Fashion is an important part of culture and history. From Japan to Greece, dive through the colorful traditional fashion around the world!
Clothing is one of the most important aspects of history. Just like architecture and art, the fashion of any period tells us different stories. Traditional fashion of any country showcases its culture in a more fun and colorful way. Many different clothing and costumes have evolved throughout the world, each of these holding certain values.
Traditional Fashion Around the World
From Greece to Asia, Egypt to America, let us explore how traditional fashion around the world has changed throughout history.
In ancient Egypt (3100-30 BCE), the commonly used material was linen. Spinning and weaving techniques were common as well. Men as well as women wore tunics.
The wrapped skirt was the major traditional clothing for men throughout Egyptian history. During the early Egyptian era, men wore animal skins. However, only kings and priests wore animal skins in the later years.
On the other hand, the wrapped dress was the most common garment for Egyptian women. It is a fitted piece of fabric that ends around the calf and held over the shoulder. Lower class women often wore skirts to work.
Only people of high status could wear sandals. Bushes were twisted together to make the sandals. Egyptian men as well as women used belts and aprons to fasten the gowns. These belts had beads, appliqués, and weaving techniques on them. Amulets, pectorals, and other jewelry were made of gold.
The traditional Greek garments became most popular in 500-146 BC. Tunics made of natural materials such as linen and wool were the common garment for both men and women. Chiton is a garment, which is sewn at the shoulders and under the arms. However, it may not always be a sewn garment, rather a single piece of rectangular fabric that is wrapped around the body and secured with pins.
Over the chiton, Greek men and women wore a cloak known as the himation. Although there were various methods of wearing the himation, the most common style was wearing one corner over the left shoulder, the fabric flowing across the back, passed under the right arm, and draped over the left shoulder or carried across the left arm.
Peplos was another common tunic style. It was a full-length garment for women. The peplos made a comeback as the peplum dress. Men as well as women wore sandals. Fitted shoes that were ankle-length or mid-calf length and laced up in the front were worn by men during travel or war. Common pieces of jewelry included brooches and decorative pins to fasten the chiton, necklaces, and rings.
Fabrics like wool and linen were common during the Roman era (625 BC-AD 476). Trading luxurious linen from Egypt or silk from China was popular among aristocrats. Similar to Greek styles, men and women wore a chiton or tunic. Over the tunic, men wore the toga.
The toga is a semicircular cloth that is draped around the body. Moreover, the toga was considered as an indication of status. Over the tunic, men wore a palla, comparable to the himation. Some literary sources indicate that a married Roman woman wore a stola, which is a robe hung from the shoulders and secured with brooches.
Men just wore rings while women wore beautiful rings, armlets, diadems, and necklaces. In addition to these accessories, the roman women also carried handkerchiefs made of white linen. It later became a symbol of rank and only women of the upper class would carry them.
Queens, kings, art and music, France, Spain and other European countries contributed well to world history. The trends we see today root back to the olden days.
One of the most important periods in history is the Italian Renaissance. Spanning between the 15th and 16th centuries, this era saw the rebirth of the lavish Italian art, music, culture and fashion.
Women often wore layers of clothing which consisted of a full skirt, tight bodice, undergarments, and a belted over-gown. Sleeves became exaggerated and puffed out from the shoulders and fitted at the wrist. Women preferred emphasizing the bust and waist as the narrow part of the body.
Men loved showing the broad shoulders and accentuated the top portion of their bodies. They wore doublets with knee-length hoses, jackets and puffy sleeves. Men did not shy away from accessories like berets decorated with feathers and jewels, gold rings, and wigs.
France, especially Paris, is the world’s fashion capital. It is no doubt that Europe took fashion lessons from France. The silhouette for women remained the same as Italy, with accentuating the narrow waists and flared skirts.
Around the mid-16th century, the v-shaped waistline became popular. Necklines became low and wide. To show off the heavily decorated petticoat, women often drew back the overskirt.
During the 1680s, a new style of clothing called Mantua raised to popularity. Previously, it was a dress that hung from the shoulders to the floor. It later evolved into a draped dress with modest necklines, unlike its predecessors. The French farthingale, a caged underskirt with multiple hoops, was popular among women.
