Archives for posts with tag: Clothing

Triangle factory, photo in workshop of shirtwaisters

The 8th of March has just been and gone. Pre-packed sprigs of yellow mimosa in the supermarket and tacky adverts…. I have never liked this ‘celebration’ of women. It’s sad and, yes, even slightly insulting. But I am bringing the topic up because I have been thinking about – and wearing – white shirts quite a lot recently. The link of course is the Triangle factory fire in New York city back in 1911.

On the 25th of March that year the blouse (or ‘shirtwaist’ as they were then known in the States) factory that we can see in the image above, went up in flames. The doors were closed, the workers locked in. 123 women died and 23 men. A tragedy. Many of these women were immigrant family bread-winners. Their death sparked unionist and female political activism across America and beyond. The 8th of March is dedicated to them but sadly few women today are aware of this.

The shirtwaist was worn by all women at the turn of the century. Rich and poor alike. The two young women below were approximately the same age but even the simple blouses reflect the very different social status and economic possibilities.

J.Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard,1888,Amon Carter mus texas

John Singer Sargent, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888, Amon Carter museum, Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Pelizza da Volpedo,Dolore, Acc Car Berg

Pelizza da Volpedo, Suffering, 1900c, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy

In fact, the simplicity of the white blouse caused sartorial difficulties in certain respects: it was wonderfully modern and easy, you could match it up with anything. It was democratic, plain cotton for everyone. But in the world of haute couture this was not always a good thing. Distinction was needed. And this, in terms of the white blouse, came via the use of lace. White lace blouses had the same ‘function’ as the cotton ones but they were obviously more dressy and definitely more expensive – and suitably delicate for the ladies of leisure of the Belle Époque.

camicia pizzo di Vernon, Scandinavia, 1915-17c

Vernon lace blouse, 1915-17c, Scandinavia


Some were in between on the social scale there were

female students:

Mrs Gray s group,1909,McCord mus

Canadian female students, 1909, McCord museum Canada


opuscolo settimanale,1902,Fondo Gnecchi



And sporty types:

divided skirt for cycling, USA 1900c

American lady in blouse and divided cycling skirt, 1900c



Lady paddling or rowing, 1900c

But who started off such a wide-spread and long-lasting fashion? It all began in the 1850s and not up, or down, but in the middle. The white blouse is one of the most sensible middle class inventions ever!

It was first worn by middle class teenage girls under jackets (often in velvet) and with a silk skirt. This would have been part of a ‘set’ comprising different bodices for different occasions. This was a mix and match concept. A clever way to get good use out of a silk dress, an ‘investment’ buy in those days. In the image below, the girl on the left wears her rust coloured silk taffeta skirt with a black jacket and the white blouse. (The skirt seems too long, but that is just because she is not wearing her wide, fashionable crinoline as she is in the countryside visiting her friend).

W.Gale, The confidante, 1857, Tate B

W.Gale, the confident, 1857, Tate Britain, London UK

Older generations soon followed: by the 1860s the blouse was worn by most women on a daily basis. In hot climates and on very informal occasions such the one in the image below, the ladies would remove the jacket of their two-piece suit (a concept straight from the male wardrobe – but that’s another story)

S.Lega, Il canto di un stornello,1867, Pitti


Silvestro Lega, the song, 1867, Pitti gallery, Florence, IT

In the two portrait below we can see how the blouse was also worn under the one-piece dress. The reason for this is practicaityl: hygiene (the white cotton blouse would soak up the sweat and could be soaped and boiled up innumerable times. Women had several of them).

foto,Amalia Oieri,CRAA

Italian lady, 1860c

P.A.Renoir, donna 1868


A.Renoir, woman in the garden, 1868c, Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland

The model in the Renoir painting was Lise Tréhot, a dressmaker. She probably made her own white blouses! And here she is in a photo wearing a white blouse

Lise_Tréhot_in_1864, model for A.Renoir, dressmaker

(For more on the white blouse see my post from October 1914 on World War I fashion)



Mark Rothko

Back to the topic of colour combinations, this time its red and blue, an all-time fashion favorite. Why? The hot red is perfectly balanced out by the cold blue. Its bold, clean and sharp to look at. This combination really needs bright, natural sun light to set it off, therefore usually seen in spring and summer outfits.

