinctly parted from each other, and each sex embraced different desirable proportions.
The Textile Evolution of this Time:
The horizontal loom: The invention of the horizontal loom gave weavers the opportunity to create huge pieces of artwork out of silk. The looms could produce pieces of silk up to 6 1/2 feet, by 98 feet.
Dyes of the Time:
Cloth of Scarlet: Extracted by the Mediterranean insect, the kermes,
Purple: the ancient shellfish dye,
Perse, Blue/Green): Distilled from a plant distantly related to the wallflower - can be found in many places,
Brown and black: Came from the outward shells of walnuts,
Whitened: Fabrics were whitened by soaking them in buttermilk and being left in the sun to dry.
Women were expected to have small waists, narrow shoulders, and a fair complexion. Small hands were significantly valued as well, and were considered an expression of a woman’s feminine nature. Women wore fitted dresses, which usually tied up in the back. Sleeves were anywhere from 5 inches wide, some being so long that they touched the floor. At the beginning of the 400 year era, women would wear a robe which would wrap across their body. As time progressed the dresses became long, and flowing, with various layers. The skirts themselves didn’t protrude too dramatically from the body, but would gradually grow in size up through the renaissance, and continued up until the neoclassical phase.
A little later in the Medieval ages (around 1100-1200) the surcoat came into fashion. The Surcoat, originally made for women, found its way into male fashion as well. The armholes were made very big, so you could peacock the robe-like garment you had underneath. If you came from a wealthy family even your girdle would be made from precious materials, and covered in precious jewels.
One of the most exciting aspects of this period was the trends in headwear. Hats had so much to do with public standing and class. There were hundreds of styles, so it’s hard to do justice to the almost endless plethora of fashion statements you can see in visual representations of the time. Men wore hats too, generally a little less prodigious then their female counterparts. Velvet was popular, as well as colored wool, and furs such as otter, and beaver. Your hat would establish which class you came from, and this is why the medieval times are so famous for their headwear today. There is hardly any visual representation of people from those days, which doesn’t include a hat on top of their head, be they male or female.
During the crusades, purses came into fashion, and they’d attach to your belt with a ribbon or metal cord. Gold, silver, pearls and precious jewels were very much in fashion as the Medieval period hit its luxurious peak around 1200-1300. Court dress was wild with a variety of exotic furs, usually lining coats. Ermine, otter, beaver, fox, rabbit, ferret, and squirrel were particular favorites of the extremely wealthy. This was a phase in history, just before the globalized world as we know it. With the renaissance came knowledge on a completely different level than ever seen before. It was the last of the dark ages, and the beginning of what we can contemplate as a modern age.
This gives the idea of what a surcoat was like, layered over the women’s wrap dress, and then eventually over whatever men wore.
It was a time in history, when men were the fashionistas of Europe. Significantly less attention was given to women’s clothing, and men used their clothing as a way to peacock around their daily lives, trying to attract approval. Men would wear stockings and breeches. The breeches have been made famous through history, as they had a round ballooning design. The stockings were generally made out of the same material as the breeches. Large belts were in fashion, and if you could afford it, they’d be bling-ed up, and intensified through size and design. Most detailed representations of clothing from the time, are of men. This is thought to be because of the social circumstance of the hierarchy at this time. Men’s proportions drew special attention to making the shoulders large and bold, their legs thin and long, and finally, their genitals dramatized to an almost ridiculous degree.
Here, we can view a variety of looks from Medieval times ... Tights were the most popular trend for men from this era. They would generally wear stockings, shoes, an undershirt, and a constricting vest like over-shirt. The vest can be seen in the painting above, modeled by the man who has apparently chopped off some poor knobs head. You can see from the man in red clothing, that he is of noble birth, obviously having a skilled tailor. The fur on his collar is most likely beaver fur. Pads were added to the shoulders in most cases, in order to make the shoulders stand stronger and wider looking.
Shoes were still very simple, it was popular for the toes to point.
Slowly, as the fourteenth century came along, the timeline blurs to exactly when the Medieval ages subsided, and the Renaissance began. I suppose it was when Italian fashions seeped across Europe and Italy’s artistic dominance over Europe began.