Men wore a long coat with a waistcoat, and breeches gathered at the knee. The ruffled shirts with puffy sleeves remained a wardrobe staple for men. They also wore cravats and jabots.
The French royals are famous for their lavish and opulent taste (hint: Palace of Versailles). One of the most prominent names in history is king Louis XIV who reigned from 1643-1715. The haute couture trend began with queen Marie Antoinette who had her dresses and gowns custom made. Without a doubt, these royals celebrated opulent and lavish fashion.
During the 18th century, fashion styles became less decorative, and even Marie Antoinette opted for simple peasant fashion on her holidays – white chemise shirts and straw hats.
Influenced by the Moors, Spanish fashion used rich embroidery and jeweled buttons. Spanish work, particularly the delicate black silk embroidery on white linen shirts and chemises, was famous all over western Europe. Men and women dressed in dark colors, especially black, which became popular for special occasions.
The 16th century saw elaborate sleeves, velvets, and silk brocades. The basic garments for men were the linen shirts will ruff at the neck as well as wrists. They also wore the gilet (sleeveless jacket) and doublets, which were tight-fitting jackets. Women, on the other hand, wore fitted gowns with separate bocce and skirt. Sleeves were often slashed to show the inner lining.
The skirt was made to stand out using a farthingale. It served as an important status indication during the 15th century. However, Spanish fashion failed to evolve and as a result, became dominated by the French.
Gowns were the most common attire for women in England. Around the mid-16th century, fashion became extravagant thanks to Queen Elizabeth I, drawing inspiration from Renaissance styles. Emphasis on the décolletage using wide collars, unnatural silhouettes for women, and huge ruffs defined this era.
Men wore frilled silk shirts under a doublet and hose. Tailored clothing carefully exaggerated masculine features such as the shoulders and thighs. Those from the royal family wore boxy jackets stuffed with straw to give them a wide and powerful look.
In the nineteenth century, Victorian fashion took over in Britain. Voluminous skirts, frills, rich fabrics and tight corsets became popular among the wealthy. The twentieth century brought Edwardian fashion, with simpler silhouettes that made way for the modern fashion.
Before the influence of European cultures, native American traditional clothing was completely different from what we see today. Previously, they made clothes from animal skins but the type of animal skin used differed based on the tribe. Inuits of Alaska used seal skin while the Plain Indians used buffalo skin. Men wore a breechcloth with no upper garment.
Women wore skirts with tunics. Moccasins were the traditional footwear. During religious celebrations, they wore elaborate headdresses decorated with fur, feathers and quills.
Next up in our traditional fashion around the world list is India. Similar to the traditional fashion in the west, costumes in the Indian Peninsula were in their full grandeur. In the pre-Vedic era (1500–1100 BCE), clothing was minimal. Cotton and silk were common during the Indus Valley civilization.
Men wore dhotis (a wrap-around garment) on their lower body and a shawl worn over the shoulders, uttaiya. They did not wear any upper garment. Women wore a single piece of cloth wrapped around the body and fastened them with belts, which was the earliest form of a saree.
Things changed quickly in the post-Vedic era. With many dynasties came different styles and clothing. Natural materials such as jute, linen, silk, and wool were common. Clothing under these kings and queens exhibited fine craftsmanship and exquisite designs. No doubt we see modern versions of these styles even today!
They were a noble family that ruled the Kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1950. During the Wadiyar rule, everyone who had to meet the king wore the Durbar dress. It showed the differences in classes of the people. Men wore a knee-length coat with pants and turbans with gold lace called Mysore Peta. Women wore rich silk sarees with gold and silk embroideries.
The Nizams of Hyderabad
Traditional fashion around the world may be disappearing, but the Nizami styles are still very popular. The Nizams ruled Hyderabad from the 18th-20th century. Nizams wore sherwani, a long knee-length coat, with a bejeweled turban called the sarpeech. They loved displaying their wealth through jewels and lavish pearls, including stone-encrusted necklaces and turbans.
