History of Costume and Style I - Stone Age
Approximately 20 000 years ago the only way for the human race to survive was to hunt, fish and to gather berries, nuts and roots. They had yet to develop the ability to keep cattle and plant crops. They used simple weapons of bone, wood and stone, because metal was still unknown. This period is called the Paleolithic period.
About 8000 B.C., with the coming of the Neolithic revolution, humans turned from hunting to husbandry and agriculture as they gained more self-knowledge and started to live more organized lives. The Paleolithic people where left to the mercy of nature whereas the Neolithic people started to live in communities, which in turn let to more control over food and they developed a more disciplined order of life. It was, also, the time when the first attempts to build houses where made and when pottery and weaving were introduced.
The transition from the old to the new stone age is called the Mesolithic period and lasted roughly between 8000 - 6000 B.C. During this time the loom weaving probably developed. Thread became finer, needles slimmer, primitive thimbles for pushing needles through fabric were invented and fibers spun from flax and wool were roughly woven into the first fabrics. During this period clothes were characterized by small dimensions and by their square and rectangular shapes, because fabric was not cut but pieces were sewn together to create shape, like the T-shaped tunic.
Primitive people dressed for decoration and symbol just as much as for warmth and protection and contrary to what we think, people didn't cover their private parts because of modesty. In fact, it was to CALL attention to them or to give them symbolic significance.
Knowledge of prehistoric clothes are very limited and comes from only a few images made of bone, metal or stone and from a few pictures of crudely drawn items of dress, burials in the frozen North, from the early Bronze age. They fortunately stayed intact enough so that we could see what their clothing consisted of, which was loincloth, the skirt and the primitive tunic. The textures used were skins, hides and furs or woven vegetables and animal fiber.
In southern Europe animals hides were a by-product from hunting and skins became the logical basis for loincloths, wraparound skirts and shawls to protect them from the cold. During winter, although there is very little evidence available, it is suspected that in warmer climates, plaited grasses and plant leaves were used for clothing.
One such plant is the Agave plant. This plant provided both needle and thread in one. The leaves would be soaked for extended periods of time, leaving a pulp stringy fibers and a sharp tip which was used as the "needle". Once the fibers dried, the fibers and "needle" could then be used to sew together skins and other items used for clothing.
Needles from bone were developed during the late Paleolithic time.
Skin decoration can also be included as a form of clothing and there is lots of information about painting , tattooing and re-shaping the human form at the Neolithic level all over the world, mainly associated with puberty rites, which includes scaring certain parts of the skin, filing teeth, binding parts of the body, tattooing and other forms of flagellation. But knowledge of the Paleolithic times are limited to a few items of skin, fur and leather.
Tools used for the preparation of skin:
- Scrapers made of flint
- Flint knives for cutting leather.
- Reindeer horns for preparing the fur.
- Strands of animal ligaments or twisted hair were used for thread.
Holes were punched in the skin and needles of bone and ivory were used to carry the thread through in a zigzag laced pattern until large areas and varied shaped were connected.
Eskimo's garments can still be related to the cave dwellers of the Paleolithic period, though is was far less developed. A representative garment has been discovered at Angles-sur-l Anglin (Vienne, France) and consisted of a fur covering, opening in front over a kind of plastron, with a headdress decorated in dangling bobbles.
Other finds suggested that skins of various kinds were for loincloths and wraparound skirts and the skins of animals were usually kept in their natural shape, often with the tail or paws still attached and used as decoration or as a kind of symbolic accent.
The measurements of the garments corresponded to the dimensions of the animals and therefore clothing remained close to the body except for the larger skins which were used for shawls.
Neolithic dress was not as fitted as in the Paleolithic age. They wore skirts or kilts that hanged from the waist and was complimented by a T-shaped garment which had a semi-fitted look rather that the tightly fitted look.
Dyestuffs were also developed during this period and consisted of a wide range of vegetable and mineral colors such as blue from woad, lilac from myrtle, yellow from the artichoke, red from orach, orange from bed-straw in marshes and red ocher from chalk.
Woven garment also appeared in this era together with a variety of jewelry, headdresses and natural ornamental accessories.
Excavations in Denemark found skirts made of vertical cords about 18 inches deep and almost 5 feet in length , attached to a woven fringed girdle. The upper body garment was a sleeved jacket or shirt in plain wool, woven in one piece with the cut front and back edges hemmed at the bottom and sewn together at the top.
So, we can possibly say that garments during the Bronze age Northern Europe consisted of a shirt, skirt, girdle, cap. Cloak and shoes for women and long tunic, shoes and cap for the men. The shoes looking very similar to Indian moccasins.
Cliff paintings, found in Spain, suggested that men also wore pants from leather that was leg coverings that were wrapped or cross-gathered with thongs.
From the Iron age there are a number of caps made of fur of which one of particular interest is from the Dürnberg salt mines of Austria, which is made of six pieces of hide that is turned inwards and a tassel of twisted thongs attached to the crown. It was the Cretan cap, with a curl of hair and dangling olive shaped attachments that evolved into the Phrygian cap of Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece and in the classic revival at the time of the French Revolution.
Ornaments consisted of necklaces, girdles pectorals, bracelets and headbands which was created , at first, from animal teeth, paws and claws, fish vertebrae, shells and bone. Later ivory, amber and other multicolored stones were added in more complex combinations.
To conclude we can say that humans in the Paleolithic and early Neolithic times dressed much the same, allowing for changes in climate and terrain and the difference in materials available.
Resource: "Costume History and Style" by Douglas A. Russell
© 2010 Anna-Mart