A Short History of Clothing_ From There and Then to Here and Now

Over time, there has been a noticeable change in the clothing we’ve become so familiar with, from new materials to contemporary fashion trends. Today, we’re going back in time to uncover the origins of the fabrics behind the trends, exploring the different types of dress found all over the world and how they’ve influenced mainstream fashion today.

clockImage: Pixabay

Clothing in Ancient Egypt

The clothing worn in Ancient Egypt – something we’ve become accustomed to seeing in art museums and pop culture – was influenced by the harsh climate of the country, which meant that clothes had to be light as to not overheat the wearer. Clothes were mostly made by women at home from naturally coloured linen, although vibrant plant-dyed cloth alternatives weren’t unheard of at the time.

The quality of linen used was determined by the class of the person the garment was being created for. Clothes for royalty would be woven from a fine type of linen called byssus, while coarse cloth and shenti-dress made from flax were left for the lower working classes.

Wool was also a popular material in Ancient Egyptian times, however, when worn in temples and sanctuaries it was considered taboo and often banned as it was considered an impure, unnatural material. It is thought that the action of weaving wool replaced weaving flax in Ancient Egypt in 2000 BC.

Clothing in Ancient Greece

Similar to that of Ancient Egypt, clothing in Ancient Greece was first and foremost influenced by the seasonal climate and was designed to keep the wearer cool. The main fabrics featured in their fashion were linen and wool, which would then be dyed using plants to inject some colour into the fabric. As a result, the most common colours seen in Ancient Greek clothing were violets, greens and greys and were often decorated in beautiful wavy lines or vibrant stripes.

While wool was more commonly used in Ancient Greece than in Ancient Egypt, it was known to be an expensive material at the time as it was imported from India. As a result, it was predominantly worn by wealthy people while those in the lower classes relied on sourcing and making their own clothes. Clothing was often long in length, made from rectangular shapes and consisted of two main parts, a tunic and a cloak.

Clothing in the Ottoman Empire

Clothing seen in the Ottoman Empire was simple in its construction but beautifully and delicately crafted. A garment’s structure was designed by joining inserts to main panels at the front and back while the central fastening of thread buttons with fabric loops accentuated the status of the person wearing the piece – a higher number of rows of buttons expressed the higher class of the person wearing it.

The typical garment in the mid-fifteenth century was long-sleeved and of ankle length, with a kaftan worn over the top. The modern version of modest clothing hasn’t changed much over the centuries, as we see a similar design in the 21st-century contemporary abayas available to us.  

The history of wearing clothing

Wearing clothes is a human characteristic, modified by different cultures to fit within their societies. There is no real evidence to suggest why the human species started wearing clothes, however, anthropologists think that it coincided with the evolution of humans. As humans evolved over time, our bodies grew less hair, so clothing was used to protect the body in different weather conditions.

It is thought that the first material used to make pieces of clothing was most likely felt, which was then followed by flax, cotton, linen cloth, wool and silk. Each society had their own way of turning the textile into clothing; in Ancient Egypt, for example, different spinning techniques were used such as hand-to-hand spinning or rolling on the thigh. In contrast, over in China, a knife would be used to cut a silkworm in half, exposing the silk material which could then be woven into clothes.

Sewing thread

Image: Pexels

The introduction of synthetic fabrics

As seen throughout history, clothing was often handmade by family members or purchased from traders in the lower classes. With the cost of materials being so high, clothes weren’t discarded as quickly and easily as they are in today’s society. Clothes were treated with respect and cared for so they would last for a long time and regularly reworn, especially those made from a more expensive material like wool in Ancient Greece or silk from China.

In the 21st century, we’ve said goodbye to the long-term care of our clothes, allowing us as consumers to dispose of our unwanted pieces of clothing quickly and replace them regularly with the next latest fashion trend. The introduction of cheap, quick and easy synthetic fabrics have made it affordable for us as a society to make more and more regular purchases which in return has seen an increase in the volume of clothing that goes to waste – the average person throws away £70 of clothing annually.

While we might still make use of the same materials used in ancient clothing, we have adapted them extensively – producing cheaper copies of fabrics and developing faster ways to manufacture them. With the ease, speed and accessibility we now have to purchase new clothes, we have created a society that disposes of unwanted clothing at an alarming rate.

Knowing how to make a difference can be difficult, but with Trusted Clothes you can volunteer and become part of the movement to find a long-term solution to the problem. Find out more about how you can get involved right here.

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Abi Proud is a content creator for AbayaButh - retailers of abayas, hijabs and a range of modest Islamic clothing for women.

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