When it comes to clothing/costume history many of us studying in the west tend to skim over non-European and non-white clothing. There may be one special class on Indigenous dress or Saris, or Kimonos, but nothing substantial. Most of my resource books also barely scratch the surface of any other topic than European fashion history. I decided to try to gather books for fellow costume curious people to have a starting point to educate ourselves about these non-white and non-European fashion histories.
This is in no way the ultimate list. There are so many other books out there and books yet to be published. Use this list as a jumping off point for your own book research and not as the authority on the only books there are.
I always suggest looking at your local library for these books. If they don't have them ask for them to purchase them. If you choose to purchase them yourselves I would suggest finding small book stores. Literary Hub has a list of Black owned book stores you can check out and order from online! (The Lit Bar in NYC carries many of the books I list below.)
When one thinks of a doctor today, a picture of a person in scrubs, maybe with a white lab coat or disposable gloves on with a tie on mask may come to mind. Most would not instantly think of a figure covered in a long robe or coat with a bird head. But, during the 1600s some in Europe would describe doctors just like that; figures covered from head to toe in long robes with a beaked mask.
When the Great Plague swept through London doctors needed a way to protect themselves when making house calls. Many chose the uniform credited to Charles de Lorme, a French doctor. De Lorme's uniform included a wax covered coat, trousers connected to boots, hat, gloves, and a beaked mask. Most of the costume was to be make out of leather with none of the wearer's skin showing least his pores soak up the "miasma".
Sicknesses, especially the Black Death, Plague, Great Plague, etc. were thought to be caused by bad air or "miasma" so the beaked mask carried sweet or strong scented herbs and the waxed coat often was infused with a scent as well. These measures were thought to protect the doctor as he treated his patients, although no firm scientific proof was available. Ultimately their outfits did little to protect them.
The visual of the "plague doctor" is so iconic that many different societies have used the shape and symbol. In Italy the long shape of the beaked mask became popular in commedia dell'arte performances as well as at carnival celebrations. The costume was rightly so associated with death, forever tying it to horror movies and video games.
Plague doctors were as ineffective as the protective suits they wore. Bad air was not the cause of sickness; poor hygiene and lack of sanitation spread the disease. Some historians even doubt if they wore these uniforms at all. There is evidence of satirical cartoons, masks themselves, and the writings of some doctors, but many believe even if they were worn, they may have only been worn in Italy, France, and England.
Wellcome Collection-Deadly Stinks and Life Saving Aromas in Plague Stricken London
How Stuff Works-17th C. Plague Doctors Were the Stuff of Nightmares
National Geographic-Why Plague Doctors Wore Those Strange Beaked Masks
The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun
I am currently home in my comfy clothes writing this article as the TV show I was working on has been paused due to COVID-19. While sitting at home I was wondering what this pause would mean for costumes, clothing, and fashion, and what other viruses and illnesses have done to affect fashion throughout history. (Fitting no?)
Smallpox and Tuberculosis are just two examples of how diseases have affected fashion throughout history. There are many other epidemics and illnesses that have changed the way we dress. Maybe I'll research a few more in the future for part 2 if I end up having to extend my social separation. Stay safe and healthy. Don't forget to was your hands!
During the later middle ages young women wore cone shaped head wear called "Hennins". These hennins were either single or double cones worn on the head and sometimes draped in a veil. This often hall hat was held on the wearer's head by a small metal strap or tab that rested on the forehead to counteract the weight of the hat.
So, some of those medieval movies throughout history with their "princess hats" are somewhat correct! Maid Marion in Disney's 1973 animated Robin Hood wore a butterfly or double cone hennin. Her character designer, Ken Anderson, cheekily used her ears to create the shape.
Your dress up "princess hat" is actually older than the medieval times as mentioned in a Smithsonian Magazine article. It is believed, at least the single cone hennin was designed with heavy influences from the Mongol married women's head coverings known as Boqta. These headdresses sat more vertically and according to some historical accounts made it very difficult for Mongol women to enter and exit their tents! Most were made out of wool or flannel, but some of the richer women had them made with red silk.
Why did ancient and not as ancient women want such tall head pieces. I can only imagine the headaches that came along with them.
But, even more recent women have worn headpieces that added to their verticality. Fontages in the 1700s were so tall that some women DIED after they caught fire from the candelabras and chandeliers overhead. I guess what they say in Texas is right, "The taller the historical headpiece, the closer to the fashion god" ...or something like that.
While quarantining in my apartment during Covid-19 in New York I have made a habit of wearing a pair of plum cotton overalls to be comfy but to also wear actual clothes instead of a pair of joggers or my pajamas. This got me thinking, "What is the history of the overall?"
In the US we call the garment that consists of trousers with a front bib and over shoulder straps "overalls". They are traditionally made out of canvas or denim and used as a work garment, but they can also be made of cotton or another fabric. "Overalls" are not to be confused with "coveralls" which is like a "onesie" or "boiler suit". "Coveralls" are an all-in-one garment that includes sleeves and can be seen as a uniform for mechanics, painters, etc.
"Slops" could be considered the first iteration of overalls in history, even before Mr. Strauss created his denim marvels. Workers, uniformed personnel, and the lower class tend to wear the style of garments once worn by the upper class decades before. The "slops" I am referring to are oversized trousers worn by workers and sailors in the 1700s; not the high court "slops" or "gallygaskins" of the men of court in the early 1600s. They were worn as protection while working in fields, or sailing (as not to soil their sailor uniform).
Overalls were a piece of work wear from their inception until roughly the 1940s when young boys and some girls would wear the garment as play clothes. They were considered outdoor wear still, but made less rigid and a little more "in fashion" with the time.
Today overalls are still worn by toddlers and children as they are an easy outfit to be put in and if your child is extra active, tends to stay on better than a pair of trousers and a shirt.
Overalls have also made their way onto runways and into high fashion as well as street wear. Brands from Madewell to designers like Yojhi Yamamoto have created their own versions of overalls for both men and women. Hip hop artists of the 80s and 90s wore them as well as the influencers and celebrities of today.
Join me while staying at home and wearing overalls. Pair them with an oversize comfy jumper for a cozy cuddle, or add a sharp button front blouse/shirt to feel a more "at work" while working from home. Whether they are denim, cotton, or jersey, pop them on and enjoy!