The History of Fashion

A hard fate has condemned human beings to enter this mortal sphere without any natural covering, like that possessed by the lower animals to protect them from the extremes of heat and cold. Had this been otherwise, countless myriads, for untold ages, would have escaped the tyrannical sway of the goddess Fashion, and the French proverb, il faut souffrir pour être belle, need never have been written.

content-08The costume of our progenitors was chiefly remarkable for its extreme simplicity; and, as far as we can gather, no difference in design was made between the sexes. A few leaves entwined by the stalks, the feathers of birds, the bark of trees, or roughly-dressed skins of animals were probably regarded by beaux and belles of the Adamite period as beautiful and appropriate adornments for the body, and were followed by garments made from plaited grass, which was doubtless the origin of weaving, a process which is nothing more than the mechanical plaiting of hair, wool, flax, &c. In many remote districts these primitive fashions still prevail, as, for example, in Madras, where, at an annual religious ceremony, it is customary for the low caste natives to exchange for a short period their usual attire for an apron of leaves. In the Brazilian forests the lecythis, or “shirt tree,” is to be found, from which the people roll off the bark in short lengths, and, after making it pliable in water, cut two slits for the arm-holes and one for the neck, when their dress is complete and ready for use. The North American Indian employs feathers for purposes of the toilet, and many African tribes are noted for their deftly-woven fabrics composed of grass and other vegetable fibres, while furs and skins are essential articles of dress in Northern latitudes. Perhaps the earliest specimen of a modiste’s bill in existence has recently been found on a chalk tablet at Nippur, in Chaldea. The hieroglyphics record ninety-two robes and tunics: fourteen of these were perfumed with myrrh, aloes and cassia. The date of this curious antique cannot be less than two thousand eight hundred years before the Christian era. In ancient times it must be remembered that the principal seats of civilisation were Assyria and Egypt, and upon these countries Western nations depended for many of the luxuries of life. The Jews derived their fine fabrics from the latter place, which was particularly noted for its linen manufactures and for magnificent embroideries, of which the accompanying illustration will give some idea. Medes and Babylonians, of the highest class, partially arrayed themselves in silk, which cost its weight in gold, and about the time of Ezekiel (B.C. 594) it is known to have been used in the dress of the Persians. It is a remarkable circumstance that this animal product was brought to the West manufactured in cloth, which was only half silk; and it is said the plan was devised of unravelling the stuff, which was rewoven into cloth of entire silk. Owing to its high price, the Romans forbade its being used for the entire dress by men, complete robes of silk being reserved for women. It is numbered among the extravagant luxuries of Heliogabalus that he was the first man who wore a silken garment, and the anecdote is well known of the Emperor Aurelian, who refused, on the ground of its extravagant cost, a silk dress which his consort earnestly desired to possess.

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