Documentary Sources in Fashion

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Author unknown, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 100 c.e.)—The unknown author of this mariner's handbook was familiar with trade along the sea routes from the Red Sea ports to India, and among the commodities that came to the Roman Empire from the east were Indian cotton, raw silk, silk yarn and silk cloth and "mallow cloth" or jute, a rough fiber used nowadays for gunny sacks.

Herodotus, The Histories (c. 425 b.c.e.)—The main subject of The Histories is the Persian War of 480–479 b.c.e. when Persia attempted to invade Greece, but Herodotus tells why the Athenian women abandoned the Dorian peplos for the Ionian linen chiton in the last years of the sixth century b.c.e.—it was because the Athenian women used the safety-pins that fastened the peplos at the shoulders to stab a man to death.

Ovid, The Art of Love (c. 1 c.e.)—Ovid's manual in poetry of how to win the love of women contains a wealth of information about the fashions of Rome in the reign of the emperor Augustus.

Phaidimos, Peplos Kore (about 530 b.c.e.)—This statue of a girl dedicated in the sanctuary of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens and discovered when the Acropolis was excavated in the late nineteenth century, shows a simple Dorian peplos of the style worn by Athenian women in the mid-sixth century b.c.e.

Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus), Natural History (c. 79 c.e.)—This great ragbag of information was still being revised when Pliny died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 c.e. It contains a good deal of information about cloth-making and dying in Italy of the first century c.e.

Plutarch, Life of Alexander the Great (after 100 c.e.)—Plutarch's collection of biographies titled the ParallelLives includes a life of Alexander the Great that relates his attraction to Asian costumes—he did not go so far as to adopt trousers, a sleeved vest or the pointed cap called the "tiara," but he adopted other fashions from Persia, and this greatly displeased his fellow Macedonians.

Sculptor Unknown, Kore from Acropolis of Athens wearing Ionian chiton and over it, a himation (c. 510 b.c.e.)—This statue of a young girl was dedicated on the Acropolis of Athens near the end of the sixth century b.c.e. and her dress illustrates the change of fashion in the two decades or so since the Peplos Kore was dedicated. This girl wears a colorful linen chiton under a draped woolen himation with an edge which shows how skillfully cloth-makers could weave patterned material.

Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus), De Pallio ("On my Cloak"; 209 c.e.)—Tertullian, a doughty defender of Christianity, here writes in a light-hearted vein. He has been upbraided for abandoning his Roma toga for a pallium, a Greek cloak favored by philosophers and here he explains why.

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (c. 400 b.c.e.)—Thucydides' subject was the war between the Athenian empire and the Spartan alliance (431–404 b.c.e.) but he prefaces it with a discussion of the economic and social progress of Greece in the archaic period. Among the topics which he touches upon is "Fashion"; the Athenians, he claims, were the first to adopt luxurious "Ionian" linen garments whereas the Spartans used the simpler styles which in Thucydides' own day became the preferred fashion in Greece.

Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita libri cxlii ("History of Rome from its Foundation, 142 Books"; 39 b.c.e.—17 c.e.)—A passage of Livy's History (34.1) describes a demonstration in Rome by women for the repeal of a law passed twenty years before in the aftermath of the disastrous Roman defeat by Hannibal at Cannae which restricted expensive and luxurious fashions. The women continued to demonstrate until the law was repealed.

Vegetius (Flavius Vegetius Renatus), De Re Militari ("On the Military Arts"; c. 390 c.e.)—Vegetius' subject is the art and science of war, but one section of his first book deals with the history of arms and armor.