Six hundred and fifty thousand years ago, when man first started wearing pelts and plant material for warmth, comfort, and appearance, they had no idea how far the concept of clothing as identity would go in the intervening millennia. They just wanted to keep the sun off of their backs and to stave off the frigid winters.
The very earliest clothing was simply draped, tied, or wrapped around peoples’ waist or shoulders as they went on about their days. It went on like this for the majority of human history – for nearly six hundred and thirty thousand years, until sewing was invented.
Just under twenty thousand years back, we find the first signs of actual sewing haven taken place. Bone and ivory needles have been discovered from this period, though they were likely still put to use on animal pelts. Woven materials such as linen and silk took another thirteen thousand years to show up, meaning that dressmaking in anything that resembles it’s current form is in its infancy – having been around for only six thousand years or so – less than a tenth of the time that our species has walked the earth!
The Silk Trade
It is well known that there was a system of trade roads between various Asian counties and the Chinese empire. Though everything from livestock to spices to art traveled these roadways, the routes are known as the silk road, as China’s silk was at the time (and generally remains) unrivaled in quality as a trade-good. The goods carried along these roads from China, along with the knowledge that accompanied it – significantly impacted the development of other civilizations, including Egypt and Rome.
Greek and Roman Clothes
Greeks and Romans both tended toward loose, draping, and minimally sewn garments that could be belted or tied in place. The Roman toga, of course, is what springs to mind, though Greek and Roman clothing could be quite beautiful, and was not always so simple as the bedsheets seen around the kegs in college.
By the early middle ages, the head-hole was discovered! I joke a bit, as simple draped tunics did indeed exist in ancient Greece, in the middle ages, they became the norm. Patterning, both through elaborate dying processes and through hand embroidery also emerged during this period, heralding the trend toward accessorizing and decorating clothing elaborately.
Another early medieval style consisted of very short tunics, exposing much of the leg, which was then covered with rather tight legging. This look is where Robin Hood’s ubiquitous “men in tights,” image comes from. Truth be told, dressmakers at the time actually lacked access to fabrics with enough elasticity to make true tights – perhaps skinny jeans is more realistic to the period. The materials of the day included cotton, silk, and wool.
Late Medieval Period
It is generally thought that the fourteenth century shepherded in the age of true fashion awareness in Europe. Closures such as lacings and buttons arrived on the scene, and pricey brocades and silks were imported and made into breath-taking garments.
Dressmakers during this period also gained the savvy to truly master construction. This allowed for straight and flowing garments to hug the body a bit more – the advent of custom tailoring!
Now things are really getting cooking! As with all other art-forms and crafts, the Renaissance period brought about a great surge in creativity, daring, and experimentation among dressmakers. Complex and fancy clothing was a mark of status, and variations from the norm were often admired. Regional clothing styles were also becoming more common.
The Modern Era
A lot of the Spanish influences now seen in many Latin American countries – including heavy use of lace and ruffles – developed during the sixteenth century.
The Industrial Age
While the manufacturing of nearly all goods was changed forever with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, dressmaking entered a phase of productivity that would be unrecognizable by those who came before. Steam power brought about sewing machines, mechanized looms, knitting machines, and the ability to create and weave synthetic fibers. With less labor and money needed in order to make quality materials goods, textile manufacturing moved from homes and specialty houses to factories and warehouses – never to emerge again.
The Future of Fashion
In the post-war boom that carried us right up to the last decade or so, dressmakers and fashionistas went wild, giving birth to the innovation, the edge, and the glitz of the modern fashion industry. Paris had to shove over and make room for Milan, New York, and London, among other cultural hubs as iconic fashion cities, and the rise of the super-model granted fame to a whole new class of celebrity.
Today, everything that can possibly be linked with fashion for marketing purposes is done so – quite aggressively. From perfume to make-up, if a model or celeb can be coaxed into using it, it shows up during fashion week.
What’s the next step in the evolution of dressmaking? Why, it’s you, of course! The work that you do as you pursue dressmaking, whether as a hobby or a profession, will mark the next era of fashion in your world, and that of your family, friends, or clients.
Nowadays, the manufacture of the other pieces of the modern apparel is taken over by the dress-makers. Shoes and bags, kerchiefs and purses, perfume and jewelry and other beauty-related products are now merchandised aggressively.
Recommended Read; The Worldwide History of Dress