And it seems they understood this very well in the Renaissance:

Palma Vecchio, La bella,

Palma il Vecchio, La bella, 1518-20c,Thyssen-Bornemisza Coll, Madrid, Spain

A slight variant of red and deep purple from later in the 1500s:


Trachten buch, Habitus praecipuorum, Neapolitan lady, 1577

Despite the invention of artificial dyes in 1853 (when just about any daring colour combination became possible) red and blue remained a constant of the 1800s and the 1900s:

Englishwoman's domestic magazine,sept 1869

Englishwoman’s domestic magazine, fashion plate, September 1869

Philippe Poittier, L'Officiel, 1963, C.Dior

L’Officiel, photo: P. Poittier, outfit: C.Dior, 1963

Men’s fashion is not immune to this colour combination either, although as we can see in the examples below, there is also an element of sports uniform (especially in the stripe motif)

hs162-redbl.jpgred and blue sock Cordings uk

Cordings, Uk, striped sock, 2014

Nike Air jordan retro

Nike, Air Jordan retro

And finally a non-western take on this colour combination: shades of red/fuchsia and blues as used by Tibetan monks still today

tibet,monaco in preghiera

Just shows that clothing and colour can be a spiritual experience, some combinations can have a deep emotional impact on wearer and onlooker.


I am re-posting this piece on men in underpants from last year. Time to get back onto this interesting topic once again. Soon I will post a follow-up on this: Renaissance underpants!

Aspertini Amico, madonna e santi, 1508-9c, mus naz Villa Guinigi lucca


Aspertini Amico, Madonna and saints, 1508-9, museo nazionale Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy

Did men wear underpants in the past? well some did and some didn’t. The ancient Greeks abhorred this item of clothing defining it as “barbaric” and unhygienic. The Romans adopted them in extremis to keep warm in the northern outposts of the Empire. They took the idea from the barbarians who wore tunics and trousers as their costume. But under the toga a roman citizen would have only worn his tunic which served as outer garment/undergarment, often even slept in at the end of the day. A fresh tunic would have been put on after the daily ablutions.

With the middle ages the barbaric custom prevails and soon all men wear underpants under their tunics (as well as an under shirt/tunic). Very simple in shape, made of linen and held up at the waist with a draw string. Baggy and comfortable. the peasant in the mosaic is working in the field in the summer heat and has stripped down to his underpants

peasant, mosaic, 12 th Century, St Philibert Abbey, Tournus, France

peasant, mosaic, 12 th Century, St Philibert Abbey, Tournus, France

Everything changed once men started wearing clothing that was closely constructed to the body. By mid 1300s we get into the western pattern cutting era and a new age of male body consciousness. Baggy underpants are out, skin-tight briefs are in.

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Ok I am bored of underpants now. We’ll leave the topic aside after today and move on to other stuff (but we will come back to it I promise)

journal des dames et des modes, moda femminile,1913

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Paris, 1913

This post wants to investigate the ‘rise’ (literally) in fashion of the collar for women during the period 1913-18. As we saw in the last post, by 1914 the negative effects of the war had driven French fashion designers to invent a new style and to promote it assiduously in the hope of reviving interest,  sales and more importantly, an industry which gave work to 1000s of people.


La Baionnette, 1916

The new  war silhouette, with its full but short skirt was young and dynamic, cheeky yet elegant .  Corsets had practically been forgotten, replaced by more comfortable brassieres. The waistline positioned slightly above natural level. The collar of coats, jackets and blouses became a new focal point: rising up high to frame the neck, elongating the line from head to bust. The new haircuts – kiss curls framing the face while the long tresses were pulled up high behind the head to look like they had been cut (that was only happening in the most bohemian of circles around 1915).

Paquin, manteau de ville, 1915

Les Modes, Paris, 1915

These high rise collars were particularly suitable for winter fashions. They stood high thanks to a stiff lining or, as we can see above, thickened by the addition of fur. They framed the face perfectly and kept the neck warm.

They remained popular for several years.

Alvaro Guevara,Mrs Fairbairn Nancy Cunnard,1919,NGV Melbourne

Alvaro Guerara, Mrs Fairbairn (Nancy Cunnard), 1919, N.G.A. Melbourne, Australia

There was something masculine in this way of pulling the collar up around the ears, maybe yet another influence from uniforms to be seen everywhere in Europe during those years. The heavy, thick wool greatcoats buttoned right up and worn with the collar turned up for extra protection from wind and rain.

australian soldier, WW I

Australian soldier, WW I

WAAC army auxiliary corps, greatcoat wiith fur collar

WAAC  – female army auxiliary  corps, WW I,  in wool greatcoat with fur collar

More masculine/feminine fashion contaminations in the images below:

cover les modes

Les Modes, Paris, 1915


La Baionnette, 1918

The shirt or blouse for women of this period deserves a closer look too. It had remained popular from the previous decade but  was totally revised in shape. New influences were at work on the imagination of the designers.  The blouse, which  had of course existed for decades (since the 1850s to be precise) now also became an interesting mix of feminine and masculine.

Premet, 1914 L.M.

Les Modes, Paris, 1914

The collar was wide and kept well open, supported beneath by the stiff collar of jacket or coat. When worn with a light fabric dress only it was probably starched stiff and well ironed into shape.

E.L.Kirchner,Erna e Gelda, 1913c

E.L.Kirchner, Erna and Gelda, Germany,  1913

The earlier blouse was distinguished by its femininity denoted by plenty of lace and ruffles. The neck was closed in as it was not proper to show skin during the day.


