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costume, distinctive forms of clothing, including official or ceremonial attire such as ecclesiastical vestments, coronation robes, academic gowns, armor, and theatrical dress. The use of ornament preceded the use of protective garments; its purpose was to emphasize social position by a great display of trophies, charms, and other valuables and to enhance attractiveness. Superstition, caste distinction, and climatic necessity all have been influential in the evolution of dress.

The term costume also includes accessories, such as the shoe, hat, glove, corset, handkerchief, fan, umbrella, cane, and jewelry; styles of wearing the hair (see hairdressing) and beard; and primitive methods of body-marking and attaching ornaments to the body.

Ancient Costume

The ancient Egyptian costume for men was first a wrapped loincloth and later a kilt or skirt of pleated and starched white linen. Egyptian women first wore the kalasiris, a one-piece, narrow sheath of transparent linen, which was later adopted by men as the tunic. The Egyptian costume evolved into a highly decorative mode of dress characterized by the use of fluted linen, of jewelry (especially the beaded yoke collar), and of cosmetics and perfume; the wig was also worn. The basic Greek garment, noted for its simplicity and graceful draping, consisted of the chiton and girdle. Roman dress, influenced by that of the Greeks, was simple and dignified; the toga, which was worn over the tunic, was the distinctive garment of the Roman citizen.

Medieval Costume

The change from ancient to medieval costume began (c.400) with the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Roman attire, which had previously assimilated the elaborate features of Byzantine dress, was gradually affected by the austere costume of the barbaric invader. Both men and women wore a double tunic; the under tunic, or chemise, had long tight sleeves (a feature that remained until the 17th cent.) and a high neck; the girded wool overtunic, or robe, often had loose sleeves. A mantle, or indoor cloak, was also worn.

After 1200 a great variety of fine fabrics from the East were available as a result of the Crusades, and the elegant dress of feudal Europe was evolved. With the introduction of various ways of cutting the basic garment, fashion, or style, began. A long, girded tunic, then called the cote or cotte, continued to be worn over the chemise by both men and women; a surcote (sleeveless and with wide armholes) was often worn over it. At this time family crests, or coats of arms (see blazonry; heraldry; crest), became popular, and particolored garments came into vogue.

Proper fit was increasingly emphasized, and by 1300 tailoring had become important and buttons had become useful as well as ornamental. The belted cote-hardie, with a close-fitting body and short skirt, was worn over a tighter, long-sleeved doublet and a chemise. And, as men's legs were now exposed, hose were emphasized. The introduction (c.1350) of the houppelande, or overcoat, marked the first real appearance of the collar. Over a chemise and corset women wore a gown with a V neck and a long, flowing train; the front of the skirt was often tucked into the high-waisted belt. In its extreme, the style of the period was typified by profuse dagging (scalloped edges), exaggerated, hanging sleeves, pointed slippers, and fantastic headdresses (see headdress and veil).

Renaissance Costume

After 1450 there was a reversal in fashion from the pointed Gothic look to the square look of the Renaissance. The style in its exaggerated form is best represented in Holbein's paintings of the English court of Henry VIII. Men's costume had wide, square shoulders with puffed sleeves, padded doublets, bombasted upperstocks, or trunk hose, short gowns (cloaks), and square-toed shoes. The doublet, now sleeveless, was worn over the shirt (formerly the chemise) and under the jerkin.

Women wore a square-necked gown with the bodice laced up the front and attached to the gathered skirt at the hips; the front of the skirt was often open, to reveal decorative petticoats. These, together with a preference for rich, heavy materials, especially velvet, and a fad for profuse slashing and puffing of the under material seen through the slash, created a massive and bulky appearance.

In Elizabethan England (c.1550) the costume was stiffened, and the appearance was less bulky. Both men and women wore the characteristic “shoulder wings,” pointed stomacher, and starched ruff and cuffs made of lace. Materials were heavy and lustrous and considerable ornamentation was used. Men wore a short cape, and their trunk hose were unpadded, longer, and generally made in sections, or paned. Women wore exaggerated farthingales, or hoops.

Seventeenth-Century Costume

The early 17th-century English costume was less formal, with a softer line created by satin and silk materials. The period of the Cavalier and Puritan is captured in the court paintings of Van Dyck and in the early work of Rembrandt. Men characteristically wore pantaloon breeches (full trunk hose), high boots, a broad, falling lace or linen collar and cuffs, and a full cloak. In women's costume, the arms began to be displayed and necklines were lower. The bodice was finished with a wide, round collar, or bertha, at the neck, and a flared, pleated, or ruffled skirtlike section, or peplum, was added at the waist. The apron was often a permanent part of the skirt.

In England after 1660 the dress of the Restoration period became extravagantly decorative, using ribbons, flounces, and feathers. The dandies of the period wore petticoat breeches, full-sleeved cambric shirts, and bolerolike doublets. Sir Peter Lely's court paintings show excellent examples of such costume.

