Dressmaking Costume History


The study of the development of costume throughout the early ages presents many difficulties. Until a fairly recent period fashion books were unknown, and the only records were those found in the writings of the times, in wall carvings and paintings, in sculptures on monuments and tombs, on seals and various gems, and a little later in engravings of various fetes, royal processions, marriages, etc.

All these were not made with the student of costume history in mind, but generally to commemorate some event or to perpetuate the memory of various reigning monarchs, and in consequence they were not always accurate representations of the period they illustrate. Allowance must be made for the vagaries of the artists, the materials in which they worked, and also for the fact that in many cases these monuments were not made until some centuries later than the events they commemorated, when little accurate information existed regarding the costume of the earlier periods. To obviate this difficulty, the costume of the period at which the work was actually executed generally appears.

By the comparison of various records, however, a fairly satisfactory and continuous outline of costume history has been worked out-an outline which in general is sufficiently suggestive to meet the demands of the modern dress designer.

Every fashion and every detail of fashion of the present day may be traced to that of some former period. It is only through contact with the representations of these fashions that the creative ability so necessary in designing is awakened; it is only through a knowledge of them that what is called "originality" is possible. In this connection originality means the power to adopt and adapt suitably the fashions of the past to the demands of the present.

It is because the French have this knowledge, because in their libraries, churches, and museums there are these records free to all, because for centuries they have appreciated their value and have through constant practice acquired skill in their use, that all the fashion world looks to them for inspiration and guidance in design in costume.

To be of the greatest use an outline history of costume should include a survey of the costumes of the ancient Egyptians, the Grecians, and the Romans, as showing the general type of garment used in early civilizations. These differ very greatly from the garments worn by the Gauls at the time of their conquest by the Romans, or from those of the Franks who later appeared and gradually took possession of Gaul, renamed it France, and established there the French nation. French costume, as such, may be considered as beginning at this time, about the sixth century.

From this period no attempt is made here to describe even briefly the costume of any other nation than the French. They began at an early period not only to create their own fashions but to make whatever fashions they borrowed distinctively theirs by their manner of adoption. Because of limited space the costumes of men are omitted from this outline; in Egypt, Greece, and Rome they did not differ in their main characteristics from those of the women, and in French costume the same names and many of the same characteristics persisted until the Renaissance, from which time there is definite distinction between the garments of the men and women.

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