Journal des Demoiselles, Paris, 1900c

At the same time though, it must be noted that a new kind of female was emerging, the educated middle class young woman who worked. She was more likely to wear a ‘masculine’ style shirt + tie. She was after all claiming her new space in a male centered society.

Mrs Gray s group,1909,McCord mus

Female student,s 1909, Canada

By 1914

Lewis, 1914 L.M.

Les Modes, Paris, 1914

The new blouse was not mimicking men’s fashion. It was taking its linearity and transposing it into the feminine sphere. A perfect blend to represent the new generation of women to emerge from a devastating war, when for the first time they will be expected to ‘wear the trousers’ in a Europe that will have lost most of its young men.

camicia pizzo di Vernon, Scandinavia, 1915-17c

Vernon lace blouse, 1915-17c, Scandinavia


La Baionnette magazine, France, 1916

In this post Fashionarchaeology wants to pay its own (thematic) tribute to the memory of World War I.

“A century on, the events of 1914-18 are still difficult to comprehend. The first truly global conflict, the war’s toll in human terms resulted in over 9 million soldiers and 6 million civilians killed and 21 million wounded”

These are the opening lines of the catalogue to a very interesting exhibition currently on in London, “The Great War as recorded through the fine and popular arts”

In her opening text, historian and art specialist Sacha Llewellyn  immediately brings home the ultimate reality, the sheer number of lives involved. Reading this was, well, shocking. A term which came to mind was ‘discomfort’ and this set me off thinking about the dichotomy comfort/discomfort that was actually very much alive in the fashion discourse during those years.

1914 Paris: Fashion had been living a true revolution for a few years, since the debut of designer Paul Poiret who, in 1907, decreed a change in silhouette and abolished the S-shaped corset of the previous era. He took The word ‘comfort’ and made it fashionable, whereas up until then it had been synonymous with lower class practicality.

Agnes, 1914 L.M.

Les Modes, Paris, May 1914

As we can see in the fashion magazine photo above, both day wear and evening wear were softly draped and not too binding of torso and hips. Heels were moderately high, hats reasonably sized. Both outfits seem quite comfortable.

But then war broke out and began to affect everybody’s lives in one way or another. Women found themselves in a new predicament: working class women were called to work in those jobs that had been left vacant by men. Manly jobs that required them to wear trousers for the first time ever (see the blue overalls bellow : a little belt added for fashion’s sake). These women were to feel the effects of this new lifestyle deeply well beyond the war.


Paul Iribe, woman factory worker, 1917

At the other end of the social spectrum, upper class women were not expected to work (although some did, as nurses), they  were used to defining their role in society through their use of the latest fashion from famous designers but now they began to  feel some ‘discomfort’ regarding fashion. Was it right to spend time and money on clothes when one’s husband or son was at war? The moral dilemma was strongly felt. The effect of this and of war in general on the fashion world – in France first of all and subsequently everywhere else – was disastrous.  Sales dropped and the industry nearly collapsed.

The problem was faced head on. A committee was set up (led by Paul Poiret) by the French government and an ingenious solution found: totally new fashions were launched for winter 2015. The new war ‘style’ was characterized by a natural waistline, a short skirt and very high heels. The new proportions required women to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Umberto Brunelleschi, La bersagliere, 1917

Umberto Brunelleschi, La Bersagliere, 1917


La Baionnette,1916

Magazine illustrations tended to exaggerate these new elements, especially the length of the skirt which in reality does not seem to have been worn as short as the above images.

stivaletti cuoio con ricamo,1917-18c,texas

Leather and bead embroidery boots, 1917, Texas museum, USA


Afternoon dress by Estelle T.Hart, 1915, Cincinnati Museum of Art, USA

The media was extremely supportive as we can read in the article published in Les Modes on November 1915


Les Modes, Paris,  Nov 1915

The new fashions should be bought and consumed as a war effort by women. Especially those women who were not expected to do manual labour. Wearing these fashions was also about patriotism and ‘keeping up appearances’ despite the difficult times.

These new fashions received great media coverage and even satirical magazines like La Baionnette (published between 1914 and 1918) represented them exquisitely.


La Baionnette, 1916

The magazine even dedicated a whole issue (August 1915) to the topic of fashion – in satirical terms of course. “Elegancese Berlinoises” was the title, each image representing German women in old-fashioned, shapeless clothes. Their figures far from the fashion ideals of Parisian couture.


La Baionnette, Aug 1915,      translation: “German fashion from now on will not follow French taste”

A last word should go to hats of this period. This was one of the most creative and darkly inspired moments of the history of millinery



both from Les Modes,Paris , 1917

feather hat, 1915, Met NY

Feather toque,1915,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, N. Y

toque, fur, 1912-18, met ny

Fur and embroidery toque, 1916c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.

