Women’s Clothes in the Ancient World
Not surprisingly given the hot climate Egyptians wore only light clothing. Women wore dresses with shoulder straps. Clothes were made of linen or cotton. Later in Egyptian history clothes became more elaborate and colorful. Egyptians wore jewelry. Those who could afford it wore jewelry of gold, silver and precious stones. Poor people wore jewelry made of copper or bronze. Both men and women wore makeup.
Originally Greek women wore a peplos. It was a rectangle of cloth folded and pinned together. It was tied at the waist. Later Greek women began to wear a long tunic called a chiton. Women also wore cloaks called himations. Women wore jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, and anklets. Rich women carried parasols to protect them from the sun. Greek Women did not cut their hair unless they were mourning. It was worn in many different styles.
Roman Women wore long dresses called a stola, dyed different colors. Often they wore a long shawl called a palla. Ordinary Romans wore clothes of wool or linen but the rich could afford cotton and silk. Roman clothes were held with pins and brooches. Both men and women wore wigs and false teeth.
Women’s Clothing in the Middle Ages
Saxon women wore a long linen garment with a long tunic over it. They also wore mantles. Both men and women used combs made of bone or antler. Viking women spun and wove cloth at home and made the families clothes. Women wore a dress like garment called a shift made of linen or wool. Over it, they wore a dress open at the sides, held with shoulder straps. In cold weather, they wore cloaks or shawls. Clothing was held in place by brooches. Viking women often had their hair plaited or held under a headscarf.
In the 12th and 13th centuries clothes were still quite basic. Women wore a nightie-like linen garment. However, they did not wear knickers. They wore a long tunic (to their ankles) and over it another garment, a gown. Women held their dresses with a belt tied around their waists.
In the Middle Ages both sexes wore clothes made of wool but it varied in quality. Wool could be fine and expensive or coarse and cheap. From the mid-14th century laws lay down which materials the different classes could wear, to stop the middle classes dressing ‘above themselves’. (Poor people could not afford to wear expensive cloth anyway!). However, most people ignored the law and wore what they wished. In the late 14th and 15th centuries clothes became much more elaborate. Fashion in the modern sense began. For the wealthy styles changed rapidly. At that time women wore elaborate hats.
Women’s Clothes in the 16th Century
For rich Tudors fashion was important and their clothes were very elaborate. For the poor clothes had to be tough and practical. All classes wore wool. However, it varied in quality. The rich wore fine quality wool. The poor wore coarse wool. However only the rich could afford cotton and silk. Rich Tudors also embroidered their clothes with silk, gold or silver thread. Rich Tudor women wore silk stockings. Women wore a kind of petticoat called a smock or shift or chemise made of linen or wool and a wool dress over it. A woman’s dress was made of two parts, a bodice or a corset-like garment and a skirt. Sleeves were held on with laces and could be detached. Working women wore a linen apron.
In the late 16th century many women wore a frame made of whalebone or wood under their dress called a farthingale. If they could not afford farthingale women wore a padded roll around their waist called a bum roll. In the 16th century women did not wear knickers. However, men sometimes wore linen shorts. In the 16th century, everyone wore hats. Poor women often wore a linen cap called a coif. In the 16th century, buttons were usually for decoration. Clothes were held together with laces or pins. Furs in Tudor times included cat, rabbit, beaver, bear, badger and polecat.
The Tudors used mostly vegetable dyes such as madder for red, woad for blue or walnut for brown. However, you have to use a chemical called a mordant to ‘fix’ the dye. The mordant changed the color of the dye e.g. a plant called weld was used with alum for yellow but if used with iron or tin it produced shades of green. The most expensive dyes were bright red, purple and indigo. Poor people often wore brown, yellow or blue. Incidentally, in the 16th century scarlet was not color it was the name of a fine, expensive wool.
Women who could afford it would hang a container of sweet-smelling spices on their belt. This was called a pomander and it disguised the horrid smells in the streets! However, it is a myth that in Tudor times people were personally dirty. Most people tried to keep themselves clean (see Historical Myths). Some women wore wigs. Both Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots wore them. When Mary was beheaded her wig came off.