History of Costume

History of Costume

The following is an overview of the spirit of times is expressed in costumes.


In early Egypt, the costumes were greatly influenced by the class system. According to (Tyldesley, 2007), a belt and loin clothes were worn by the low-class citizens. Triangular shaped skirts were worn by both men and women in the upper classes. Hygiene was important to the Egyptians and therefore they kept their heads shaped and wore wigs. There was no difference between what men and women in Egypt wore (Fullman, 2011). The Egyptian clothing also reflects the aspects of their environment as they were designed to keep them cool in the hot desert. The most common textile was linen and made people comfortable in the subtropical heat.


For over six centuries, the Greek designed a rectangular clothing held by a pin at the shoulder to form tunic. A cord would usually be tied at the waist. Tunic for men was worn at knee length while for the women it extended all the way to the knee. The Greek valued bodily beauty and had advanced significantly in philosophy, creative art, and science compared to the rest of the world. Their clothes were designed to show the freedom of their minds while at the same time glorifying the human body (Fullman, 2011).


During the early years of Rome, short-like tunic which ran up to the knees and a huge cloak is commonly known as the toga was worn by both men and women. As time went by, women started wearing a long over-tunic that had sleeves and their cloaks changed to the palla (Raphael-Hernandez & Steen, 2006). Men also embraced the over-tunic which was typically short, and toga was retained. Men maintained short hair while hair styles for women changed as the empire expanded. Their conquest towards the North changed their mode of dressing as well as the social, political life of the citizens (Raphael & Steen, 2006).

Byzantine Empire

In the Byzantine Empire, shoes and hose were common. The costume was made up of a cloak, belt, and tunic with sleeves wrist-length in size. It was hard to differentiate between the male and female costumes.The Roman simplicity was replaced by luxurious silks, jeweled and embroidered robes and damasks. Kingdoms all over Europe copied the magnificence of the Byzantine Empire (Gaulme, 2012).

The Middle Ages

Fullman (2011), details that the middle ages, the foundation of existence were considered to be the church. There was a caste system in place, and very few would dare question it. The church influenced clothing and the stratified nature of the society at the time was evident from how people dressed. All females had to dress modestly and cover their heads so as to be in line with the standards set by the church (Raphael-Hernandez & Steen, 2006). The style of clothing appeared to be uniform and did not overs some centuries. The tunics could be worn by everyone irrespective of the class. Finer fabrics, jewels, and furs were a preserve of the ruling classes who could afford them during early medieval. By the 14th century, there were major changes and fashion became an important aspect of daily life and ribbon markers, furriers and glove makers increased.


During Renaissance, men wore puffed sleeves which had slashings which revealed other elaborate designs. Brimmed hats with some sweeping feathers gained popularity. Women’s hair was worn high, and the headdress became hood or cap. Huge sleeves were designed and a huge collar spreading from shoulder to shoulder was common. Jewels worn on the neck, wrists and in the hair, was acceptable for both sexes (Raphael & Steen, 2006).

17th Century.

Fullman (2011) postulates the end of 30 years of war and restoration of order in Europe; there was change to more decorated clothes as opposed to the previous ones that were greatly influenced by military activities. Breeches, waistcoat, and the coat dominated costumes for men at this time. The periwig was also introduced to men’s fashion during this period. On the other hand for women, designs of full sleeves which were loose and ended below the elbow. The sleeves were longer and tighter (Tyldesley, 2007). The petticoat that was decorated could be revealed by overskirt that pinned to display it.

18th Century

The 18th century is popular for its opulence. In this period full skirts were common, and there were elaborate wigs. Embroidery was also rich at this time. The formal wool coat can also be traced back to the century. Women also dressed in different types of gowns with different designs. Silhouette that was worn by men and women was also considered to be very fashionable at this time (Gaulme, 2012).

19th Century

According to (Gaulme, 2012) the 19th-century Victorian fashion brought various changes in Europe. There was the introduction of lock-stitch sewing machine and led the production of different kinds of clothing. During the period, the type of fashion a woman wore reflected her position in the society. Women during the era wore Neck-line Bretha. Corsets were also designed without the shoulder straps. Shawls became important features on dresses due to the emergence of the decollete style (Tyldesley, 2007). The fashionable dresses in the 19th century had a moral dimension as women were not allowed to reveal too much flesh. Men’s fashion included tail coats, sack suits, morning coats as well as frock coats.

20th Century.

The 20th century saw great technological progress, innovations, social change as well as historical events which changed the world greatly. Most men dressed formally in suits while the women wore long dresses at the workplace. The people were no longer interested in feigning wealth through buying expensive clothing. Casual wears such as the jeans and T-shirts were introduced (Raphael & Steen, 2006).




Fullman, J. (2011). Ancient history. London: DK.

Gaulme, D., & Gaulme, F. (2012). Power & Style: A World History of Politics and Dress. London: Flammarion.

Raphael-Hernandez, H., & Steen, S. (2006). AfroAsian encounters: Culture, history, politics. New York: New York University Press.

Tyldesley, J. A. (2007). Egypt. N.p.

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