In conclusion we can say that World War I fashion was a comfort in the discomfort of the times. A true effort was made by Paris fashion houses, followed by the rest, to keep alive an industry and ultimately (however frivolous it may sound) to keep up morale through exterior female beauty.

Apart from the high heels, it actually looks very comfortable indeed.


ventaglio,punched skin leaf,ivory,1590-1600, MFA Boston

Punched leather and ivory fan, 1590-1600c, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

Can fashion make a noise? Can what we wear and the way we wear it make specific noises?

Probably the first type of sound we associate with fashion today is some form of music. The extra loud music of fashion shows or the background melodies of department stores. Nowadays music is also an essential part of fashion advertising, it forms the sensorial backdrop that sticks in potential customers’ minds.

What about the noise that fashion items (clothes, shoes, hats, fans, etc.) actually make when we wear them? Are these sounds distinctive and recognizable? Are they instinctively associated with  a particular item or even style throughout history?

Here is a selection of items which make or made, each in their specific fashion eras, a bit of a noise:

THE 1500s

During the pre-industrial  era sounds and sound perception would have been quite different from today (just like the perception of light and darkness would have been different in pre-electricity days). So when looking at these objects we should take into consideration that the noise pollution surrounding the wearer and the listener, would have been made up of other types of sounds from those we are familiar with today.


corsetto metallo, lombardia 1560-80,MPP mi

Metal corset, Italian, 1560-80c, Poldi Pezzoli museum, Milan, IT

This type of metal corset was quite common amongst upper class women from the middle of the 16th Century (examples survive in museums around Europe). As we can see by looking at the right hand vertical edge, there are two sets of hinges center back. The corset therefore was front opening (it has a small clasp at the front to keep it closed). We can imagine that if the hinges were not kept well oiled,  it would have made a screechy  jarring noise on opening and closing it. Not a pleasant sound.  But then not a very pleasant fashion item.


Tiziano, ragazza con ventaglio,1556,G Dresden

Titian, Girl with fan, 1556c, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden

Fans were very popular in the 1500s, as they still are today in many countries around the world. Back then, women (who were wearing  those rigid corsets and tightly laced bodices) would have suffered from the lack of air in a crowded room, an overly incensed church interior or simply the heat of the  summer months. Fans were functional as well as decorative. In a previous post I mentioned 16th century  feather fans, but before and alongside these, many women used paper fans such as the one used by the young woman in Titian’s painting . We can imagine the swoosh swoosh noise as she flips it back and forth between her fingers.


CHOPINS (platform slippers)

These were a form of female footwear which (in one form or another) became fashionable in various countries in Europe during the 16th century. They were essentially a very sophisticated version of the wooden clog worn by peasants everywhere throughout the middle ages and beyond.

chopines, veneziane, XVI sec, castello sforzesco MI

Chopins, leather covered wood platform sole, punched leather uppers,16th Century, Civiche Raccolte Arte Applicata, Milan, IT

These chopins in the Castello  Sforzesco museum in Milan are of a moderate height (much higher ones were the norm in Venice at this time – examples can be seen at the Costume museum in Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice). Yet they are interesting for the shape of the base – it resembles an animal’s hoof (possibly an elephant’s). The wide base provided some stability to a very precarious piece of footwear. The upper is so short and the back of the heel so narrow, that one wonders just how the lady could walk in them. Throughout the wooden clog-wearing centuries, people must have been used to a certain degree of noise emanating from them. They were generally worn out of doors on packed earth roads or in some areas even  paved streets from Roman times. A common sound associated with the lower classes. If I have to imagine the sound that these chopins created, I think of a muffled thud thud noise. An aristocratic sound of covered wood gently thumping down on terracotta or tiled floors, as the lady – swiftly lifting the hem of her dress so as not to trip – walked through the halls of her palazzo.

ritratto artista

Anon, the Italian artist, Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques, Milan, IT

Haircuts are, of course, subject to changes in fashion just like all other aspects of our appearance. Hairstyles come and go, and sometimes come back, and back again. Fashionarchaeology has been reflecting on one particular haircut for a while now, the male “bob” (or rather: same length hair worn long to the neck and cut straight across). This style has a cyclical reoccurrence in the history of western men’s hairdressing and today’s post will investigate when and why men chose this style over the ages.

