By Johannes Helmold
Fashion has taken the world by storm. Even common people strive to buy designer clothes, and fashion is constantly evolving. It even seems to be developing at faster rates and into more unusual expressions. However, have you ever wondered where fashion itself came from and how it came about? We will look at the ancient origins of fashion first, then look into the beginning of the modern fashion industry to understand more about this integral aspect of today’s world society.
There was no evidence of how people dressed until we found remains and artifacts of people who came together as groups and villages. The greater the number of people, the easier it is to examine their fashion history. The first noted well-recorded culture resides in Mesopotamia between 5000-3500 BCE (Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians). But during these ancient times, fashion as we know it was not present. According to our best evidence, there was no type of clothing that was popular for a limited time. Rather, clothes rarely changed their look and style during the times of these first cultures. Alterations in clothing from culture to culture were gradual, and were changed usually according to need rather than expression. Sometimes traditional artwork was added to clothes, which carried significant meaning in the context of these cultures. In other words, clothes were not made out of novelty, but out of tradition and necessity (LoveToKnow).
Though physical direct evidence of clothing in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and other lands is often hard to come by, there is an ample amount of artistic and written records about clothing from olden times. Some rituals for the dead involved clothing, and these remnants have also been useful to scientists. According to LoveToKnow, “Although local practices varied, both men and women often wore the same garment types. These were skirts of various lengths; shawls, or lengths of woven fabric of different sizes and shapes that could be draped or wrapped around the body; and tunics, T-shaped garments similar to a loose-fitting modern T-shirt, that were made of woven fabric in varying lengths. E. J. W. Barber (1994) suggests that the Latin word tunica derives from the Middle Eastern word for linen and she believes that the tunic originated as a linen undergarment worn to protect the skin against the harsh, itchy feel of wool. Later tunics were also used as outerwear and were made from fabrics of any available fibers” (LoveToKNow). Additionally, in the ancient world, most cultures used a loincloth for undergarments. In terms of shoes, sandals were the most popular footwear, though boots were used to ride horses and emerged in mountainous areas (LoveToKNow).
Although volumes could be written on ancient clothing, let us fast forward to the origin of modern fashion. Before the 1800s, fashion as we know it, with its limited appeal and constantly evolving sensibilities, was practically nonexistent. This was due to the reliance on spinning yarn from sheep, and weaving cloth at a slow rate. But, as Fashionista states, “The cycle of fashion finally picked up speed during the Industrial Revolution, which introduced new textile machines, factories and ready-made clothing, or clothing that is made in bulk in a range of sizes rather than being made to order. First patented in 1846, the sewing machine contributed to an extremely rapid fall in the price of clothing and an enormous increase in the scale of clothing manufacturing. Outside of couture houses, localized dressmaking businesses were responsible for making clothing for middle-class women, while women of lower incomes continued to make their own clothing” (Idacavage, Sara). Local dressmakers began to comprise workrooms, akin to sweatshops. This focus on efficiency began with the Industrial Revolution, and designers for elite and middle-class people sprang up. Paul Poiret (1879-1944) dressed the finest people in Paris before World War I, Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) built the longest-running fashion house and was the first fashion mogul, Madeleine Vionnet (1867-1975) had 1,000 staff at her hand and rejected the famous corset, and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971) introduced gender-neutral clothing and built the most famous brand ever in fashion (The Business of Fashion). These are the progenitors of modern western fashion, and it is not surprising they all came from France, as this country has been at the helm of fashion for the entire span of modern fashion history.
Clothing was originally made according to tradition and necessity, but later became a novelty through the progression of the Industrial Revolution. With the creation of the local sweat shop, local designers eventually made brands. The first four great fashion designers came from France, and to this day, France is regarded as the premier location for fashion.
“Ancient World: History of Dress.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp, fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/alphabetical-index-fashion-clothing-history/ancient-world-history-dress.
Idacavage, Sara. “Fashion History Lesson: The Origins of Fast Fashion.” Fashionista, Fashionista, 8 June 2016, fashionista.com/2016/06/what-is-fast-fashion.
“Fashion History | BoF Education Fashion Course | The Business of Fashion | #BoFEducation.” The Business of Fashion, www.businessoffashion.com/education/collection/fashion-history.
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