This time we are going to travel several thousand years back to Ancient Egypt to explore the fashion trends then. If you think the ‘now-mummies’ don’t care about fashion, then you are definitely wrong. Let’s start with the decoration of the head.
Ancient Egyptian people loved to wear wigs. There were two reasons for this: the first is the heat in the desert-- Since it was easy to get lice Ancient Egyptians who could afford wigs chose to cut their natural hair and wear wigs. The second reason why wigs pervaded was: Ancient Egyptians wished their hair never faded or withered. Since they believed healthy hair stood for youth and eroticism, wigs became their first choice. Ancient Egyptians were proud to wear wigs, because it was fashionable and practical, and of course not everyone was able to afford one.
If you pay a visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, you can see the wigs wore by Ancient Egyptians.
‘Nany’s wig was found in the inner coffin, lying by her head. It is made of braids of human hair, fastened at the top with a cord. The plaits were treated with beeswax to set them, and a layer of grease covers the whole wig.’
Both men and women from Ancient Egypt dug jewelries. Wealthy people were able to use gold or shell and other expensive materials to make all kinds of jewelries—necklaces, broad collars, ankle bracelets, earrings, and rings, etc. But there were also jewelries made of pottery and beads. The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses thousands of Ancient Egyptian handicrafts. When I visited the museum this March I was shocked by those exquisite jewelries produced four thousand years ago. For example, the two necklaces of the mummy—Wah (who was unwrapped in 1940) were beautiful: one was gold and the other silver.
The illustration of these necklaces tells us that:
‘The beads of the gold and silver necklaces are hollow; each bead is made of two hemispheres of hammered metal sheet that have been attached using a method akin to soldering. The seams have been burnished so as to be almost invisible. Ancient Egyptian jewelry of silver is relatively rare, because unlike gold, which was mined in Egypt, silver had to be imported.’
Something also impressive was the broad collar. Here are a few examples of broad collars demonstrated in Metropolitan Museum.
The illustrations said: ‘Broad collars were the most frequently worn pieces of jewelry among the royalty and elite in ancient Egypt.’
I am sure people who have seen the movie <Cleopatra> would be impressed by the make up of Cleopatra--The blue eyeshade and the emphatic black eye lines. In history, the Ancient Egyptians used plant extracts and minerals to make cosmetics. The color green came from malachite; black came from galena; red was derived from ochre. Though green was heavily used and welcomed, malachite was not a mineral that could be acquired locally. According to the introductions at Metropolitan Museum, malachite ‘came from deposits in the Eastern Desert and along the Red Sea coast.’
The technique of Ancient Egyptians to reserve things was unmatched-- a wig crafted four thousand years ago was not decayed. Considering the fact that wigs consist primarily of amino acids, the resolution of Ancient Egyptians to enter their next lives with perfect bodies amazed me. Next time we will explore the clothes and fabrics of Ancient Egyptians—it looks like clothes were more tightly related to social class.
by Xin Wen
Recently the death of Bin Laden brought my thoughts back to WWII. Though lasting for over ten years, the war on terrorism has not caused as much trouble as WWII did for ordinary people in America. Even if you include the ‘taking-off your shoes’ inconvenience happening at every American airport, the trouble nowadays can not compare with that of seventy* years ago. For countries that were involved in the war, since all the goods and materials had to be used preferentially by frontline people, there were severe shortages in home front. As a result, rationing system was established in both Britain and America. People were giving coupons to buy daily necessaries. According to Lauren Olds’ Constructing the Past:
‘First the British and later the American governments passed bills limiting fabric usage and rationing clothing items. In 1941, each British adult received 66 clothing coupons, but this number quickly dropped to 48. In 1945, each person received only 36 coupons.’ If you think you can buy 48 pieces of new clothes with 48 coupons, then you are completely mistaken: because ‘a woman’s tweed suit alone cost 18 coupons, half of the yearly ration.’
In 1942, the War Production Board in America set several rules concerning textile and clothing: such as-- ‘jackets could not have more than two pockets; an evening dress could not be made of wool cloth; or people can barely add any attachments on a dress.’ The impact of these regulations on fashion was dramatic: for example, the two-piece bathing suit for women came into being because U.S. government said the fabric used in women’s swimwear had to be reduced.
Faced with shortages, designers and consumers accommodated their aesthetic tastes to tough circumstances. On the designer’s side, (in Lauren Olds’s words): ‘because rubber was necessary for the war effort, designers promoted styles that did not require girdles.’ On consumers’ side: since nylon stockings were unavailable at the market, ladies painted their legs to pretend they were wearing stockings—some even used black eye pencil to draw “seams”. Governments also tried very hard to persuade civilians to make full use of their current wardrobes. A booklet called <800 Ways to Save and Serve or How to Beat the High Cost of Wartime living> contained many handy tips: such as buy more cotton clothes since cotton is cheaper and hard to wear out; or buy fabrics that are tightly woven.
During the WWII, austerity was the key word. Women clothes during war time were indeed simple and practical, after all Rosie the Riveter can not wear feminine gowns to work. However, new designs emerged during war time. According to the research of Lauren Olds, ‘keyhole neckline’ as a new design first appeared in 1941. Apart from this, ‘the variety of ladies hats during the war is also evident…there are hats with wide brims, small caps that rest on the back of the head, and many other unique, fanciful designs.’
In 1945, the war ended. However the haze hovering fashion world did not disappear until the year 1947—when Christian Dior introduced his ‘New Look’. With plenty of fabrics and cloth, women rebuilt their elegant images with long gloves, wasp-waisted silhouette, full-length skirts and high heels. The skirts alone used as much fabric as 10 or even 15 wartime skirts, some using as much as 30 yards of fabric! (Lauren Olds.) Within ten years, rationing, coupons and scarce nylon stockings seemed forgotten by the same generation. Some people said the drabness and uniformity of womens’ clothes during wartime manifested the patriotism of women. However, comparing with the actual sacrifices female soldiers made during WWII, obsolete or stale clothes were only pieces of cake.
Dior----New Look, 1947