If anyone has ever worn a bob they will know it is not the easiest of hairstyles to cope with. It’s ‘high maintenance’ and requires constant care and upkeep. This is the first clue to understanding just why men in Europe in the middle ages began to adopt this style  in the early 13th Century


French, illuminated manuscript, 1250c, Bibliotheque National, Paris, Fr

In the rapidly evolving society of medieval Europe wealth and prestige was flaunted through appearance and the use of luxury objects. Quality clothing, textiles, jewellery all needed suitably groomed hair to go with it. Kings and their male courtiers began to wear their hair in a bob. In the above image the young man (his clothing tells us he ‘belongs’ to a court) wears his hair not only cut straight across below his ears, but obviously curled up or “set”  as old-fashioned hairdressers would still say today. Hot metal tongs were used for this purpose – also just like today. This “setting” of the hair is what distinguished aristocrats from commoners


Benedetto Antelami, the months (September), 1210-15c, the baptistery of Parma, Italy

In the rural scene above we see two men working in a vineyard. The smaller figure has the fashionable haircut but it has not been “set” in the style of a gentleman. The larger figure also wears a bob, but since he is doing physical work he needs to keep his hair out of his face and hence the linen cap. These caps will be worn all over Europe by those men who could not afford to  spend their day at the hands of a hairdresser but had to work for a living.

Fast-forward to the next great bob craze: the early 1500s

By the year 1500 the bob was back. Long to mid neck and with just one difference between north and south Europe: In Italy it was worn all the same length whereas in France, Germany, Austria etc. it was worn with a much more practical, short, squared-off fringe. Italians were at the height of their Renaissance and extremely conscious of their self-generated culture as well as their appearance. The explosion of the art of portraiture reveals a very self-engrossed Italian male who took the greatest care over his looks

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo,1504,MFA Budapest

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo, 1520, M.F.A. Budapest, Hungary

The intellectual (image above), the artist (see below) and all who shared contemporary fashion codes adopted this hairstyle

Raffaello, autoritratto con un amico,1518-19,Louvre

Raffaello, self-portrait with a friend, 1518-19, Louvre, Paris, FR

The next time the bob becomes seriously fashionable again is exactly 300 years later. By the 1820s  romantic young men chose the fringeless bob to represent their wildly sentimental characters. Significantly – in this time of historical revival – the new hairstyle was called “a la Raffaello”. A reference for the initiated in the marvels of Italy, the Grand Tour, the Old Masters and the sheer intoxicating romance of it all

Auguste de Chatillon,Theophile Gautier

Auguste de Chatillon, Theophile Gautier, 1820s

In Paris, London, Milan –  it was a shared fashion for Romantics across Europe. It lasted a couple of decades but some artists, such as the composer Liszt, stuck to it for the rest of their life so significant had it become to them.

H.Lehmann, franz Liszt, 1839, musée Carnevalet Parigi

H.Lehmann, Franz Liszt, 1839, Carnevalet Museum, Paris, Fr

In London the young Charles Dickens cut a fine figure (also wearing total black like Liszt) in a wavey bob

D.Maclise, Charles Dickens 1839 NPG lon

D. Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839, N.P.G. London, Uk

By 1850 a new sobriety was setting in and the wild  bob gives way to increasingly layered and short hairstyles. Some artists however maintained at least something of that extravagance of the earlier generation, even if it was only with a wisp of a fringe or a wild curl not conforming to domestication

G.Fattori, autoritratto,1854,Pitti

Giovanni Fattori, self-portrait, Pitti Gallery, Florence, It

Today it takes a seriously stylish and confident  man to wear what is ( for the time being) seen as a totally eccentric hairstyle.

De materia medica, ill man, Jésireh, Iraq, 1229, bib topkapi sarayi Muzesi, istambul

Illuminated manuscript, Iraq, De materia medica, 1229, Topkapi Sarayi Muzesi Library, Istanbul, Turkey

The history of the striped fashion “trend” is a long and complex one. A cultural journey of cloth and ideologies from Middle East to West, from Muslim traditions to the realms of fashion bibles today. 

Much has been said and written about striped textiles. One of the most enjoyable books on the subject is The Devil’s Cloth   by Michel Pastoureau. First published in 1991 (republished since) and translated into several languages. The author explores various aspects of striped clothing from a sociological and semantic perspective.

Striped textiles became part of European fashion via the arabic conquest of Spain in the 8th Century.  In the Middle East (and throughout  muslim-conquered lands) striped clothing was fashionable for centuries and still is where traditional dress is still worn. Its origins going back to the dawn of the art of weaving. In the 13th Century image above we see a young arabic gentleman (medical student or young doctor) wearing a long-sleeved striped tunic. In the 10th Century image bellow we see a rider from arab-dominated Spain, also wearing striped textiles both for his clothing and accessories. This illuminated manuscript was actually painted by a woman but that’s another story…

mozarabic ill man,Beatus,cavaliere,975 spain,Gerona

Mozarabic art, Beatus, ill. manuscript, soldier on horseback, 975 AD, Gerona Cathedral, Spain

As always history gets exciting when we have some material artefact as testimonial evidence:

3 piece set grave colthes, child Infanta Maria daughter King Ferdinand III of Castilla y leon,d.1235,Panteon Real s.Isidoro,Leon

Grave of Infanta Maria of Castilla y Leon, sleeveless tunic, 1235, Pantheon Real, San Isidoro, Leon, Spain

The garment above is part of a three-piece set found on the remains of the Infanta Maria, daughter of Ferdinand III of Castilla y Leon. She died in 1235 and considering her status she would have been dressed in new clothes for her burial. This item of dress may seem like nothing, even macabre, until we contextualize it by saying that this kind of fabric/fashion simply was not around elsewhere in Europe at this point in time.

