History of costume

costumeCostumes have always been an interesting part of people’s lives and a great image of the lifestyle of that time. By observing costumes people can learn much about that period of time. The richness or the poorness of fabrics, decorations and a design paint quite a precise picture of that era.


The term costume can refer to wardrobe and dress in general, or to the distinctive style of dress of a particular people, class, or period. Costume may also refer to the artistic arrangement of accessories in a picture, statue, poem, or play, appropriate to the time, place, or other circumstances represented or described, or to a particular style of clothing worn to portray the wearer as a character or type of character other than their regular persona at a social event such as a masquerade, a fancy dress party or in an artistic theatrical performance.[1]

History of costume courses were part of the clothing and textiles curriculum in developing home economics programs early in the twentieth century. Since that time nineteenth-century theories of social evolution have been a continuing influence on history of costume courses, sometimes introducing misconceptions regarding origins and an elitism featuring Westerners as those who are privileged to know civilized rules for dress. Teachers can improve learning outcomes of courses by emphasizing a global view of dress, weeding out misleading carry-overs from evolutionary theory, and working out instructional strategies for utilizing newer theories regarding changes in form and meaning of dress. Using a tri-part conceptual scheme outlining the processes of cultural, temporal, and temporo-cultural authentication of dress is one step toward helping students comprehend how the art of borrowing elements of dress from a previous era across cultural lines leads to cultural conversion of the elements into forms unique to their setting. Additional work is needed to develop a comprehensive theoretical base that will utilize these or other constructs to improve learning outcomes for students.[2]

Fashion Through History:
Regency Taste:
From the taste and pastimes of Jane Austen’s Regency gentlewomen, to the world of Bath Spa and Brighton Pavilion.
Regency Fashion:
Napoleon Bonaparte’s influence on fashion styles and decoration on dress. Josephine one of the most famous trendsetters in fashion history. Followed by a passion for Anglomania.
1800s Accessories:
A fashion history of the most used accessories of the Regency Era. Tippets, Kashmir shawls, Reticules and hats.
The Romantic Era 1825-1845:
A new silhouette for fashion history with beret or gigot sleeves, Pelerine collars and Pelisses.
Underwear and Romantic fashion hats.
Social Changes Before 1815:
Social history of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions highlighting new working conditions.[3]

When picturing a night out at the theater, a few things come to mind. There are the actors reciting well-rehearsed lines, the stage and the curtains, scenery and props and – the part that really makes the play – costumes. These costumes help the audience identify the characters, and they also add color and dimension. In fact, these costumes – including rags, dresses and masks of all shapes and sizes – have played an integral part throughout the history of the theater. They have existed since the theater’s origins and have evolved in many ways. The Greeks, Romans, English, Spanish, Italian, and French have each used a form of costuming in their theater, taking ideas from their predecessors and leaving marks of their own. Additionally, all of these cultures’ theatrical costumes have shaped American life as we know it today.

According to the late professor Joseph Campbell, theater derived out of myth and ritual. These rituals were used in an attempt to fulfill basic needs, such as pleasure, power, and duty (Robinson). Even during prehistoric times, when there was no formal theater, there were still costumes. Primitive tribes used masks and body paint to represent sacrificial animals. When African tribes did dance rituals, they would wear brightly colored garments and hunting coats. [4]

Costumes have been used as an essential component of drama and acting for centuries. The use of costume to portray different characters dates back to ancient Greece, when Greek actors represented various roles using masks. Costumes have since evolved, with many elaborate creations used for film and theater. Many costumes have been analyzed and admired for their intricate construction, especially for the historical time period during which they appeared. The study and design of costume is a complex profession, providing for the appearance and character of entertainers to complete their performance.[5]


Costumes of today have become much more than they were in history. Not only do they show somebody’s position in society or status but creating costumes has developed in quite an industry making huge amounts of money. However, we musn’t forget – what we see as fashion today will be in museums of tomorrow analysed and examined by the generations to come.


[2] ‘History of Costume: Theory and Instruction’ by Cynthia R. Jasper and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins


AUTHOR: Josip Ivanovic