Fashion History

Fashion has been a defining staple of epochs throughout time. Clothing can be used as a marker for certain historical periods, and is often called back or edited for more recent periods of time. We begin our journey today with a particular group of people, well-known not only for their advances in literature, philosophy, and mathematics, but for their innate sense of dress as well.

500 – 146 BC: The Greeks

Clothing in ancient Greece was almost always composed of loose or flowing layers of linen or wool. Garments were almost never sewn together, as with the popular chiton – this piece of clothing was little more than a rectangular piece of fabric, pinned over the shoulders and secured with a belt around the middle. When worn by women, this fabric was always ankle-length, but men sometimes wore it shorter.  Male nudity in general was commonly accepted in ancient Greece. Women, however, dressed much more modestly, and wore a peplos, which was a tubular length of cloth. The wearer put the tube over them, so that they were in the middle, and then secured the garment with pins over each shoulder. A belt was usually included in the ensemble.

500 BC – 323 AD: The Romans

Similar in style to that of the Greeks, Roman fashion likewise incorporated flowing layers into daily wear. Roman women usually wore a tunica, or a stola if they were married. A tunica reached to the ankles, and was generally sleeveless. A stola, similar to a tunica, was longer and larger, and could easily cover a tunica. A stola could also be worn with not only one belt (usually around the waist), but two (the second worn just underneath the bust). Roman men generally wore a tunic, belted at the waist, and almost always with a cloak of some sort. Hairstyles were both popular and varied amongst Roman women, featuring everything from largely upswept curls to ornate hairpins to red dyes.

400 – 1200 AD: The Middle Ages

The basic clothing element of the Middle Ages was a fitted tunic. Trousers were introduced and eventually replaced with hose, and by 1200 AD, tight lacing had been introduced to women’s clothing to create a smaller and shapelier waistline. Headdresses took a prominent place in displaying a woman’s social status, while the more exacting rules of fashion changed according to each new ruler and what they decreed was fashionable.

1200 – 1350 AD: Early Gothic

Men’s clothing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, for the most part, became more tightly tailored, and the large, bulky sleeves of the prior time period were done away with. Necklines dipped a bit, and the general sense of fashion was more sophisticated than it had been. Shorter tunics appeared, while women’s clothing remained modestly long. Men began wearing their hair in neat bobs and donning hats such as the chaperon; women left their hair flowing until marriage, at which point it was swept into a neat bun and accented with such decorations as a wimple (to cover the head) or gorget (to cover the neck). Parti-coloring also appeared and introduced the practice of creating a piece of clothing from two separate colors of fabric.

1350 – 1425 AD: Early Renaissance

Fabrics in the early Renaissance, while now colorful, lost many of their flowing characteristics and became increasingly stiff. The coverings of the upper body began to sport many decorations, including increasingly intricate headdresses and exaggerations, such as pleats, tight belts, and largely ballooning sleeves. Men during this period carried on the practice of wearing bobbed haircuts, but more men began displaying neatly trimmed beards and slight curls. 

1485 – 1520 AD: Italian Renaissance

It was during this time period that clothing became more “square”; women’s necklines, for example, dipped slightly lower, became squarer, and were decorated with either fine stones or lace for the wealthy or noble. Skirts began to incorporate more layers, and were split down the middle to show off the article of clothing called a kirtle, worn underneath the main skirt.  Bodices began to end slightly higher than the natural waist, creating a longer skirt length. Men began wearing doublets and sleeveless underdoublets, the former of which, while initially long, were quickly shortened to waist length. Sleeves for men were unique in that they were predominantly either laced or tied onto the arm. Articles of clothing called tabards were introduced, and were sometimes worn in place of a robe.

1500 – 1550 AD: Tudor England

Distinguished by the ornate and often exquisitely beautiful clothing of the time, fashion became a way to display wealth. Ruffs were worn at the neck, purely to show status and attention to current trends. Ladies began to wear stomachers and corsets to make their waists appear smaller, and introduced padded skirts held up with loops, which were used to hold up floor-length gowns. Well-to-do men began to wear silk, frilled shirts and detailed doublets over hose. Jewelry came to play a distinct role in daily wear, and was almost always worn in addition to daily clothing, except by the poor, who continued to wear simple woolen garments.

1550 – 1603 AD: Elizabethan Renaissance

Clothing, having become an indicator of status, now served to reflect not only one’s social standing, but also one’s wealth, age, personal preference, body type, and marital status.  A noblewoman now wore several layers of clothing, up to and including a shift, stockings, corset, verdingal, bumroll, petticoat, kirtle, forepart, partlet, and finally the gown and sleeves. Headwear, especially tall, plumed hats, was quite fashionable, as were jewelry and hairpins. Men also began to wear corsets in addition to codpieces and short breeches. Doublets remained a popular item of clothing, and plumed hats were as much a symbol of a man’s status or profession as they were decoration.

1620 – 1660 AD: Cavalier Period

The former, restrictive Elizabethan costume gave way to the softer, more comfortable clothing of the Cavalier period. Ruffs were replaced by falling ruffs, and this lack of neck-obstruction encouraged men to let their hair grow longer. Any beards or mustaches were small, and neatly trimmed. Hats continued to be decorated, but more modestly. Puritans embellished hats only with a buckle. Women took to wearing their hair shorter and curled, or in buns. Collars were used to hide the neck and bosom, and sleeves took the first step towards modernity, stopping at the elbow. These sleeves were also usually embellished by ruffles or lace. Hoops were not worn any longer, and the waist of the dress rose to create a shorter midsection.