More evidence – this time in the form of decorated panels from another royal grave – from less than a century later

anon,tomba Don Sancho Saiz de Carillo,uomini,1300c,mus NAC Barcelona

anon,tomba Don Sancho Saiz de Carillo,donne,1300c,mus NAC Barcelona

Two panels, male and female lamenters, tomb of Sancho Saiz de Carillo, 1300c, N.A.C. museum, Barcelona, Spain

In the middle ages fashions traveled surprisingly fast across Europe. This one though came up against great resistance. Its  association with muslim culture/religion was dangerous, a threat to  Christian European tradition. So stripes became associated with the devil or the reppresentations of – but for that story you can go to Pastoureau’s book…

gentlemen,Montreal,1895,McCord mus

Photo anon, Gentlemen, Montreal, 1895c, McCord museum, Canada

One of the earliest images I have found of a top hat (by that I mean a hat that has been built up in height and is made of wool, fur felt or other material that can be “shaped”) dates from the early 1400s:

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

In this image,  where we see French noblemen and kneeling before them the formidable Christine de Pisan, in the act of presenting her new  book , the gentleman in dark pink on the right is wearing a tall, black hat decorated with red and white feathers held by a gold brooch. Like the rest of the men, his head is covered despite being indoors, confirming the new fashion of the period. A gentleman always covered his head except in the privacy of his own home. This new trend gives great impetus to contemporary hat makers who competed with each other to create the most striking shapes. The size of these hats is also significant – they are large and attention seeking. The black hat he is wearing is important because it represents a new manufacturing skill of the period – the ability to shape felt (wool or the more costly fur)  by moulding the material over a wooden, pre-carved shape or “block”. This is still the way felt hats are made today.

In subsequent centuries,  the top hat disappears making room for an array of shapes and sizes in the history of men’s head-coverings.

We meet up again with the top hat in England  during the last decade of the 18th Century. But it is really in France during the Directory   that we see the top hat become the emblem of the new dandy fashions – wonderfully represented in the fashion plates produced by the Vernet family  between the end of the 1700s and the first decades of the 1800s

H.Vernet, Incroyable (parasole)1799-1815

Horace Vernet, “Un Incroyable” (or The parasol), France, 1799-1815c

At first contained in size, it will rise to extreme heights during the course of the 19th Century. Between 1800 and 1900 it is THE accessory for men, synonymous with status and power.

silk plush top hat,1892,McCord mus

Silk plush top hat, 1892, McCord Museum, Canada

Giuseppe Molteni

Giuseppe Molteni (Italian), 1835-9c, for sale: Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques

Continental gentlemen took their elegance seriously, even when out game shooting. The Italian nobleman above wears a light coloured top hat with contrasting edging and green lining. The artist has expertly represented the “plush” (slight pile or furiness) of the material and the way it reflects the light. Exactly the desired characteristics of this mid-season or early summer hat. Very similar to the surviving item below.

Jas Wilson,top hat,1830-40c,manch.

Top hat, 1830-40c, Manchester museum UK

In full summer, in America top hats were even made of straw to combat the heat. Managing to combine the symbolic with the practical in a very elegant manner.

cappello, paglia, 1850c, mfa Bost

Top hat, straw, 1850c, M.F.A. Boston, USA

Francesco Merletti, First Lady, 2008, tecnica mista, 22 x 23,5 x 28,3 cm, collezione privata

Francesco Merletti, First lady, 2008, mix media, p.c.

For my last post on feathers I have decided to put together a selection of extraordinary feathered items I have come across. One thing is certain it takes character to wear feathers, just as it does to carry off real fur (yes! fur posts coming soon).

scarf and muff of sea-gull feathers, 1880-99,MET NY

Sea gull muff and scarf, 1880-99c, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

And it takes a real woman to carry off a whole bird – eyes, beak and all. This skillfully made “set” of sea gulls from the US seems totally audacious today, but probably less so back in the 1890s when there was a genuine vogue for stuffing and wearing just about any form of living species.

