Ancient Clothing

Figure 1.--Here we see a depiction of a well-to- do Egyptian family and the clothes they wore. The family was from of Thebes during the 20th Dynasty (1184-1078 BC) according Ikram-Dodson.

An associated aspect of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution was the cultivation of fiberous plants and the domestication of animals with wool and lether than could be used for clothing. Weaving was a major technological advance. Initially txtiles were very simple and men simply wrapped them around the body. Over time humans developed more form fitting garments. bearing animalss and the development of the technology to produce We know a great deal about some ancient civilizations and virtually nothing about others. Until Greece and Rome, our knowledge of ancient clothing is based largely on the level and survival of artistic depictions. As clothing is made out of textiles that are perhisble, there are relatively few surviving garments. Some exist, but artistic depictions are the primary source of information. With Greece and Rome we have surviving texts that provide information on clothing and fashion.



We have not yet developed much information on clothing in ancient Mesopotamia. There were differences among the various civilizations, but here we have not yet gathered much information. There were also similarities because the various cultures arising in Mesopotamis were inter-related. In addition textiles and eaving techology were shared by the different civilizations. The natural materials availabble for clothing wee wool and flax (used for making linnen). Many of the fashion differences among cultures were apparent only in the relatively small ruling and trading classes. The peasants who were the bulk of the population and toiled in the field were not significantly affected by fashion. The cost of textiles and the climate were major factors. We believe that the major fashion for men was a skirt like kilt. The length varried. Here social class was a factor. Peasant men commonly wore short skirts better suited for field work. Many wore no shirt or other garment covering their chest. The more affluent might wear robes or tunics, often fringed. Women wore long robes that did cover their upper torsos. We do not know much about children's clothing. We do not know of any specifically dedicated garments for children. Most young children presumably went naked because of ther hot climate. The high cost of textiles was another factor. Many peasants could barely afford to clothes themselves. Information on clothing is limited. One of the best sources of information is the surviving scupltures, especially carved stone reliefs.


Clothing in ancient Egypt was almost always linen which is made from flax. Clothes were made of linen because flax was the only plant growing in Egypt that was used for clothing. The actual weaving of linen fabric was done on a loom, usually by women. Textile manufacture and dressmaking were actually the only areas of the economy that remained predominantly in female hands. White linen needed constant washing. It was washed in the river or canal, rinsed, then pounded on a stone, and, bleached in the sun. Linen clothes needed to be repleated every time they were washed. Important Egyptians were often depicted with pleated skirts. Only high status individuals had pleated clothes because the pleating process involved so much labor. Pleating required pressing the linen into grooves on a wooden board and letting it dry. The most interesting feature of Egyptian clothes is that styles changed so little over the long sweep of Egyptian history. Since there were no new styles, Egyptians took great pride in keeping themselves and their garments immaculately clean. Of course clothing is affected by climate. The warm weather in Egypt meant that ancient Egyptians wore little or no clothes at all. If they did wear clothes they were very thin and light. Even in Egypt, however, it could be cool at night during the winter. The basic garments worn by men was a loincloth or a shenti. A shenti was a kilt-like piece of linen fabric tied around the waist and kept in place by a girdle. While poor Egyptians had a simple shenti, the wealthy had shentis pleated and decorated with gold thread. Women might wear a simple shift for women. Many low status individuals, like slaves and children, did not wear any clothes at all. Children might earrings or protective amulets. In general, shoes were not worn. Egyptian children in the summer usually went around without any clothing at all. During the winter the children might be wrapped in cloaks and other wraps. One interesting aspect of Egyptian clothing is how little fashions changed over very long periods of time.

Indus Valley

The clothing worn in ancint India was very diverse. This was due the long period of involved and the range of climatic conditionsfrom the temperate north to the tropical south. India has played a major role in the hisory of fahion and textile. It was in ancient India that cotton was first cultivated. Many Indian terms are important fashion and garment terms, including dungarees, khakis, pajamas, and may other terms. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of ancient Indian clothing is that it is still widely worn in modern India. The clothing and garmnts of ancient India are the only styles from the ancient world still widely worn today. Here it is probably the suitability for the limae and low cost and impliciy that are the key factors. It is the fashion of the Vedic era that have proved the most important. Clothing in the Vedic era was often extensively embroidered and embelished with precious metals and gold.