Eighteenth-Century Costume

In the 18th cent. France, under the rule of Louis XIV, became the costume center of the world, with Mme Pompadour, Mme du Barry, and Marie Antoinette successively dictating the fashions of the day. It was the age of the wig, of rococo settings, of delicate pastels and flower-patterned silks, and of embroidery. Early in the century Rousseau's ideas affected style of dress. Women's costume became graceful and pastoral; the pointed bodice, tightly laced, was finished with a triangular scarf, or fichu, at the neck, and sleeves were ruffled at the elbow. The bell-shaped hoop appeared c.1710, and c.1735 side hoops, or panniers, were popular. Women's costume, which at this period became extremely formal, was gradually softened into a romantic look (as in portraits by Gainsborough) that anticipated the Empire style.

The 18th-century man first wore a knee-length cassock that buttoned all the way down over an equally long waistcoat, and buckled knee breeches. As the century progressed, the waistcoat became shorter, the skirt of the coat began to form tails, the collar became higher, and the sleeves and breeches became tighter.

Nineteenth-Century Costume

The Empire style, associated in early 19th-century France with Josephine, was an attempt to recapture classic simplicity. Women wore a thin muslin dress with a high waist, a low round neck, and puffed short sleeves. Men wore a short-waisted cutaway coat with tails, a high collar, and large lapels and military boots; plain-colored wools became predominant. The whole male appearance was strikingly military. After 1815 women, emphasizing their fragility, achieved an hourglass shape with an extremely tight corset. Their dresses had wide collars, sloping shoulders, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and full skirts. Men wore the frock coat, which was fitted and had a skirt that reached the knees, and trousers were introduced and generally adopted.

After 1840 Victorian women wore layers of decorative crinoline and after 1855 the hoop; sleeves were bell-shaped, and waist and necklines were pointed. Though men still wore the tailcoat and frock coat, the sack coat, sometimes worn without the vest, was becoming popular for everyday wear. In general, men's clothes were becoming looser and more tubular and were predominantly of somber broadcloth.

After 1865 the bustle became fashionable for women; at this time, too, women first wore a tailored jacket with collar and lapels—the forerunner of the suit. The growing emphasis on sports, especially tennis and golf, was beginning to affect costume. Knee breeches, called knickerbockers or knickers, came into fashion for men, and sweaters became popular. After 1890 women most often wore the suit or the shirtwaist with balloon sleeves and wasp waist: the dress of the Gibson girl. Men's suits had square shoulders and straight waists and were usually of serge or tweed; the tuxedo was used for formal wear.

Twentieth-Century Costume

After 1910, as women's feet and legs began to be exposed, shoes were colored to match the outfit. The nightgown, for women, gave way for a time to pajamas. The popularity of sportswear for men increased; the open-necked shirt was worn and trousers were cuffed and creased. Women's dress after 1914 was characterized by straight lines, e.g., the floor-length hobble skirt and the flapper's boyish, short-skirted costume and matching accessories were popular in the 1920s.

The following decades produced radical changes in women's wear, from the flowing skirts of the 1930s and the box-jacketed suits of the 40s to the sack dress of the early 60s. Since then the fluctuating hemline has been a predominant concern of fashion. The abbreviated miniskirt has vied for popularity with the full-length maxi and the calf-length midi in coats, skirts, and dresses. Women's clothing has become less restrictive and more casual than in previous eras. During the 1960s men's clothing underwent revolutionary changes in color and fabric, becoming flamboyant for the first time in the 20th cent. The flaring of trouser cuffs in the 1970s was a major modification in shape.

National Dress

The traditional national dress of Western European countries has generally given way to standardized modes, although traditional costume is still associated with national celebrations and pageantry. The typical costume—a gathered peasant skirt, a full blouse with puffed sleeves, and a laced bodice—is colorful and picturesque, often elaborately fashioned and embroidered, and augmented by kerchief, headdress, and apron.

Costume in East Asia has until recently remained unchanged for centuries. In the Arab countries both men and women have for centuries wrapped themselves in voluminous flowing robes that indicate the tribe and status of the wearer by means of style, color, and richness. The people of Malaysia wrap themselves in a loose skirt, or sarong. Chinese dress was traditionally distinguished by the use of magnificent textiles and embroidery and of pearls and jade—all symbolic of rank and wealth. However, from the years shortly after the Communist regime began (1949) until the 1990s men and women of China wore dark-colored trouser suits; in recent years the Chinese attitude toward dress has changed somewhat, particularly in urban areas, allowing for more varied clothing styles. On Taiwan a sheath dress with mandarin collar and side slits in the skirt was traditionally characteristic of women's clothing.

Japanese men and women have widely adopted Western modes of dress, but many women retain the characteristic kimono and tabi (socks) or geta (wooden clogs). India, too, has traditional costumes dictated by religion or caste. Women in general wear the long draped fabric, or sari, sandals, and profuse jewelry. Exquisite muslins and “painted” cottons have from antiquity been notable features of Indian garments.


See J. Laver, The Concise History of Costume and Fashion (1969); G. Squire, Dress and Society (1974); V. Steele, Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (2005).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


To prepare or finish a wood member by planning, or cutting a stone piece by chipping away at the irregularities.
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To sort, grind, clean, and concentrate ore.
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