The Holkars ruled parts of central India. They are known for their exquisite and fine jewelry collections designed by French jewelers such as Van Clef and Chaumet. The queens or Maharanis wore beautiful Maheshwari sarees with jewelry. The Holkar kings wore turbans and fine jewelry. Between 1930 to 1940, the Maharaja’s entire jewelry collection was worth 40 million dollars. Now imagine that!
Ruling the city of Baroda, the Gaekwads loved to preserve their traditions. Maharajas wore fine jewelry, silk robes with sequins, and angrakhas. The Angrakha was a robe with an asymmetrical opening fastened with strings. The Gaekwads took interest in pearls, exquisite gemstones and gold. They later adopted western clothing during the British rule.
The Royal Family of Kerala
The Maharaja of Travancore, Kerala preferred a simple life in contrast to the extravagant ones in other parts of the country. The queens wore a simple Mundu saree which is similar to the Kasavu sarees of Kerala today.
Last but not the least the Mughals! The attire made of luxurious fabrics and beautiful designs grazed the Mughal courts between the 16th and 18th century. Men wore robes with long-sleeved clothing called the choga. They also wear sherwanis (long coat-like garment) with kurta (loose-fitting shirt) and churidar (tight-fitting pants). Women dressed in loose-fitting clothes, mainly influenced by the Islamic culture from Persia.
Rajput women’s fashion exhibited lavishness and opulence. They wore colorful and vibrant full length skirts (lehengas)with a blouse and dupatta, a long scarf worn over the head.
Beautiful and ornate jewelry was popular such as a ‘bali’, a large nose ring, and long earrings. When it comes to jewelry, the traditional fashion around the world is still popular. Styles like jhumkhas (bell-shaped earring) and khanphools (ear cuffs with floral motifs) definitely are some of them.
Asia is a place full of many different cultures and traditions. However, with the introduction of western cultures, these costumes are a rare sight. Traditional fashion and clothing binds people to their culture and as a result, becomes a part of their identity.
The Hanfu is the traditional costume in China which means ‘Han people’s clothing’, due to its origin during the Han dynasty. It is a two-piece set which consists of a robe or shirt and a pleated skirt as the lower garment.
It holds the longest history among traditional Chinese clothing. In addition to the Hanfu, Cheongsam is another famous costume. It is a body-hugging dress that dates back to the 17th century.
We can’t talk about traditional fashion around the world without mentioning the kimono, the famous traditional dress from Japan. Even now, it is a staple among the citizens even with fashion being highly westernized in Japan.
Quite similar to Chinese clothing, the kimono is a wrap-around dress worn along with an obi, a traditional belt. Similarly, there exists a dress very similar to the kimono called the Yukata. The type of material and cost are the only differences.
Worn primarily during formal and semi-formal events, the hanbok is the traditional costume of Korea. The word ‘hanbok’ is a collective term that consists of the jeogori and chima. The Jeogori, worn by both genders, is a basic upper garment. The chima refers to a skirt for women.
Men wear baji, which is a formal word for trousers. Over this, an outer robe, Po, is worn. Surprisingly, the basic structure of this traditional clothing piece has not changed in 1600 years!
The common traditional fashion for men and women is the Ao Dai. The male’s version is a long tunic with a snug collar and reach till the knee and worn with loose pants. However, the female version has one major difference, the tunic falls to the ankles.
In ancient times, gold represented royalty and purple was for officials. Furthermore, the king’s Ao Dai had dragons embroidered to represent strength. On traditional occasions like Tet (New year), weddings, and funerals, Vietnamese men as well as women were the Ao Dai.
Which of these traditional fashion around the world is your favorite? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting @shilpa1ahuja.
Saliha Sameera is a Fashion Journalism Intern at Shilpaahuja.com. She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Crescent University, Chennai. Growing up in Abu Dhabi, she enjoys cultural experiences and learning new languages. She is an introvert who loves traveling and exploring new things and places. She absolutely loves shopping and makeup. Her favorite looks include a classic winged eyeliner and red lipstick with an evergreen Chanel bag.