We know little about historic Chinese clothing worn in various cultures and dynasties of ancient China at this time. We eventually hope to add such information to HBC. We have noted a few images of children in Chinese art, but they are not always dated, making it difficult to assess chanhes over time. Most of the omages we have noted show boys wearing lose tunics and pajamalike long trousers. We do not know precisely when this clothing style developed. We note that the fine clothes worn by the elite often had magnificent embroidery with important imagery.



Information on Celtic costume is very limited. Northern Europe is not like the Egyptian desert where textiles might be preserved for long periods. There are a few artifacts such as the Danish bog people which may have been Celtic or Teutonic. Primarily information on Celtic dress comes from how the people they came in contact with described them, especially the Greeks and Romans. There is reason to believe from some textile finds such as at a mine near Salzburg, Austria that the celts had well developed weaving technology. [Barber, p. 204.] The garment most associated with Celtic culture, at least Scotland and Ireland is the kilt. In fact, there is no evidence that the ancient Celts wore kilts. The kilt of Scottish legend is a much more recent development. The kilt (a breacan feile or belted plaid) appears very late in Celtic history, probably about 1550-1600 AD. Scottish and Irish Celts throughout most of their history wore a linen or wool tunic (leine) and in cold weather a large cloak (brat) with or without breaches. [Riley and McGann.] In fact, while Roman soldiers wore a kilt-like skirt, Celtic warriors more commonly wore breaches. (Some Celtic warriors went into battle naked, but this appears to have been on exceptional occasions. Celtic soldiers and calvary wore trousers and colored cloaks and tunics. The breaches worn by Celtic men appear to have varied considerably over time and in different locations. [Dunleavy, p. 17] The skirt wearing Roman legions viewed these Celtic breaches as an example of their barbarity. It is Ironic that a millennia later, the kilts adopted by the Celtic Highland Scots were seen as barbaric by the well-breached English and Scottish lowlanders. The wealthy Celts might have worn their beaches with gold and silver plaited belts. [Duffy, p. 88.] The Celts unlike Roman men wore trousers called bracae which was the origin of the English word breaches, the first form of trousers worn by European men. [Duffy, p. 88.] Another source reports that Celtic men wore tunics with and without breaches.[Riley and McGann.] Women also sometimes wore trousers. Women primarily, however, although tight-waisted skirts were more common. [Duffy, p. 113.] Another source suggests Celtic women were influence by Greek fashion. [Riley and McGann.] Both men and women wore leather shoes and sandals. Both men and women wore tunics at lengths from the waist to the knees. Most sources agree that the tunics worn by Celtic men were colorful. One source describes the tunics as having narrow to the wrist, but also short sleeves. Decoration at the wrist and neck was common. [Riley and McGann.] Covering these tunics in cold weather might be a cloak which fastened with a broach. Wealthy Celts would have very fancy broaches. The cloaks could also be fancy and were a sign of rank and social status. [Duffy, p. 113.] There appears to have been some similarity among the different Celtic tribes. The Romans that invaded Britain found that the Celtic Britons dressed and behaved much as the Gauls. [Duffy, p. 113.] There must have been differences, however for a people whose history spans such a long period and inhabited such a large area. We do not have any information specifically on Celtic children's clothes.


Greeks wore very simple clothing. Linen clothing was common in the summer and woolen clothing in the winter. Clothing was mostly made in the home by the mother, daughters, and female slaves. Garments included simple tunics and warm cloaks, made of linen or wool. They we often dyed bright colors, but bleached white garments were also worn. Decorations were often distinctive to each city state. One garment created by the Greeks was the broad-brimmed hat. Some clothing historians believe that the Greek "petasos" was the first true hat--headwear with a complete brim. It was worn mostly hen traveling. It had a hin strap and could be worn hanging down the back. Children of both genders often wore no clothing at all when they were very young. There does not appear to have been any specialized garments for children before they began wearing adult garments. Boys spent a lot of time naked in athletic training.


