Category: style

As you probably guessed, the dress code forbade girls from wearing slacks.

These images come from a two-volume illustrated treatise on French hairstyles, produced in 1778/1780. That’s right, there were so many hairstyles, they had to publish them in two volumes!

Here’s the crowd at a football (soccer) match in 1920, in England. See how many hatless heads you can count!

This lovely lady was crafted between 1670 and 1690 in Japan. She is dressed in a fashionable outfit of the day; she is draped in several layers of kimono, which are belted at the waist with a black obi. Her face has a jovial expression. While one foot is slightly revealed at the hem of her garment, her hands are held demurely by her body.

Depictions of such bijin, or beautiful ladies, were becoming popular in Japan at this time in the newly budding art form of ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world.” The leaders in fashion were typically residents of the pleasure districts. So beautiful figures such as this were often styled based on them.

Both British and American sailors have worn bell-bottom trousers. Named for the wide flare at the bottom, they were introduced in Britain in 1857, with the justification that it allowed men in the water to kick them off over their boots. 

Although its unclear when the US navy introduced them, they were first recorded as being worn by US sailors in 1813. The American justification for the weird pants was that they could be easily rolled up and kept dry when sailors scrubbed the decks.

By the way, picture is from the World War II hit song, “Bell Bottom Trousers.”

That much embroidery probably hinders their freedom of movement…but it sure looks snazzy!

From the Qing Dynasty, circa 1700s

“In your dreams.” London, 1955. Photographed by Ken Russell.

A traditional Ainu dress, made from striped cotton.

Circa 1800s, Hokkaido, Japan.

In the ancient world, textiles were a valuable commodity, because every piece of cloth had to be made by hand. Clothing was important economically. Early Bronze Age Linear B tablets from the Aegean Sea document the careful attention given to managing textile production, and on the other side of the globe, the Incan Empire levied tribute in textiles. Unfortunately, clothing and the cloth they are made form tend not to survive in the archaeological record. They often have to be studied indirectly, by examining the scraps of textile that survive in the extremes of arid or waterlogged conditions, and comparing the scraps to visual or sculptural records of clothing. Recent frozen discoveries from the retreating glaciers of the Alps offer new insight into ancient Greek and ancient Roman textiles.

Iron Age Italians seem to have favored a weave known as a twill. When colors are used, they will create neat diagonal patterns (most notably in the modern tweed). Currently, the earliest known examples of twills are from Hallstatt in Austria. The Italians likely shared textile production preferences with their northern European neighbors, placing the Romans firmly in the European textile tradition.

In Greece, a form of weave known as a tabby was the most popular. It is considered the simplest type of textile available, when in purest form: horizontal and vertical threads repeatedly pass over and under each other. The ancient Greeks favored a particular type of tabby, however, where the horizontal threads were beaten into the weave so hard that the vertical strands become near-invisible. It is perfect for bold blocks of color, and can make more varied designs than just diagonals; such a technique has been used to produce spectacular tapestries and Turkish carpets. Early examples of this tabby have been found in ancient Ur, in Iraq, and in Turkey. Twill weaves have notably not been found in ancient Greece or in the ancient Near East. That situates the Greeks in the Eastern textile tradition, relatively uninfluenced by their northwestern neighbors.

By looking at their textiles, then, we can tell that Iron Age Italy and ancient Greece were culturally in two different spheres. Italy took after its European neighbors, while Greece took after the Near East. They were a small example of the wider break between East and West.

3 ladies in photo booth, 1950s.