Wrap/drape Dressing: The Ancient Option for Those Who Hate Sewing
Trying to keep up with scientific discoveries and the resulting theories about the origins of humankind, seems like a fulltime occupation, nowadays.
Currently the most popular thinking is that we all come from the temperate regions of Africa, those moving north developing paler skins and blue eyes as they faced less sunny climates. This was to ensure the absorption of Vitamin D, an essential vitamin produced through exposure of the body to sunlight.
Those areas are also colder, which means humans started to cover themselves more warmly. The mythical fig leaf would no longer be enough, so wearing animal skins was the next step.
As humans moved from being hunter-gatherers to nomadic herders, and finally to settled agrarians, the stage was set for the development of spinning and weaving, in other words the production of cloth. Both animal products (wool, silk) and plant material (linen, flax, cotton) were used by ancient civilizations.
The earliest form of human clothing made from fabric would have been simple wrap and drape styles, using uncut material. As fabric does not survive well, we must rely on early paintings and sculpture for information. From this we learn that Ancient Egyptian men dressed in a schenti (loin cloth), while the Pharaohs also had a semi-transparent long fringed tunic called a kalasiris. Women wore long tunics.
The ancient Greeks wore the Chiton, Chlamys (short cloak), Himation (large cloak), Kredemnon, Examis and Peplos – all seamless garments, some secured by pins/brooches, and some tied with cords.
Chiton, Himation and Chlamys
The Etruscans, contemporaries of Ancient Greece, lived in what is modern Italy. Their Tebenna and Trabea are thought to be forerunners of the Roman Toga. As opposed to the male Toga, Roman women wore the Pallium (a full cloak), or a draped tunic.
The Pallium, Tunic, and Toga
The Etruscans seems to have worn sewn garments, but the Romans shunned those, as they did the long trousers worn by some barbarian tribes they encountered while expanding their empire.
Etruscan dancer in tight fitting garment
We know today that sewing finally became the norm, but there are still cultures that wear wrapped or draped styles. In the next blog we will look at those.
Drudi, E. (2007). Wrap & drape fashion. History, design & drawing. Amsterdam: The Pepin Press.
Laver, J. (1969). Costume and fashion. A concise history. (4th ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.