Emanuel Harry of London, gold earings with bird heads, 1865c, V&A

 Emanuel Harry, London, gold and bird head earings, 1865c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

In 20th Century fashion, the trend re-emerges during the 1940s in the form of exquisite little hats:

LIFE cover 1942

cover of LIFE magazine, 1942

Hattie Carnegie, feather hat, 1940, MetNY

Hattie Carnegie, birds hat, 1940, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

Caroline Reboux, feather hat suede base, 1946, V&A

Caroline Reboux,Paris, bird hat, 1946,Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

And finally lets not forget shoes! In this example (image below) Roger Vivier not only covers the exterior in feathers but also echoes the fluid shape of an exotic bird in the silhouette of the shoe – a masterpiece

Roger vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe,  1960c,Met NY

Roger Vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe, 1960, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

The presence of feathers in fashionable European dress does not become apparent until the 16th century. When feathers appear they are not on the dress but in the form of accessories, in particular ladies’ fans. These feathers are testimony to the growing interest for exotic objects coming from overseas as well as the ever-increasing desire for public display of personal wealth. Luxury fashion taken to extremes both by women and men.

gilt brass fan handle, 1550c, venice, V&A

Metal (gilt brass) fan handle, probably made in Venice circa 1550, Victoria and Albert  museum, London, UK

By the 1540s a new fashion trend had emerged as we can see from the portraits below, all from northern Italy (evidence of this trend elsewhere in the next post). Hand-held fans made out of a gold frame and large, soft exotic feathers. They were worn hanging from the waist on a gold chain and would be occasionally picked up and used. In the portraits of the period they were luxury statement pieces, attesting to the level of sophistication and wealth of the sitter. They were as important as the silk, embroidery and overall fashionableness of the dress worn. The feathers used tended to be ostrich, either black (see below) or white or dyed in other colours. At the same time as this trend is taking place we also have a strong presence of ostrich eggs being used by European craftsmen. Nothing wasted. Other feathers such as swan’s down were used – the important thing was the sensual tactile aspect of them.

Moretto da Brescia, lady in white,1540c,Wash nat gal USA

Moretto da Brescia, Lady in white, 1540c, Washington National  Gallery, USA

L.Lotto, Laura da Pola 1543-44

Lorenzo Lotto, Laura da Pola, 1543-4c, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, IT

A few years on and Italian artisans had become even more refined –  producing two or three tone exotic feather fans for their demanding clientele

G.B.Moroni, Isotta Brembati 1552-53 (palazzo Moroni Bg)

Gian Battista Moroni, Isotta Brembati, 1552c, Palazzo Moroni, Bergamo, IT

Bernardino Campi,cremonese,dama,fine 1560s,met NY

Bernardino Campi, Lady, 1560c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

For centuries, probably millennia (but I don’t have the material evidence for you) mankind has been fascinated by bird plumage and has used it as body adornment.  Feathers become imbued with specific meanings, for many ethnic groups they become a fundamental part of the costumes/objects they use to communicate with spirits and gods. They become part of the rituals of life and death.

The use of bird feathers is very much connected to their availability/rarity, as well as their appearance. For example in Europe in the middle ages brightly coloured birds were virtually unknown. The stunning, colourful feathers of Amazonian and Pan-American birds only became known after the “discovery” of the Americas in 1492. These birds (in the Caribbean and Latin American countries) must have charmed the fresh-off-the-ship Europeans with their appearance and song. Soon they became covetable and tradable – dead or alive.  We begin to see feathers in European portraiture, in one form or another, by the early decades of the 1500s. Either they appear as decoration on the attire of savages (thus confirming the use of feathers and the use of specific costume by different ethnic groups in these distant lands. Today we would take this as evidence of developed and communicative local cultures – back then they were just savages dressed in bird feathers and little else).

Vasco Fernandes,Adoration of the Magi,1501-6,Grao Vasco mus, Viseu,Portugal

Vasco Fernandes, Adoration of the Magi, 1501-6c, Grao Vasco museum, Viseu, Portugal

In this Portuguese religious painting of the three kings paying homage to the baby Jesus, we see Balthazar, the traditionally “ethnic” king, represented as an Amazonian chief from deepest Brazil. His facial features and skin tone are a clear indication of his ethnic origin as is the feather crown he wears on his head. He has however been “covered up” for modesty’s sake with a pair of silk breeches in the European tradition.

Occasionally we find portraits of European sitters in ethnic costume which includes feathers

Adrien Hanneman possibly Mary Princess of Orange, 1655c, Franz Hals museum Nethrlands

Adrien Hanneman, possibly Mary Princess of Orange, 1655c, Franz Hals museum, Netherlands

By the 17th century such portraits had become a fashion. In the portrait above Princess Mary is extremely fashionable in a white three-quarter sleeve shiny silk dress. The close-fitting pearl necklace and the pearl drop earings perfectly contemporary. But  she is also wearing an exotic turban vaguely reminiscent of those worn by  Persian pashas or  Indian maharajhas (incidentally both masculine). The turban is topped by large ostrich feathers which have been dyed red. Her body is draped in a cloak made of red/orange, white and black feathers. These are sewn onto a base fabric and the garment is lined in brocaded european silk. The feather-work looks original i.e. made in the Americas to local ethnic tradition. The jewelled  pin used to secure the cloak to the left shoulder is also European. The overall effect is startling and the intention was undoubtedly symbolic. By wearing such incongruous items of ethnic apparel the Princess is alluding to far off places and people. A statement of power made through items of dress associated with power in other cultures  (the chief’s cloak, the high-ranking or aristocrat’s headdress). By mid 1600s european countries such as England and Holland were asserting their power overseas in the name of trade (the East India companies already well established) and soon, imperialism.

