Fashion History: the Colorful History of Mankind

Fashion history has its roots sown deep in the history of mankind – the history of homo sapiens and how they have lived their lives over the centuries. The very evolution of fashion showcases the evolution of human beings:

For example, fashion history points out the story of the suppression of women, who were forced to wear corsets, to their liberation, revealed through the popularity of a variety of garments for women alongside fashion shows, marketing, etc. Hence, a strong knowledge of fashion history is essential not only for people who wish to work in the fashion industry in near future but for eveyone who has a knack for the history of mankind.

Why should one know about fashion history?

We all know that the word contemporary which we use to describe fashion or rather a current trend in fashion is rather relatable. All kinds of trends, styles, etc. are part of a continuous process of change and evolution. Interestingly, many of these trends come back at some point of time and are on the rage once again. Hence it is crucial to know about the history of the fashion that we all are so fond of.

Ancient Indian Fashion:

The Indus valley civilization showcases a vivid picture of ancient Indian fashion: figurines of both men and women have been discovered, revealing the kind of dresses they wore. Men wore long pieces of cloth which were tied at the back and resembled what we now call, a dhoti. Opulent men usually wore a turban or a robe draped over the shoulder on the left. Women wore tunics which were tightly stitched along with skirts. Heavy jewelry (earrings and necklaces) were popular.

Ancient Roman Fashion:

People in the ancient Roman Empire were meticulous about their appearance: they were pretty spend-thrift when it came to fashion which represented their social and financial status just like it does till date.

Roman women wore long dresses (called stolas) and draped a shawl over their heads (known as a palla).

 Roman men, on the other hand, wore tunics coupled with a semi-circular piece of cloth (a toga) which marked them as citizens of Rome. Their tunics were quite modern if compared to our regular garments today.

Gothic Fashion:

Gothic fashion (especially late gothic fashion) came into existence as a protest against the lavishness of the upper classes. Gothic fashion included, more than anything else, a predominance of dark colours, laces, velvets, gloves and yes, this is where the corsets also make an entry. Dark make-up, eyeliners, hair and even black nail polish were in vogue back then.

Early Gothic period (1200-1350): early Gothic fashion was pretty sophisticated and included tight sleeves. Long dresses with deep necklines were popular. Corsets were an integral part of women’s garments: it helped in shaping the body of a woman like an hourglass which was then thought to be attractive as well as aesthetic. For men, so far as the hairstyles are concerned, bangs across the forehead were common whereas young ladies kept their hair loose till their marriage: married women tied their hair and tucked it into a bun.

 Late Gothic period (1350-1450): the fashion of this era was marked by leg-o-mutton sleeves alongside crisp pleats and padded doublets; tight belts were popular too. During this period, men’s hairstyle included bobbed hair with neat and curled ends. Gothic women generally wore high-heeled dark boots whereas men wore flat and heavy black boots and sometimes even blood-red ones.

The Renaissance Fashion:

The enthusiasm among the aristocrats about fashion during this era makes it important to learn about renaissance fashion: Henry VII, King of England, is rumored to have spent quite a lot of fortune on fashion accessories and his followers, the aristocrats, meticulously followed everything he did.

Industrial Revolution: The Rise of Machines

The Industrial Revolution in Britain nearly changed the entire track of the growth and development of the textile industry. Textile manufacturing was then a prosperous business in Britain. Before the Industrial Revolution, all textiles and garments were handmade: soon, the machines took over all means of production and tailoring. Knitting and weaving, all were done by these huge machines.

In the year 1790, about a decade after the French revolution, the sewing machine was invented, enabling both speedy and effortless manufacturing of clothes.

1900s Fashion:

Although the first half was marked by glamorous and flashy dresses, the later half witnessed the rise of simple clothing. This century also witnessed the rise of fashion shows. Synthetic textiles gained popularity: lycra spandex as well as viscose (figure-hugging materials) were quite in trend. Fashion Designers like Calvin Klein and Vivienne Westwood from Britain rose to fame during this time. Streetwear style came into existence as an answer to the clothes that were pretty to look at but uncomfortable to wear. French, Italian, American, Japanese and British fashion has a great global influence: they inspired the world.

Fusion in Fashion:

As soon as global communication  got established, fashion styles from one part of the globe was fused with a totally different style of clothing to make an entirely different sort of garment which is not only interesting but also beautiful.

In the modern age, everyone wishes to stand out in the crowd: they want to be unique and unlike the old times, they do not want to wear similar clothes or look alike their peers. The evolution of fashion is probably the most noticeable and interesting series of events in the history of mankind. Fashion has been used to segregate men, group them together, discriminate them and even unite them. Fashion – which was once a simple reaction to changes in culture – is now simply a reflection of individual personality.

Nevertheless, there is something about fashion that we have not been able to change till date: wealthy and influential people, usually businessmen, still have a strong grip on the fashion industry. Throughout the course of fashion history, it is only the upper classes that have been able to influence a particular trend (in both a positive and negative way).

Previously, it used to be the royal families, the kings and queens and now it has shifted to the businessmen, their companies or brands and of course, celebrities. Yet, more often than not, it is the common men who decide whether a trend is to be accepted and tried out or even made popular or whether they must be rejected or tucked away in a corner to reveal at some point of time in the future, thereby bringing forth, once again, a small piece of fashion history.

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