HOW OUR HISTORY AFFECTS TODAY’S WOMEN FASHION
Updated: Jan 23
History, in school, used to be an interesting subject for a handful of students, and few students used to despise the subject. They believed history had no purpose in our daily lives and that it was a waste of time. However, history remains the foundation for the workings of world regimes, science and technology, and much more. We are always learning from our past and our personalities are influenced by the past. However gruesome the past is, we always end up standing straight, doing better. What if the devastating plague, called ‘The Black Death’, never happened? Maybe we wouldn’t be able to prevent plagues arising often around the world and do our best by protecting families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s not turn this into another history chapter and move on to how it affects today’s fashion trends.
However, what has this got to do with history affecting fashion? Society’s rules and beliefs, human-made disasters, social stratification, emotions, suffrage movements, and other historical moments impact the current fashion trends. Because of such occurrences, modifications had to be done to garments in vogue at a specific point in time. Since fashion is a form of expression, the clothing created at one point in the timeline tells a story and provides sentiment to that clothing creating eminent, timeless collections.
ANARKALI - MUGHAL EMPIRE
When we hear “Mughal Empire,” we think of the Empires of empires dominating SouthEast Asia. Along with the power, wealth, and strength, this empire has influenced fashion of the modern world. One of the favourite pieces of garment among females called the Anarkali rules women’s ethnic sections in stores all around India and other countries in Asia. Anarkali means blossoming pomegranate, which signifies innocence and beauty. It presents itself as a perfect outfit for the day for women at weddings and parties. The modernised version is a long, free-flowing dress with pleats fitted tightly at the bust with intricate and elegant embroidery. This graceful clothing was named after legendary courtesan Nadira Begum or Sherf-Un-Nisa who was lovingly called Anarkali by her husband, Prince Salim (later Mughal Emperor Jahangir), as she preferred much simple but elegant attire.
EGYPTIAN CIVILIZATION (3100 BC - 332 BC)
Apart from outfits, jewellery and makeup also plays an important role in styling and completing the whole look. For Egyptians, jewellery and makeup items were considered more important than clothing as they believed jewellery provides religious meaning. You probably remember the iconic inspired Cleopatra look by Katy Perry with the kohl eyeliner and detailed jewellery collar. Cleopatra continues to influence modern fashion and has inspired many celebrities in their work like Elizabeth Taylor and Beyonce. The meaning behind wearing the kohl eyeliner was to keep the eyes clean, improve vision and get protection from the sun. It is also interesting to note that Egyptians invented wigs! They would wear wigs made out of human hair, wax, wool, plant fibres. Egyptians would shave their head to prevent lice and prevent any form of uncleanliness. Living in a dry hot region of Northeast Africa, Egyptians would shave their hair to stay cool and would also shave their eyebrows. Apart from jewellery and makeup, clothes were only available for noblemen as they were expensive. Men of the higher status wore knee-length loincloths tied at the waist called the Shenti or Shendyt much similar to the lungi worn in Southern India. Women wore full-length white linen dresses with a jewelled collar. It is quite fascinating how Egyptians have a huge influence in 21st-century fashion even after 30 centuries.
WORLD WAR-I (1914-1920)
World War-I, was such a frightful and disturbing war, it was called “the war to end wars.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t ‘the war’ to end wars. To win the war, a lot of men were required in the army, and even inexperienced but able-bodied men were forced to join the army. While men led the war, women were trying to acquire their rights. Women wanted to quit being called ‘decorative toys or dolls’, wanted to quit being identified as Mrs. Wife, and wanted to be known as themselves. During World War - I, women started joining organisations, workforces, movements and even started taking up leadership roles. Since male factory workers, clerks, and servers began participating in the army, women started working outdoors doing physical jobs. Thus they required much appropriate clothing for these jobs. As labourers in factories, women moved on from corsets to tunics. Trousers, tunic tops, uniforms, overalls were popular and much more practical than pre-wartime fashion. After the war ended, skirts of simple shapes with pleats were brought in, which enabled easier movement, and encouraged a natural waist with a higher hemline. For the first time, women’s sportswear was introduced when French tennis player, Suzanne Lenglen created a revolution in fashion by wearing a sleeveless blouse and calf-length skirts secured at the waist. Thus, corsets never returned, glamour subdued and minimalism emerged.
The Great Depression
As World War-I ended, Europe faced more problems. The stock market crashed, German money became worthless, and millions became homeless and unemployed. Hollywood fashion became more popular as Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple became fashion icons with their influential fashion styles and choices. Women’s dresses were practical and stylish, and since the economic situation wasn’t in a good state, women recreated such clothes with their existing clothes. The dress was longer, sitting at the ankle, clinging to the beautiful natural bodies of the women.
WORLD WAR-II (1939-1945)
Once again in 1939, the world fell into fear, violence, warfare, leaving the world’s population desperate for peace and friendship. Practical utility women clothing remained as women replaced men in their jobs as men fought wars. Women’s sense of style was unaffected by bomb blasts from the Nazis. Jumpsuits and trouser suits were desired and prevalent during the war. By 1945, garments did not experience change however, as time went by, utility clothing started losing its charm and femininity popularised. Long black skirts, elaborate dresses with cinched waists, and round shoulders became prevalent. A sensational clothing collection called the Bar Suit collection created by Dior ran riot in the fashion industry. It is a piece of a garment comprising a jacket of white satin reaching the hip and black wool pleated skirt. The jacket has a much softer shoulder and is reshaped tightly at the waist, giving a much femme look.
COVID 19 (2019- PRESENT)
History restricts not only to the past but also has a strong connection with the present and future. As we progressed into a modern world, we have experienced phenomena taking place all around the world. Fashion design has now become the number one solution to problems. Now, the world is hit by a dangerous virus, leaving us forced to stay at home. And since we are stuck at home, we are finding solutions to stay comfortable and stay motivated and that’s when we use our hands to reach our devices to buy clothes online. Athleisure and sportswear became in demand. Sneakers motivated us to work out while fuzzy slippers kept us at home without fearing FOMO.
Our history has taught us that even in tough times, fashion turns out to be that area where people can express themselves and find comfort while the world seems to be in chaos. Fashion narrates a story and recounts moments of our history. What if we lined up all articles of clothing used from 100 BC to the 21st Century? Don’t you think the tale of our past would unfold?
- Written by Sreenidhi.