Where it all begins…

Francois Boucher writes “If one admits that clothing has to do with covering one’s body, and costume with the choice of a particular form of garment for a particular use, it is then possible to deduce that clothing depends primarily on such physical conditions as climate and health, and on textile manufacture, whereas costume reflects social factors such as religious beliefs, magic, aesthetics, personal status, the wish to be distinguished from or emulate one’s fellows, and so on? Must we also envisage a process of emergence, which might place clothing before costume or costume before clothing?

This last point has given rise to diametrically opposed opinions. The Greeks and the Chinese believed that Man first covered his body for some physical reason, particularly to protect himself from the elements, while the Bible, ethnologists and psychologists have evoked psychological reasons: modesty in the case of the ancients, and the ideas of taboo, magical influence and the desire to please for the moderns.

Costume, at any rate, must have fulfilled a function beyond that of simple utility, in particular through some magical significance, investing primitive man with the attributes, such as strength, of other creatures, or protecting his genitals from evil influences. Ornaments identified the wearer with animals, gods, heroes or other men. This identification, actual for primitive people, remains symbolic in more sophisticated societies; we should bear in mind that the theatre, which is a basic expression of this feeling, has its distant origins in sacred performances, and in all periods children at play have worn disguises, so as to adopt gradually to adult life.

Costume also helps inspire fear or impose authority: for a chieftain, costume embodies attributes expressing his power, while a warrior’s costume must enhance his physical superiority and suggest that he is superhuman. In later times, professional or administrative costume has been devised to distinguish the wearer and to express personal or delegated authority; this purpose is seen as clearly in the barrister’s robes as in the policeman’s uniform.

Costume denotes power, and as power is more often than not equated with wealth, costume came to be an expression of social caste and material property. On this level costume becomes subject to politics.”

The images below will provide illustrations to prehistoric costumes, costumes in the ancient east, hair and headdresses, coastal and mountain countries, costumes in Irano-Indian regions, Cretan costume, Mediterranean countries, Egyptian costumes, classical costumes in Central Mediterranean, Greece, Etruria, Rome, Sardina, Iberian Peninsula, Europe BC.




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