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Fashions for the Ages

By Michal Strutin
August 12, 2022

I’m wearing cotton pants, a lightweight Smartwool shirt, and Rainbow sandals as I write this. My uniform. Fashion-forward? No. But comfortable. When I look at clothes of the past, I’m thankful I live now. Hobble skirts of the early 20th century; crinolines so broad you couldn’t sit down; cinched bodices that constricted breathing; foot-high chopine platform shoes; short, tight doublets for men with padding in strange places. The stylized clothing of the rich told of their elevated position in society.

Clothing of the hoi polloi throughout the ages may have been more comfortable but certainly not stylish: plain cotton or wool with a couple of seams and a woven belt. What the poor gained in comfort they paid for with inadequate food and shelter. Fortunately, we have choices. What’s your favorite reading or writing outfit?

This clothing Links List caps July’s four Paper Lantern Writers clothing blogs:

The Character Makes the Clothing

It’s All in the Underwear

Historical Fashion: the Worldly and the Weird

Getting in the Fashion Groove for Historical Fiction

Kitchen by Vincenzo Campi, 1580, Renaissance Italy

 

For writers researching historical clothing or readers who are interested in exploring the fashion past, here’s some all-purpose paths from an author who is also research librarian (me):

  • Check Pinterest for clothing and the period and place you’re interested in.
  • Search Google for artists of the time and place you’re interested in. Then choose “Images.”
  • Do a Google search for “clothing,” time, and place and add the word “LibGuide.” These are guides librarians create on everything from physics to clothing. LibGuides include library sources as well as web links open to all.

 

If you really want to dig, a good university library will have:

  • The Berg Fashion Library, a proprietary database
  • Pictorial Encyclopedia of Historic Costume, by Albert Kretschmer and Karl Rohrbach 
  • Vecellio’s Renaissance Costume Book, by Cesare Vecellio. Vecellio’s late 16th-century wood cuts of Italians, Ottomans, and more. Clothing of peasants, artisans, and upper class by an artist who was there.  

Overviews

Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has 33,000 objects representing seven centuries of fashionable dress and accessories for men, women, and children, from the 15th century to the present.

The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fashion History Timeline is a fairly new website. Fashion information on early history and from continents other than Europe and North America is not yet populated. Otherwise, there’s plenty of images and essays from about the 14th century on.

Ancient Greek and Roman Clothing ThoughtCo says it’s “a premier reference site with a 20+ year focus on expert-created education content.” Scroll down to see additional clothing sources. It also has Fashion Through History links.

 

Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644

Chinese Clothing includes Han, Tang, Ming, and Qing dynasties, spanning the years 206 BCE to the early 1900s. Plus Tibetan, Uyghur, and other minorities within China’s realm. This Hanfu website shows off the traditional clothing of the Han Chinese over many centuries.


Medievalists.net has a robust website on all things Medieval. Search “clothing”: 300+ results. Add the word “France” and it’s only 80 results. These short articles almost always include an image and links to related articles.

Armor dates back to the Bronze Age, 3400 years ago. I saw the armor in the accompanying picture in an exhibit at Denver’s Art Museum and was surprised to learn that warriors wore armor well into the 16th century. Even armor had its fashions and styles.

Renaissance clothing varied from country to country. This Fashion History Timeline tells the differences among them. Plus broad-shouldered men with their codpieces and virtuous women with limpid expressions. Scroll down in each of the six segments for references.  

The Ottoman Empire covered large swaths of Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East and lasted from 1299 to 1922, one of the longest-lasting empires in world history, centered on Istanbul. This webpage of 16th-century Istanbul, when the empire was at its height, offers a guide to the layers of women’s clothing. With lots of sidebar links to more clothing info. TheOttomans.org covers everything Ottoman, including women’s clothing.

16th-century Turkish women’s clothing

 

The Victorian Era covers the period of Queen Victoria’s reign: 1837 – 1901. The period saw the British Empire grow to become the first global industrial power. The Victorian Web covers all aspects of this period, including fashion.

Adelaide Frick wore this gown to her daughter Helen’s 1908 debut party.

The Gilded Age, from 1870 to 1900, saw unprecedented growth in U.S. industry and technology. Fortunes were made. Greed reigned. Fashionable women might change floor-length dresses two and three times a day. Corsets, long-boned bodices, hourglass shapes, and décolleté-cuts were in style. From Pittsburgh’s Frick collection and the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site.

The Roaring Twenties saw a social and cultural anything-goes in the aftermath of WWI: jazz, dancing, autos, film, radio, and more. All reflected in the clothing. The Gentleman’s Gazette includes a link to a clever and hilarious YouTube video: “100 Years of Men’s Fashion.”

 

 

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Michal Strutin
Written by Michal Strutin

Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus is Michal Strutin’s debut novel. She is now working on a mystery series set in the Late Renaissance. Michal’s award-winning nonfiction focuses on natural and cultural history and travel. Her eight nonfiction books include Places of Grace: the Natural Landscapes of the American Midwest with photographer Gary Irving; Discovering Natural Israel, a high-spirited discovery of flora, fauna, and people; Florida State Parks: a Complete Recreation Guide; and History Hikes of the Smokies.

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