A costume, according to fashion terms, is a set of clothes that has evolved in a specific period in history or from a particular country. The clothes worn in previous centuries are a shadow of the ultra-modern clothing of the present era. We’ll take a look at the early man's clothing and retrace humanity’s way through the fashion evolutionary process.
In the history of costumes, each period had its notable apparent styles and trends. Read on to explore the evolution of costumes.
History of costumes in ancient Egypt, Greek, and Rome
The first costume trends are frequently traced back to the time of the traditional Egyptians. Apparel of the traditional Egyptians was made from linen, which was ideal for keeping cool in a tropical desert climate.
Back then, retainers worked naked, or at best almost naked. Egyptian men wore serape skirts made from linen. The women wore simple jacket-style cloth that didn't have a fitting and usually fell to the waist. Back then, the Egyptians didn't think of exposed women's upper bodies as nasty or indecent.
Apparel pieces were simple and sometimes adorned with fabrics in their natural colour. Wealthy Egyptians wore ornaments like ornate collars, hats, irons, earrings, and rings made with exquisite artistry. These ornaments all serve to make them more attractive in rather plain garments. Even in this ancient time, it is evident that the show of luxury is an enormous factor, especially among the wealthy.
In the days of ancient Greek and Rome, costume design consisted of draped pieces of fabric. During this time, needles were crude, rudimentary, clumsy, and difficult to handle and use. Hence, no expansive sewing could be done.
In the history of costumes, the typical costume in ancient Greek and Rome was made by belting woven woollen fabrics in colourful styles. The essential costume piece was long tunics, still in their early stages, worn with a mantle, which was a large fabric piece that people wore over the tunic like a cloak. These garments had a mask-like appearance and were frequently held in place by brooches or legs.
In Rome, the wealthiest and most distinguished members of the community wore a garment called Toga. Women weren't allowed to wear the Toga; instead, they wore the Stola, which was a type of dress created from a draped fabric, and could be painted in different colours. An infamous example of the Stola is the one worn by the statue of liberty.
During this time, the Greeks and Romans considered the type of apparel worn as a clear expression of status in society. Typically, the style and colour of a person’s garment vary depending on the status and social standing of individuals. For example, ordinary Romans wore apparel made of rough and coarse woven hair. In contrast, wealthy Romans wore apparel made of luxurious fabrics like finer hair, linen, or silk, painted in extravagant flashy stripes. Roman senators of the time were distinguished by having purple stripes embellished on their togas.
History of costumes in the medieval period
During the medieval era, the difference between regulars and the wealthy became even more apparent through the clothes they wore. Clothing became very indicative of one’s social status. The poor didn’t care much nor had the means to be concerned about fashion. They wore plain clothes that they made at home. On the other hand, the wealthy could afford different luxurious pieces of the time and could even hire skilled tailors to make more beautiful clothing for them.
Comfort and practicality were the focus of fashion in the medieval period. Typical clothing in the medieval era was basic tunic-style garments. Men wore their tunics with woven legging or loose pants, while women’s tunics were made to be dress-like garments with lower necklines and were laced up at the waistline. The outer clothing was rarely washed, while undergarments were washed more frequently.
Knights and warriors wore armour to war. The armour was a kind of protective garment that consisted of a primary chain mail, made by carefully interlocking small rings or loops together in a complicated pattern. This armour prevented slashing injuries from swords.
However, this armour was expensive to make, so it was usually reserved for elite knights and other important warriors. The armour also had to be made to fit the warrior with precision to prevent restricted movement in battle. This armour, complete with the helmet and other ensembles, made a bold fashion statement during the medieval period.
History of Costumes in the renaissance period
The renaissance period was the period between the 14th and 16th centuries. Thus era was a period of growth and cultural revival, especially in arts, architecture, literature, and other forms of learning.
The renaissance period saw extravagance in clothing. People dressed to impress others. Fabrics that were rich and heavy were used to sew dresses for fashion in the Renaissance. Clothing garments were oversized, exaggerated, and excessive, as the fashion styles were used to make a grandiose statement. Typical costumes had puffs near the head, on the shoulders, and even on the thighs.
Men wore jerkins, which was a type of jacket made from leather or velvet. These jerkins were worn with tights or full-length trunks or nether-hose, a type of hose that was held up by garters below the knee. These tights worn by men were completely open at the crotch, which was then covered with codpiece, a pouch-like piece that covers the front of the pants. This codpiece was the focal point of the outfit. It was usually decorated and sometimes padded to draw attention deliberately.
In the Renaissance period, women wore clothes with sheer volume, with extreme corsets that accentuated tiny waists and flattened the bust. Women’s dresses of this era constituted a silhouette of high waists, gigantic puffy sleeves, exaggerated shoulders, and an enormous skirt with many volumes. Fabrics used to make these dresses were heavy brocades, velvet, silk, furs, and taffetas, depending on one’s wealth. These fabrics generally made the clothes extremely heavy.