Mary Duchess of modena wife of James II of england, 1675, Royal col, UK

Mary Duchess of modena wife of James II of england, 1675, Royal col, UK

Here is an exhibition which I am craving to see
In fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion (the catalogue)

It’s on at Buckingham Palace (yes really!) London and it is an exhibition about the fine clothing represented in portraits of the 16th and  17th century held in the Royal Collections. What is so remarkable about this exhibition is the fact that it is being held at all. In which other country does such a prestigious gallery hold an exhibition from the perspective of the dress of the sitters rather than their identity or more commonly the identity/fame of the painter? The curator of the Royal Collection, Anna Reynolds is an art historian but ALSO a dress historian and I feel proud that she has gained such respect for our field to be asked to organize this show (this is not a personal plug despite the same Alma Mater and the fact that Ms Reynolds is the president of our Association of Dress Historians).

So why did I choose this painting in particular? well for one she was italian, not english, and that interests me as she would have been wearing very different clothing before her marriage. But what intrigues me here is the ambiguousness – in terms of gender  – given by the fact that she is wearing male clothing. Nothing shocking per se, this would have been defined as a portrait in riding dress (we will return to the question “Why have western women always dressed like men to go horse riding?” at another time as it is a long and complex topic). the male attire coupled with her rather challenging gaze, I feel is saying more than just “I am off riding in the park”. She was a queen and as such her behaviour/thoughts would have been seriously kept in check by a rigid court culture. When looking at this portrait I get a sense of inner rebellion coming from the sitter. I may be wrong but I like that idea a lot.

I am re-posting this piece on men in underpants from last year. Time to get back onto this interesting topic once again. Soon I will post a follow-up on this: Renaissance underpants!

Aspertini Amico, madonna e santi, 1508-9c, mus naz Villa Guinigi lucca


Aspertini Amico, Madonna and saints, 1508-9, museo nazionale Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy

Did men wear underpants in the past? well some did and some didn’t. The ancient Greeks abhorred this item of clothing defining it as “barbaric” and unhygienic. The Romans adopted them in extremis to keep warm in the northern outposts of the Empire. They took the idea from the barbarians who wore tunics and trousers as their costume. But under the toga a roman citizen would have only worn his tunic which served as outer garment/undergarment, often even slept in at the end of the day. A fresh tunic would have been put on after the daily ablutions.

With the middle ages the barbaric custom prevails and soon all men wear underpants under their tunics (as well as an under shirt/tunic). Very simple in shape, made of linen and held up at the waist with a draw string. Baggy and comfortable. the peasant in the mosaic is working in the field in the summer heat and has stripped down to his underpants

peasant, mosaic, 12 th Century, St Philibert Abbey, Tournus, France

peasant, mosaic, 12 th Century, St Philibert Abbey, Tournus, France

Everything changed once men started wearing clothing that was closely constructed to the body. By mid 1300s we get into the western pattern cutting era and a new age of male body consciousness. Baggy underpants are out, skin-tight briefs are in.

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Martydom of St Stephen, illuminated manuscript, 1380c, Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Ok I am bored of underpants now. We’ll leave the topic aside after today and move on to other stuff (but we will come back to it I promise)

Before you think I am weird go see the previous blog and you will know what this is about.

So what happened in Europe once Christianity arrived, did they or didn’t they wear underpants? well things get difficult for the dress historian here due to the proximity of underpants to genitals and the reproductive organs. Anything to do with sex quickly became taboo, which means we are very short on images and even written evidence on the wearing of underclothing.

But here is something interesting. Have a really good look at the figure on the far left, inside the hut ( and while you are at it the guy sitting next to her).

Yes she is not wearing underpants and yes her genitals are on show. The question is WHY?.  Possibly a reference to staying indoors during the winter months, keeping warm and having sex. But back to underwear: with the use of long linen undershirts women did not generally wear underpants (except at that time of the month). The T shaped undergarment  was enough, it hid the woman “shame” and absorbed sweat and body odor. Linen could be boiled in hot water or scrubbed on riverside stones, unlike wool or the silk used for outer clothing by the higher classes.

Limbourg brothers, month of February, Les tre Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, 1412

Limbourg brothers, month of February, Les tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, 1412

Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc Du Berry

linen underpants, 15th century, Lengberg castle, Germany

linen underpants, 15th century, Lengberg castle, Germany

Ok they are in bad shape despite excellent conservation, but they are an amazing find (found with other underwear) and they are from the same period as the above image.

So in conclusion we can say that some women did and some women didn’t wear underpants in the middle ages.