No one can be absolutely certain that early man wore clothing as we know
it. But researchers in the late C20th, found evidence of
fine weaving in the Czech region. This was observed from studying
illustrated archaeological pottery artefacts from the region.
Clearly cold or hot climatic conditions were probably the
first reason for man to clothe himself and his family. The condition
of extreme cold or excess heat means that the human race uses materials for
skin protection. Those living in warmer geographical regions need less
clothing, but some skin covering is almost always necessary as protection
from the extreme heat of the sun and the resultant sun burn.
Other reasons for wearing clothing, such as rank, decoration,
occupational trade, tribal and group affiliation are discussed in the
meaning of fashion page.
Above left - Egyptian woman weaving cloth using a basic upright loom and simple
method where a yarn is placed over and under a warp thread, the threads that
hang down which are weighted with stones.
It is now known that weaving was carried out as far back as 27,000 years
ago. This fact was discovered only at the turn of this
millennium. Until then it was thought weaving was only a skill only first
used about 10,000 years ago. But now it is known that woven products were
made to be used in body clothing and articles such as hats.
The very earliest of humans must have slung the skins of dead animals
over their shoulders to keep warm or to lie on. We know they sewed primitive shifts that covered the torso. They used skins of animals
- the fur and leather remnants obtained from
animals caught for foodstuffs.
In the Old Stone Age men and women began to make clothes
using needles made of bone. Flint knives were used to cut away
splinters from bones. Once the bone splinter was rubbed smooth a
hole was pierced in the thicker end and the point was sharpened.
Right - Early needle making - sharpening a splinter from a bone into a
needle shaped tool which could be used to stitch together skins.
Bones were also used to make decorative necklaces, like this necklace
shown below. Early jewellery was mostly made from found objects - seeds,
stones and bones.
Necklaces were made from rubbed smooth bones, sea shells, teeth, fish
bones, seeds or leather strips.
These necklaces were early status
symbols, acted as talismans and prized as personal keepsake treasures.
These early Stone Age people also began to make pottery. They learnt how to polish hard
stone so they could make a superior axe which helped them to cut wood and
make boats. Other simple tools were those used for spinning and
weaving. Clothes were made by crudely spinning the
fibres into yarns and weaving the yarns into rough fabrics similar to potato
sacking. With expertise and finer and finer yarns, fabrics became
finer and more luxurious.
womenfolk probably collected tufts of sheep wool caught on bushes before
realising that the fibres could just be taken off the sheep. Folk had
used the sheep skins for warmth so using the hair of the sheep without the
skin enabled them to control the weight of clothes. In colder places like
Chaldea (now Iraq) winter nights were cold, so warm hairy woollen cloth was
an important alternative to the thinner fabrics such as linen and required
for the hot summers.
The wool was washed and then combed by carding it with thistles/teasel
heads. When carded all the wool hairs lay in the same direction and
that made the fibres easier to spin together. The term carded comes from the
Latin name for thistles and the word CARDUUS.
The carded wool was loosely tied on the distaff stick. Whilst
carrying the distaff under one arm, the spinner twisted a thread with the
other hand. Once a small amount of twisted thread had been made the spinner
attached it to the spindle and as spinning progressed a yarn ball developed
which was kept compact and as continuous in length as practical.
The spindle had a round weight on the end called a spindle whorl and
early spindle whorls were just a stone. In the illustration you see a
basket of spun thread on spindle whorls. The woman shown spinning,
above left, is holding
a spindle which has weighted whorl, and under her arm she has a distaff
covered with wool fibres. This is still the most eco friendly way to
make woollen yarn and uses only human energy! Once skilled, a spinner produces regular yarn with
odd slubs. An unskilled spinner creates very nubby textured
irregular yarns perfect for rustic craftwork!
Flax was an important plant of the middle east and especially of Egypt.
The Name for linen in Latin is LINUM. The Flax plant also yielded valuable
oil called linseed oil and of course strong linen thread. Ancient
Egyptians are famed for their fine linen goods and you can read about them
Egyptian costume pages.
The importance of a woman knowing how to make yarn, cloth and construct
basic garments within the family was so important and high class a skill
in the Bible were devoted to the proficiency. This ability to create cloth
made a woman an asset to the
"Who can find a virtuous woman? For her prices is above rubies. She
seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands, she layeth her
hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She
stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to
She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her
household are clothed in scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of
tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. She maketh fine linen and
selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the
bread of idleness. Her children arise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, he praiseth her."
northern European countries, people buried in the Scandinavian regions were
sometimes preserved in their grave resting place by the acid peat nature of
The museums of Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen all have clothing which is
Such clothing artefacts were made from a mixture of deer hair and wool
fibres which created a very thick warm cloth, often dyed yellow, green or
brown. Women wore a short top jacket and a soft pleated kilt like
skirt held in position with a leather belt or wool rope girdle with tassels.
Left North European Costume about 3400 years ago. The decorative brooch/pin - centre - might be used as a clasp to hold
garment pieces firmly together. Note:- The girdle belt the woman wears is not the same as the corset type control panty
girdle worn today.
From left to right this is the dress of a Celtic chief, in war dress, a
Celtic chief in everyday civil clothing, and a Celtic chieftainess dressed
Above from the left we have a Celtic woman; in the centre a Celtic man and
on the far right a Celtic peasant
A Celtic man and woman would have dressed in a very similar manner, but
with a longer tunic and without weapons and protective arm bangles. In fact
everyday Celtic dress is most similar to Grecian clothing, but the fabrics
the Celts used were coloured, coarser and heavier. Vegetable dyes from
plants and berries were used to create colours.
In this era other important clothing styles were those of the
the Greeks and the
Romans. You can read
more on the linked pages.
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
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