Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Origin of Clothes

According to the bible, Adam and Eve walked around naked, and they did not become ashamed of their nakedness until they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. We are not born wearing clothes, and our ancestors didn't have clothing brands or preferences, and yet today the clothes we wear are a firm part of our identity. Even the least fashion conscious people among us have clothing that they wear for work and more casual outfits for weekends and days off. Who invented clothes, and when did they become such an important part of our lives?
Neanderthal Fashion

According to Rebecca Wragg Sykes, an archaeologist at the University of Bordeaux, there is evidence to suggest that Neanderthals wore clothes. The oldest preserved fragments of garments are just 8,000 years old, but "ghost impressions" of clothing have been found in the graves of Homo Sapiens from far earlier than that, and scraps of dyed fabric have been found at a 30,000 year old cave site in Georgia. So, not only did our ancestors from tens of thousands of years ago cover themselves to stay warm, they cared, to some extent, what those cover-ups looked like.

From Cover Up to Comfort

Early garments were made of fur, rough fabrics, beads and teeth from animals. It wasn't until much more recently that our ancestors started to think about comfort. The first records of silk garments can be traced back to ancient China, about 10,000 years ago. Interestingly enough, Chinese legends claim that silk was invented by the Empress Si Ling Chi just 5,000 years ago.  The Empress stumbled upon the properties of silk entirely by accident, when a cocoon from a silk worm fell into her cup of tea. After seeing the cocoon unravel, she had the fine strands spun into threads, and that accidental process formed the basis of silk making for millennia to come,

Silk making stayed a Chinese secret for thousands of years. It was not until 200BC, when many Chinese people migrated to Korea, that the practice of making silk spread, and it took more than 1,000 years after that for silk to become commonplace in other parts of the world.

Becoming Fashion Conscious

While the idea of the rich wearing one type of garment and the poor wearing another was common throughout history, fashion as we know it today took much longer to develop. In the late 13th century, dyeing and wool-working technology advanced significantly, allowing for a wider variety of garments to be made more easily. It was those advances that gave rise to fashion in the modern sense of the word. Fashion conscious people would request curved seams (instead of the traditional straight steams) or have hose with different coloured wool for each leg.

Over the next few hundred years, fashions became more distinct and outlandish. The most well-off people would import new styles and textiles from foreign countries, and decorative lace and needlework became popular as ways to distinguish garments. A few decades after the industrial revolution occurred, mass production of clothing became a reality, and this meant affordable garments for all.

Modern clothing is comfortable, durable and highly customizable. We are lucky to live in a world of technical fabrics, natural silk and rugged denim. Our ancestors suffered for their love of fashion, wearing animal skins and uncomfortable woollen garments. Spare a thought for the Neanderthals and their bone necklaces next time you wrap up in a light and comfortable sarong.

We are all aware that clothing is a necessity, it’s very touching to think that everything we are taught today like sewing was once ‘discovered’ by the humankind. The discovery of new fabrics and new textiles allowed for more creativity and influenced the way people were dressed back than just like it is now. This post was written by Gozde who is currently working with Patra on a guide to the history of clothing and different clothing eras.   


  1. great post about history of clothing. we hardly ever give a thought to the clothes we wear. we simply go to the store and buy whenever we feel the need to perk up our wardrobe.

  2. Rajkumar, I ran through my History Lessons!
    Grateful to the inventor!
    We all love Clothes!

  3. Yes we are born naked but gradually the necessity of clothing became prevalent and then the sense of making the clothing bit fashionable became prominent.

  4. Interesting insights on clothing. The irony is that today we are more fashion conscious, have the best of designers and fabric, but have gone back to Adam and Eve days - wearing bare minimal of clothing. Well, not true for everyone, but most of the people today promote the idea of 'well dressed' as being 'under-dressed'.


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