From the early beginnings of apparel use 170,000 years ago, after the second Ice Age, clothing has been not only a mean to warm one’s self and protect from the environment, but also a symbol of wealth, nobility, artistry and self-expression. We can freely say that clothing production is one of the biggest developments the human transition from a caveman to a civilized citizen brought us.
Today, fashion is a billion-dollar industry, ruled by global corporations, fast fashion, high quantities of production, luxurious goods, trendy designs and a great push from influencers online.
But how did this evolution take place? How did a simple necessity become one of the pillars of beauty, status and even entertainment?
I decided to try something new, use my market analysis skills and give you a three-part journey into the world of fashion, not as a designer, beauty influencer or industry representative, but as an average consumer. As a person, who loves good quality cheap clothes, but is also interested in where my products come from, how they were produced and what effects this has for the environment and the society.
The first part, which you are currently reading will focus on the history and development of fashion. It will discuss the meaning of clothes to humans and to society, as well as their benefits. In part number two, we will move beyond clothing, into the sense of style, the birth of the world’s biggest brands, consumerism and fast fashion. For desert, we will go through the downsides of the constantly expanding fashion industry, overproducing and use, as well as how can you be a more cautious consumer.
Let the journey begin!
As mentioned above, the first signs of humans using clothing come from 100,000 to 170,000 years ago, when the climate started demanding protection from the harsh, cold climate conditions.
Reading this, do not imagine cavemen in full-on range of garments, such as trousers, coats or even shoes. The first evidence of people’s involvement in tailoring and sewing clothes comes from a way later period, around 20,000 years BC. Then they started using bone needles to put different materials together and give us the beginning of clothing production and since then the technology behind it kept developing as well.
The first signs of different styles of clothing come from the birth of the first civilizations. Those styles were influenced by the climate in which those appeared, as well as the person’s status in society and occupation.
It all started with the immerging of the Sumerian civilization. For the first time in history (as far as we know) clothing became a symbol of the difference between the social classes. The most common material in this era was wool – not only as a big part of the Sumerian trading economy but also to produce all kinds of garments. It was coloured and tailored, as the longer, the skirt, the higher in social hierarchy the owner belonged (Loggans, 2018).
What Sumerians gave the fashion industry was weaving – a form of textile production, which two threads are combined to form a fabric.
While Sumerians were giving the world its very first civilization developing on the shores of Tiger, another culture was being born miles away at the delta of Nile. One that became even more famous.
The Egyptians wore clothes from light materials, such as linen and cotton, due to the warm climate. Men were often dressed in loincloths, while women wore dresses with shoulder straps. Complicated designs and elaborate clothing were a sign of high status, while the common man wore simple clothes.
Egyptians were known for their crafty jewellery. They were worn by representatives of all people regardless of rank. Ornaments were not used only to spice up the style of the Egyptians but were believed to have spiritual energy and protect the one they belong to.
Another important accessory were wigs. This was because in this ancient society hygiene included the shaving of all hair. Makeup was also widespread, as both sexes wore it, which speaks highly of the equality in Egyptian society. Regarding shoes, sandals were all they wore (Ancient Egypt Online, 2019).
In contrast to the Sumerians, who were more balanced in their clothing choices and relied mainly on colouring to differentiate themselves and show their individuality, Egyptians mixed the necessity and vanity of clothing with almost ritualistic practices, giving it more meaning than ever before.
The Ancient Greeks fully covered their bodies, despite the mild climate in the region. Their style involved different folds of cloth, necklaces, bracelets and anklets, as well as women styling their long hairs in complicated hairstyles. Compared to the Egyptians, the Greek style was more minimalistic. Rather than a ritual, it represented their morality. A proper Greek woman revealed nothing.
Most people wore wool and linen, but cotton and silk were also present in the wealthy’s wardrobes. They are not known for their makeup but were keen on baths and beauty procedures, involving the use of olive oil in their skincare.
People from ancient Rome wore clothing reminding the style of the Greeks, however, it was heavily influenced by social status. Even though most men wore togas, made of folded cloth, made of wool or linen, they often had colourful belts, which showed their status or profession. Women also played with colours. They wore long dresses in different colours and shawls. Again, silk and cotton were saved for the rich. Pins, wigs and even false teeth were a vibrant part of their style.
As you can see, style and the overall desire to differentiate one’s self and belonging through the mean of fashion was already well adopted in the first sophisticated cultures. Therefore, we can assume the linear connection between the two.
Clothing, like many other material goods, became not only a symbol but the embodiment of human qualities their owners wanted to be associated with. Dressing to warm one’s self-evolved into dressing for the gods, for purity and morality, for belonging to a nation, circle and society. Of sexuality, political statement and our way of living. It became an expression of who we are, and even quite often we became a verbalization of our own clothing.
Much like other species, using their colourful fur to signalize and attract to other species and mate, humans have found their signal. However, the difference that divides us with animals has always been our minds. As in most other aspects, in clothing, we also made a conscious step of choosing our own fur, inventing and calling it fabric.
Turns out that the topic of clothes and their relation to humans is much deeper than what it seems. They have become a part of our identity, social norms and culture. Maybe even our idea of civilization itself.
So next time you pass next to a mirror, look at yourself. Take a deep, deep look. And not only at your face and human body, but everything that you decorated it with. All your apparel, jewellery and makeup. Think about what it represents and not only what it covers. Because all those things are not made to hide or change. They are meant to represent you. So, wear them with confidence.
If you would like to dig deeper into the topic of clothing and the history of fashion, I would recommend a YouTube channel called “The Ultimate Fashion History”, which makes amazing videos breaking down the styles of the ages, as well as their influence on fashion today.
That is it from me for today. I hope you enjoyed this little journey back to the origins of fashion. You can let me know in the comments below!