People of this era also wore ruffs, which was plain ruffle attached to the neckline of the bodice of a dress. It steadily became extravagant separate clothing worn on dresses. It was cut, heavily starched, and well-ironed to form crisp and precise folds, then heavily embroidered or lined with lace. Although the ruff was quite extreme, it suited the fashion of this era because fashion was all about extravagant excesses.
History of costumes in the 17th and 18th century
As time progressed into the 17th century, dresses began to lose their extravagant excesses. Women’s dresses became a slimmer silhouette than what they used to be. Skirts were still full, but the volume was significantly reduced. Natural-looking silhouettes that were softer and more elegant replaced the stiff look of the renaissance period.
Fashion shifted its focus from extravagant excesses to comfort and simplicity, and the ruff went out of style. For the first time in history, women exposed their arms openly as short sleeves came into fashion. Women wore a linen shift as an undergarment. The bodice and skirts of dresses were made in separate pieces.
Men’s doublets, which were jacket-style garments with or without sleeves, became lengthened to form a waistcoat. Often, a frock coat was worn on this waistcoat. Men ditched the tights that were usually worn on the thigh and began to wear breeches. This style is a shadow of the three-piece suit that is common today.
Another significant characteristic of the costume of this era was the wearing of white wigs. White wigs were a symbol used to distinguish high-standing members of society. Men shaved their hair bald and wore these white wigs. Women, on the other hand, powdered their hair heavily to achieve the white wig look. The wigs also evolved from being extended, free, and flowing to being held back at the nape with ribbons.
Women's hairstyles, especially the pompadour, were fashioned to reach astronomical heights. Women had their hair done extravagantly to be as high as possible. These large and enormous hairdos were associated with the French court and were adorned with accessories.
History of costumes in the 19th century
During the 19th century, men’s clothing evolved out of knee-length breeches into full-length trousers. Waistcoats and coats were still being worn, but mainly for formal occasions. A dignified top hat and a cravat became part of the formal outfit for men.
In the 19th century, costume fashion was characterized by the use of corset-pinched waistlines in the bodice of women’s dresses. These dresses accentuated narrow waists, which led down to full skirts. Men began to wear three-piece suits with waistcoats and outer coats as formal wear.
Due to the need for less expensive and mass production of fabrics and clothing, more women were brought into the textile workforce as fashion was industrialized. This industrialization fulfilled the market demand for inexpensive ready-to-wear clothing. Costume fashion was characterized by a ubiquitous high-standing collar and full cone-shaped skirts that were wide at the bottom. Men's clothing evolved from elaborately and colourfully designed three-piece suits into ones of darker colours.
History of costumes in the 20th century
In the early 1900s, corsets came back into style. Women’s costumes emphasized an hourglass figure with trim waistlines, achieved with the aid of corsets, that led to full skirts, giving the breasts an almost conical shape. The "Gibson girl" style soon became very popular, as women wore clothing that was inspired by men's outfits. Clothing designers incorporated suits, shirts, and ties in outfits that were considered applicable to women. Lighter fabrics and more comfortable clothing styles also came into fashion.
Headdresses became an essential part of fashion. Distinguished men wore top headdresses, the middle class wore bowler headdresses, and the lower class wore a simple cloth cap.
In the history of costumes in the 1920s, women ditched the corset and aimed to achieve a boyish look. They wore slip-on dresses that had short hemlines, downplayed their bust to achieve a flat-chest look, and also wore bobs as the trending hairstyle.
In the 1930s, the previous fashion trend was replaced with more conservative styles. Women’s costumes were clothes with hemlines reaching the knees became more popular, and figure-hugging clothes that appreciated the feminine look instead of the boyish look of the last decade weren't unusual. In the 1940s, clothing styles were subdued, and shorter hemlines that went over the knees were embraced because there was a limit on how much fabric could be used on one outfit.
Broad shoulders with full knee-length skirts and short boxy jackets with pencil-style skirts were the regular women’s fashion in the 1950s. Circle skirts paired with small collared blouses that buttoned up the front and cardigan-style sweaters with a plain neckline were also popular in the 1950s.
During the 1950s, men began wearing cardigan sweaters. Men's trousers became narrower and the jackets more unstructured. James Dean, a music star idol, made the wearing of a white shirt and jeans a colossal fashion statement of the time. Elvis Presley also made the wearing of blue suede shoes very popular.
In the 1960s, costume fashion became a little crazy. Wild prints, colours, genderless sandals, and tie-dye clothes came into fashion, and women's hemlines varied from short mini skirts and dresses to maxi dresses.
Costume fashion in the 1970s includes the widely popular bell-bottomed pants and platform shoes. John Travolta greatly popularised the wearing of the three-piece suit after wearing one in the classic movie Saturday Night Fever.
Grunge artists mostly inspired costume fashion in the 80s and 90s. The grunge style came into fashion in the 1980s and lasted through the 90s.
The history of costumes isn't one that'll come to an end. It'll keep progressing. As long as we wear clothes, trying to improve and spice up our dressing is bound to happen. Costume design will inevitably keep evolving as new designs, accessories, and trends constantly replace the old. We hope that you have seen how costume fashion has progressed over the centuries from this article.