The Romans did have specialized clothing for boys. Very detailed information is available on Roman clothing. Information is available from paintings, statues and written documents. Rome during its early monarchy, republican, and imperial eras lasting nearly 1,000 years basically maintained the same clothing styles. Most clothes were made out of wool or linen, as was the case in Greece. Imported fabrics such as cotton and silk were very expensive. In cold climates fur and felt were also used. Most garments were made up of large uncut pieces of cloth and they were folded and pinned with "fivulate" or they were tied with belts. Garments requiring elaborate sewing were rare, as most needles were made of bone and therefore intricate sewing was difficult. Clothes were mainly the natural colors of their fibers, but some clothes were bleached white or dyed various shades.

Germanic tribes

We do not yet have any information on ancient German clothing. We note some drawings in a 19th century publication Braun & Schneider


We believe that clothing styles in Byzantium of the time of separation with Rome were similar to the styles worn in the West. We have little information at time about subsequent clothing styles or about differentiated styles for children, if any. An ancient clothing specialist tells us, "I have not done a lot of research on children's clothing during the Byzantine period. My impression is that children dressed much as their parents - the few children that I recall seeing in illuminations were dressed in miniature versions of adult's clothing. I have made a dalmatikon and esoforion for my toddler. I simply used the same form as for his father - mostly a t-tunic - and then embellished the dalmatikon. Since male headwear was not common, there isn't the need for that. Which is good, if you've ever tried to keep a hat on an active toddler." [Eirene] Romans in both the Western and Eastern Empire made clothes clothes with linen, animal skin, and wool. Silk obtained over the silk road was enormously coved and very expensive. Anyone who could afford it wanted it. It seemed luxurious in comparison to linnen and wool garments. Silk thus became a symbol of wealth and social status. We note little change in men's clothing over the centuries, but our information is still limited. The basic garment in Byzantium as in the Westrn Empire was the tunica. Other garmnts included the dalmatic, the cloak and shoes or boots. The cut and style of the garments were the same for all classes. The diiferences among social lasses were in the the fabric, quality of weave, and trimming. The tunica was the basic garment worn by men in Byzantium. The working classes wore the tunic as the basic every day garment. The ruling classes also wore the tunica, but only as a basic garment and wore luxurious garments over it. The Byzantine tunica developed from the basic Roman tunica talaris which was an ankle-length tunic. The Byzantines added trim to the sleeves and wore their tunicas with a very loose fit. Those involved in ekmployments which required strenous activity would gird his tunica with a thin belt. Sleeve length varied depending on social class as well as the season. The coptic tunic was designed for more active wear. There were also tunics for workers. Dock workers for example wore a himation, an ancient, inexpensive tunic formed from rectangles of cloth pinned at the shoulders and belted. The dalmatic is the destinctive garment most associated with the Bzantines. It was a kind of robe worn by the ruling classes over their tunica. The dalmatic was if the wearer could afford it made of a luxurious cloth, commonly silk, and richly decorated. Common people might have a dalmactic that they would wear for special occassions. Unlike the tunica, there were changes in the dalmatic over time. An important difference which came to destinguish Byzantium with Rome was pants or breeches. Byzantines did wear leg coverings of varying types. There are breeches makers clearly shown in Diocletian's Edicts of Prices. This means that they were worn from the very beginning of Byzantium. It is unclear, however, how common leg coverings were. This may have varied seasonally. This is not well explained in available texts, but art work provides some glimses of clothing styles. Shepherds are depicted with leg wrappings from ankle to knee. Note the imperial page with leg wrapping to the knee shown here (figure 1). Dock laborers are shown, however, with bare legs. The Emperor Justinian is known to wear hose. The breeches worn by the Germanic tribes seem to have influenced Byzantine dress. Byzantines seemed to have worn these breeches in areas where was extensive contact with the Germans. Acceptance seems to have varied over time. The Byzantines also wore loose fitting trousers which were adopted over time. [Tauna]


We have developed aood bit od information om different ancient civilizations. Now we want to a;so develop pages on different garments on those civilizations. Here we have made less progress. We have begun to look on a range of garments, including headwear, cloaks, tunics, trousers, kllts, hosiery, and footwear. We hope to expands this section as HNC develops.


Tauna, Black. "A clothing how-to for garments of the Byzantine Empire," website accssed August 31, 2003.


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Created: 7:24 PM 5/19/2009
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