1660 – 1700 AD: The Restoration

European fashion would fluctuate repeatedly over the next few hundred years, and was demonstrated by the swift, recurring drop in women’s waistlines, accenting, once again, a long line down the body. Corsets made a comeback, and gowns began to feature a low neckline and dropped shoulders. Sleeves stayed at elbow length, though ruffles and ornaments on them became more prominent. Around 1680, the mantua appeared. The mantua, originally a loose gown, evolved into an over-gown, usually worn over the petticoat and stomacher. The mantua raised the neckline again, and became a popularly modest and decorated fashion statement. Women’s hair began with curls resting on the shoulder, and grew progressively higher until, by the end of the century, they were piled over the forehead with no part. This hairstyle was usually covered by a fontange. Men’s coats fluctuated in length, first becoming bolero-like, and then evolving to a longer coat, called a justacorps, that quickly became the favored style. Powered wigs also took place for the first time.

1715 – 1790 AD: The 18th Century

Clothing in the eighteenth century, especially in the relatively new country of America, shifted to play off of variances in silhouette, especially with ladies’ skirts, which could be worn in a variety of ways according to the hoops worn beneath them. Sleeves remained at the elbow, though the length now fluctuated according to weather or function. Corsets, or stays, were now a staple part of the female wardrobe, and a woman without one was said to be “loose”.  Several distinct articles of clothing, such as the Brunswick gown and the redingote, were especially popular in Europe. Women now also began wearing ornate powdered wigs, and the hairstyles of these, especially in France, became almost obscenely tall and complex. Men continued to wear the waistcoat, breeches, and coat of the prior period, but the fabric changed to more rough wool for day-to-day activities as hunting and sports became more popular.  Tricorne hats appeared and, towards the end of the century, were shortened to bicorne hats.

1790 – 1815 AD: Revolution and Empire

The bicorne hat became a staple in military uniforms, as worn by Napoleon Bonaparte. After the French Revolution, the aristocratic style died out, and corsets were, once again, temporarily done away with in favor of a more natural form for women.  Waistlines were fashioned just below a woman’s bust, in a form called an “empire waist“, and young ladies were advised to wear soft colors while older matrons were permitted to dress in more vivid colors. Gloves, parasols, and fans became popular accessories.  During the second half of the 1790’s, women began dressing in a style that was reminiscent of the Classical Greeks. While not wildly popular, it was nonetheless a distinct movement in dress. Men’s clothing finally left all adornment and paid closer attention to cut and quality. Coats gained an M-shaped notch in the collar distinct to the period, and a tall, conical hat was worn. Hair on younger men was left curly with some sideburns, while older men still adhered to powdered styles and wigs.

1815 – 1848 AD: Romantic

Women’s clothes once again embraced the corset, and sleeves reached their maximum with the introduction of the gigot sleeve. The neckline was broad, and hoops were re-introduced to create a kind of hourglass effect. Female hair was curled, and bonnets and decorated caps were worn on the head. Men’s shirts came to feature tall, standing collars, and redingotes were the popular choice for day wear, and could be double-breasted. Full-length trousers were introduced, with the fly opening in the front. Top hats reached their popularity, and men’s hair remained curled, with the additional phenomenon of mustaches.

 1845 – 1867 AD: Crinoline

Women’s fashion came to rely on the crinoline, which served the same purpose as earlier hoops but was more flexible and lightweight. This novelty led to a rise in artistic dresses, and necklines rose once again. Hair was either parted or smoothed, and then styled in some kind of bun or up-do at the back of the head. Men’s fashion remained largely the same as in the previous period, with the exception of neckties growing wider and being tied in bows.

1868 – 1879 AD: First Bustle

By 1870, the fullness of a woman’s skirt had moved to the rear, where it was supported by a bustle and adorned with draperyTea gowns and artistic gowns were also popular. Hairstyles began to incorporate a fringe over the forehead. Small hats began to have veils attached, and summer hats became popular. Men accepted patterned fabrics for shirts, and neckties were replaced by the ascot tieBowlers and straw boater hats were also introduced during this period.

1880 – 1889 AD: Second Bustle

The bustle was now accented by a full corset, and long torsos returned to the fashion world in women’s clothing.  Gloves were often worn to accent the outfit, and hats developed curved edges. Ditto suits became popular amongst men, and consisted of a matching sack coat, waistcoat, and trousers. Collars were turned over into “wings”, and top hats remained the staple for evening wear. Shoes had a narrow toe and higher heel than previously.

1890 – 1899 AD: La Belle Epoque

Corseting continued, but the bustle declined in popularity, and sleeves became tighter, with smaller puffs. The shirtwaist was introduced and became a staple piece of clothing amongst working women, while bicyclists wore bloomers in public. Necklines remained high, often moving up into a collar. Ditto suits remained popular for men, though the blazer and Norfolk jacket gained popularity. Hair amongst men now featured a sharp, pointed beard and mustache with cropped head hair.

1900 – 1913 AD: Edwardian

The hourglass shape once again became popular with women, and a “health corset” was introduced to create a full but comfortable shape. Skirts were floor-length for every occasion, though by the end of the decade, the figure had slimmed once more and skirts rose off the ground. Long, wavy hair was fashionable, though it was often pinned under expansive and well-decorated hats. Men adopted lounge coats in place of their frock coats, and waistcoats fastened high on the chest. A four-in-hand was the usual necktie, while white bow ties were worn with tuxedos and ascot ties were worn for day dress. 

By looking back on history, our future of fashion can be changed as in fashion design schools and expanded upon even more than it has been up to this point. One can only wait and anticipate what new trend will dawn next upon the society in which we live, and look forward to the thrill of the adventure!