Celebrating 'World Book Day' with a magnificent trilogy on fashion history.
One that is as entertaining as it is a true and meticulous teacher of the ancient and the modern.
Who was the Cinderella of Ancient Egypt? Why would the French hide their faces behind masks? Was there ever a tax in order to pay for the queen's hair pins?
Let me tell you all about it!
A lifelong student of costume and design, R. Turner Wilcox observed decades of fashion inovations from major cities all over the world. She takes a stroll through history with her carefully researched and lavisly illustrated surveys of fashion.
Here are a couple of the fun facts that can be found in the 1000+ pages of the series:
Egyptian ( 3000 to 525 BC ) : the main garment the men wore was called schenti. It was a long scarf wrapped around the hips.
"When worn by hign dignitaries, it was finished in front with a pleated apron. The pleats radiated from the low corner of the apron upwards toward the belt, representing the rays of the sun, the emblem of Uraeus."
"Much attention was given the care of the feet and before each meal it was an Egyptian custom to bathe and perfume the feet. A story of a shoe related to the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus, who reigned from 660 to 610 BC, resembles the European tale of Cinderella.
According to the legend, one day when the beautiful Greek slave Rhopodis was bathing in the Nile an eagle swooped down and carried off one of her dainty sandals which farther on he dropped right into the lap of the king. Psammetichus was so impressed by the happening and the tiny shoe that he ordered the land searched for the owner. Upon finding her, so the story goes, he married the lovely maiden and they lived happily ever after."
Grecian: "There were many styles and the fashionable woman changed her footwear to suit each occasion. If going out for the day and her visits necessitated such, her maids followed her, carrying all the desired shoes in a rich carpet made just for the purpose and called sandalthique."
Babylonian ( 1500 BC to 550 BC ) : The men wore their hair and beards long, powdered with gold dust.
Chinese: Practiced for hundreds of years to as late as the twentieth century, the strange custom of bending one's toes under the foot with tight binding was as unique as it was horrific. Worn day and night the members ceased to grow, leaving the foot of a very small size.
"The story of its origin is that the Empress Taki in the year 1200 was born with very small club feet. To save her from later emabarrassment, a decree went forth that no lady of the court was truly noble unless her feet were as small as her Majesty's."
Usually only one girl of the family was chosen to have "lilly feet", needing the constant help of her siblings. The name comes from the fact that the girl would not be capable to work but to be a flower, cared for at all times.
Ancient Roman ( 1st century BC - 5th century AD ) : "The use of perfume by men and women probably surpassed that of any nation of all time. It was in liquid, solid and powdered form and applied not only to their persons, but to all articles and personal possessions with which they came in contact."
Roman: "Of Heliogabalis, who rules from 205 to 222 of our era and indulged in the most debauchery, it is said that he wore shoes glittering with valuable jewels but forbade like adornment on women's shoes. Another bit of information about the man tells us that he never wore the sandals twice."
Saracenic or Moorish: Mohammedans have described as many as sixty-six different types of turbans. An important detail in wrapping it is to leave the forehead bare that it can touch the ground during prayer.
Medieval Europe: Only royal permission, a special honor, permitted a noble to wear his hat before the sovereign. The custom was to remove the hat, with the words "your servant". The act is the predecessor of today's common greeting of "tipping the hat".
Italian Medieval: "Blond hair being the desired color, women sat for hours in roofless belvedere towers atop their houses, bleaching their hair in the sun."
The men wore pointy velvet shoes. When the lenght of the toes of men's shoes became excessive, they held them up to the knees, using fine chains.
English Medieval: the long-pointed masculine shoes lenghtened to such a degree that, in 1463, an ordonance was passed permitting persons of rank to have points no longer than two inches beyond their toes.
The hair and head accessories were fastened with a great number of pins. Ordinary pins were costly, hence the expression "pin money". There was even a tax for the common people, in order to pay for the queen's pins.
French Renaissance: "Masks of black velvet continued to be worn out of doors and to the theatre. [...] Later on, masks were worn as protection against the winter cold. Green silk ones, covering the entire visage, were used on horseback to shield the complexion from the sun. Such a mask was held in position by a button clenched between the teeth."
Louis Thirteenth ( 1610 – 1643 ) - France : "Dating from this period the neck of "well-dressed men" has never gone without a scarf or cravat in some form."
Eighteenth century – England: A regulation order of 1702 to the Royal Scots reads: "As nothing disfigures hats or dirties the lace more than taking off the hat, the men are for the future only to rise the back of their hands to them with a brisk motion when they pass an officer."
Nineteenth century – England - Beau Brummel ( 1778 – 1840 ), the greatest of all dandies, polished his black boots with a concoction called "vin de champagne", according to a lyric of the day: "My top-boots, those unerrng marks of a blade / With champagne are polished, and peach marmalade."
Sicily: The young women hoping for a husband were following a superstition of centuries, sleeping with one of their shoes under their pillow.
I'll let you discover the rest of the stories yourself!
Until next week, stay eager to learn!