Fashion History – Clothing of the Middle Ages in Western Europe

The Middle Ages encompasses the time from the Fall of the Roman Empire in 400 CE until the beginning of the Renaissance, around 1500 CE.

Clothing of the Early Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, was basically a tunic and under tunic, both sewn from a cross shaped piece of fabric that was folded and hand stitched. Later, the tunic was cut in two pieces, then four piece for a better fit.

Peasants and serfs made their clothes at home of wool and hemp. The shearing, and cleaning of the wool; the spinning, and weaving was a long drawn out chore before the invention of the spinning wheel and the horizontal loom. But the garment were durable and long lasting. One garment could last a life time.

While the upper classes and aristocracy wore basically the same type of clothing, their under tunics were made of linen which was made for them by workers. Upper class women sewed tunics at home and some were made by professional tailors.

Due to the loss of trade that followed the end of the Roman Empire, trade was minimal, so the importation of fine fabrics was expensive and rare. But finer weaves, borders, and embellishments made for better clothing for the elite.

After the invention of the horizontal loom and spinning wheel, the manufacture of clothing became easier. These technological improvements made finer clothing more available and affordable. The Crusades introduced silk, damask, and other luxurious fabrics and designs into Europe. And when Marco Polo’s adventures heralded a new interest in the Far East, trade increased, creating greater availability of textiles, design ideas, and new patterned fabric to Europe.

Clothing worn by the nobility and merchants began to change, introducing the concept of fashion. While the Church dictated certain aspects of dress for modesty, such as veils for women, alterations in the in the types of fabrics used varied the styles that became popular. Women wore veils made of sheer muslin, interwoven with golden threads. Gowns became more ornate with variations in the neckline, sleeves, and hem lengths.

The establishment of guilds and improvements in the manufacture of clothing created an upwardly mobile middle class able to emulate the clothing styles of the upper class. New styles emerged including the elaborate head dresses of the later Middle Ages. The head dresses that looked like horns were wildly popular for a generation, as was the classic fairy tale princess style of hat called a hennin. A hennin was a tall, conical hat worn with a veil, a style much identified with the Middle Ages.

The later Middle Ages saw women’s gowns grow trains, and sleeves elongated so that long flaps reached the ground.

The changing of style and middle class interest in emulating the clothing styles of the elite created what we think of today as fashion.

4,000 Years of Pearl Fashion History in 5 Minutes

Have you ever looked at a pearl? No, I mean really held one up close to your eye and examined it in bright, natural lighting? If so, then you’ve been treated to one of mother nature’s most spectacular displays of brilliant light, lustre, color, shape and texture gloriously captured in an organic gem roughly the size of a humble pea.

It’s no wonder then that pearls have been highly valued and associated with classical elegance, romance and timeless beauty throughout the ages and among cultures spanning the globe. Here’s a brief snippet on pearls and their rise to the center stage of luxury and fashion:

Cleopatra the last Egyptian queen is said to have dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it to prove that she could consume the wealth of an entire country in one meal.

Roman statues of goddesses including Venus were commonly decorated with magnificent pearl earrings and Caligula the Roman emperor wore pearl studded sandals and adorned his favorite horse with a pearl necklace.

Possibly the oldest pearl necklace in existence, an exquisite 3-stranded necklace with 216 pearls was discovered inside a queen’s tomb in the ancient Persian city, Susa, dating back to the 7th-9th century B.C. This masterpiece has been on display in the Louvre Museum for over 100 years.

Elizabeth the I of England was famously portrayed in a long, pearl-studded dress.

European royalty developed an insatiable demand for pearls and lavishly wore them as jewelry, in crowns, dangling from ropes and embroidered on clothes between the 17th and 19th century.

Jacque Cartier traded 2 pearl necklaces for his landmark store on New York’s famous Fifth Avenue in 1916.

Iconic figures such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Coco Chanel, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Louise Kelly epitomized modern beauty and glamor by wearing elegant pearl strands in the 1960’s.

Today, pearl jewelry is commonly featured on runways and in photo shoots by major fashion labels such as Dolce & Gabanna, Christian Dior, Oscar De La Renta and Georgio Armani.

Do you have any prized pearl jewelry pieces in your collection? What outfits or occasions accentuate them best for you?

Teenage Fashion History

The word “teenager” was first coined in the 1950s, a time when teenage fashion had found its place and a niche market was created. Teenagers were now a closed group with their own feelings, style, beliefs, and ways of perceiving life; that is, their own personality.

Malcolm Barnard says in his book Fashion as Communication, “Fashion and clothing have always been explained as forms of communication”. Teenagers have now their own voice to speak their mind and they manage to do it through fashion.

Being teenager is being rebellious. If you check out the decades of teen fashion you might see that they have proven to be a way of rebelling out.

Back in the fifties, when teen fashion firs appeared, it would follow the famous look of James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”. Although, their clothes did not differ too much from the general trend in fashion, girls could be seen wearing dresses fluffed out with petticoats and crinolines under the skirt. Boys wore tight Levis, Chinos, white or black tight shirts, as well as loafers or Converse shoes with leather jackets.

Fashion is totally influenced and “manipulated” by history. The historical events put a hallmark on fashion decades, as the clothes reveal people’s lifestyle, conceptions, and even prejudices.

In the 1960s, fashion and music started to go hand in hand. Pop and rock music began to influence fashion in a way like never before. Fashion icons, like The Beatles, or rebellious rock stars, like Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger, were speaking on behalf of the younger generation and they represented the main force.

In the 1970s, the disco era was loud and colorful. The fabrics of the decade were polyester, acrylic and lycra. Woman’s dresses were getting to their knees and men wore bell bottoms, jackets and gold chains. Platform shoes were big on the dance floor and shirt patterns were dizzying.

The 1980s came with the aerobic craze. The ultimate combination was tight, shiny stretch leggings paired with an over-sized, off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. The pop singer, Madonna was at her peak at that time and she influenced teenagers sense of style very much.

The 1990s, in terms of teen fashion, represented a mixture of a whole lot of different styles. Boy bands and girl bands of pop music were pretty eclectic in terms of clothes and they were admired by the young generation. It was the time of the platform shoe again which shows up in many shoes from sandals to tennis shoes. The colors are dramatic or pastel, while the classic color black was still used for dramatic effects in fashion.

Nowadays, teen clothing is very comfortable in all ways. The basic trends are vintage blue jeans with a trendy. Teenagers clothes need to be accessible in terms of prices, as young people’s expenditure is pretty limited within the amounts of money collected in their piggy banks.