August 14, 2014

Closet Histories

Where shall I begin? The history of clothing and textiles begins long before the advent of written history. Do I choose to begin there, at the dawn of woven cloth? Do I begin in ancient Egypt, or with the togas of republic Rome? Do I focus first on western fashion, or try and include it all?

These and many other questions are what have stopped me from beginning this series. The problem with history is, it is so rich, so multifaceted, that no matter what you do something gets left out. Realizing this fact, I have stubbornly decided to set my questions aside and just choose an arbitrary starting point. Today I announce the commencement of a new series here on The Closet Historian, called Closet Histories! I will begin from what could be said is a rather random point for a beginning in textile history, the 16th century.

Now I must start with a disclaimer. I would like to note now, from the start, that this will not be a completely comprehensive and incredibly detailed anthology of fashion and that;

1) I have a degree in fashion design, but not in history. (I wish I had both, but alas no)

2) There will be times I get things wrong and you should correct me (nicely!) in comments and I will amend the post! I am always eager to learn more about costume history, so please feel free to share your knowledge with me and everyone else in comments!

3) These posts are intended to be educational but not scholarly and most will cover only the basics of each era. Future posts will delve into individual portraits, extant examples, particular styles or items, and eventually individual designers.

4) I will be focusing on western fashion and concentrating on English, French and eventually US fashion. There will be occasional sojourns to other parts of Europe or the world but in general, western fashion is what I know about and what I wish to explore further here.

5) The history of fashion can often tend to focus on the clothing of the wealthy. This occurs for many reasons, but the fact remains that the clothes of the wealthy were the clothes that were most documented (portraiture) and kept (we still have extant examples) as compared to the clothes of the lesser middle and lower classes. For the same reasons, I too will be focusing on the styles of the upper classes.

So now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about what will be coming up in the next few weeks!

Beginning in the 16th century will give us a depth of textile and fashion history to start with. As you all know, there was a lot of history before the year 1500, and I intend to go back further into the history of textiles and dress in a future series. For now, let me set the scene for where Closet Histories will begin…

A movement you may have heard of, the Renaissance, had been brewing in Europe (originating in Italy) from the late 14th century onward. The Renaissance involved the rebirth of secularism, individuality, and the arts due to the rediscovery of Greek and Roman culture after a period in Europe known as the dark ages. I highly recommend watching Crash Course’s video on the Renaissance for a refresher and new perspective on the period. The thing about the Renaissance, unlike other events in history, is that it wasn't an event. There are no concrete dates for the beginning and then end of the Renaissance in Europe. Though the movement began in Italy, where rich Venetian and Florentine aristocrats had the money to commission art and time to read ancient Greek theorists, the renaissance slowly spread north to the rest of Europe. This gradual seep of “the Renaissance” was so slow that the Renaissance in Italy and the Renaissance in England were over a hundred years apart. This leaves a lot of time covered under the umbrella of “Renaissance”.

Being the anglophile I am, though the height of the English Renaissance wasn't until the later Elizabethan period, I don’t want to skip over the amazing fashion and crazy intrigue of the Tudor era in England. So in all this muddled talk of Renaissance, I will be breaking the movement into a few parts in order to cover everything. We will begin by discussing the Italian Renaissance first, then the Tudor period in England and then finally have a whole separate unit on Elizabethan fashion afterwards. Yes I said unit! “What is this a class? Like school?! ew” Well there will be no homework and no tests, just 14 units covering the history of fashion from 1500-1950 for fun. Because fashion history is super awesome!

I love historic fashion, and I hope you do too. In a time where tumblr flame wars begin over something as simple as the mislabeling of Marie Antoinette as Victorian or a photo of stays labeled “corset”, more historic fashion knowledge can only be a good thing. I had the good fortune of taking three courses throughout college covering historic dress and textiles and loved every minute. That means I luckily still have my textbooks nearby, including Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress which is a pretty standard textbook for this subject, amongst many others. The great thing about the internet is that we don't have to rely on textbooks for all of our knowledge today. We have the ever reliable Wikipedia (okay, not so reliable), online catalogs of huge and important costume and textile collections, extremely well curated Pinterest boards and other bloggers who have devoted hours and passionate research to the subject of historic costume.

 I will be referencing all of these resources and more as I attempt to share my costume knowledge with you. I am excited to get started, and the first post (The Italian Renissance) will be premiering next week, so stay tuned!


  1. Sounds great! I've been working on educating myself on fashion history via my local library, and I'm excited to learn lots more from your series :)

  2. How fantastically exciting!!! I've been a massive fan, and avid reader, of historical costume related topics since I was a little girl and could actually claim at one point in my youth to have read every book on the subject in both my school's and the public library. I can hardly wait to see the exciting topics you'll be talking about and learning, I'm sure, lots more about this never ending, fascinating field of study.

    ♥ Jessica


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