The Cloak: A Universal and Practical Garment

The purpose of all garments is to protect the body from the elements. Even though we may use them for symbolic purposes on occasion, their main intent remains. Cloaks are an excellent example of a protective garment, being one of the oldest forms of clothing to have been utilized in every imaginable way. While its primary purpose is to keep the body warm and dry, it holds numerous possibilities for designers and wearers alike.

Where do Cloaks Come From? 

Essentially, cloaks have existed for about as long as human beings have been living on earth. It’s thought that they evolved from the use of blankets worn around the shoulders for warmth. The definition of a cloak is simply a sleeveless overgarment worn loosely over the shoulders. This is a pretty broad definition, implying that people everywhere have worn cloaks throughout all of human history.

Nearly every civilization on the planet has worn some form of this garment. The Egyptians, Romans, Chinese, Native Americans and Mesopotamians have worn cloaks since antiquity. As universal as they were, these cloaks were not all alike. Every culture had its own unique shapes, styles and designs.

In the Northern Hemisphere, warmer fur cloaks were worn, while nearer to the Equator, cotton or linen cloaks were more common. During the Bronze and Iron Ages, the cloak was an essential garment for everyone, regardless of class, sex or occupation. Simple cloaks could be found everywhere, while wealthier people often wore decorative cloaks made from finer material.

Certainly, protective clothing is as necessary to life as physical nourishment to our bodies. However, cloaks remain a significant element in the world of modern fashion.

Cloaks for Dress and Fashion

Today, cloaks can be seen on popular TV shows like The Game of Thrones. Many people wear them during Halloween or other celebrations. In the 1500s, cloaks emerged as the predominant form of formalwear throughout western Europe. Fashionable cardinal or velvet cloaks were also quite popular in 18th century Britain.

Elegant cloaks have often been worn as fashion statements. However, they’re more likely to be worn for a practical purpose today.

Though the use of cloaks has declined in the last century, the fashion world would be bereft of an iconic style without these exquisite garments. 

The Maillot: A Rebel With a Cause

While the name may be unfamiliar to you, you’ve no doubt seen the maillot many times and perhaps even worn one yourself at the beach or pool. “Maillot” is, in fact, the original French term for what we know today as a one-piece swimsuit. The name isn’t the only thing to have changed, however. From shape to style variations, this garment has evolved countless times over the decades since its inception.

The Birth of the Maillot

The one-piece swimsuit made its first appearance — as popular fashion styles often do — when someone broke the rules. In 1908, champion swimmer and future vaudeville star Annette Kellerman decided to flout convention by appearing on a public beach in a form-fitting one-piece suit that exposed her arms, legs and neck. She was promptly arrested for indecent exposure.

Thanks to Kellerman’s daring, in the aftermath of World War I, the maillot became a legitimate option for women and a welcome alternative to the voluminous swimwear usually worn. This original maillot was sleeveless with attached long shorts, as popularized by the “Diving Girl” advertising icon of the Oregon swimwear powerhouse, Jantzen.

Changing Times, Changing Tan Lines

Though the arrival of two-piece swimsuits and the 1946 bikini stole some of the maillot’s popularity, it has nonetheless remained a swimwear staple. The original long shorts were gradually phased out and replaced by the high-cut leg lines we see today. Meanwhile, the development of a stretchy, more elastic fabric in the 1930s gave the suit a tight-fitting look that’s still in vogue.  

Nowadays, we see the maillot in an endless variety of shapes and styles, as consumer preferences continue to evolve. Today, maillots can have plunging or halter necklines. Some even have criss-cross lacing in the front or back. Whether worn in the water or for sunbathing ashore, this wonderful swimsuit has shown itself to be functional, flattering, and interesting in its every iteration.

A History of Battledress

Military dress is a relatively modern invention, aside from the clothing ascribed to specific ethnic groups or tribes throughout history. Below, we analyze some of the key forces that have influenced the need for battledress and how the garment has evolved.  

Battledress Evolves With Warfare

The carrying of weapons may have been the earliest identifier of the warrior class within a tribe. However, as societies grew, it is believed that some resourceful civilizations created specific dress codes for those tasked with protecting civilians. As Love to Know points out, the Papal Guards in Rome are one example of those who wore these early uniforms.

As gunpowder made its appearance on the fields of war, the needs of the battlefield heavily influenced the look of battledress. With battlefields often clouded by smoke, largely thanks to gunpowder, the need to tell friend from foe became a matter of life and death. As such, bright colors were used by different armies, in order to avoid shooting at their own peers during the heat of battle.  

Battledress Evolves With Globalization

Battledress evolved as leading-edge technologies made their appearance on the world stage and trade across continents became more prevalent. Better weapons were developed, delivering more precision at farther distances. So, battledress no longer needed to be distinguishable in nature. Instead, they came to be used as a means of camouflage.

As such, military uniforms around the world took on the colors found in the fields of war: greens, khaki browns and desert colors, which made soldiers “invisible” to their enemies. This fantastic graphic from Military History Now shows the evolution of British battledress and how it has changed throughout history.  

Tradition Still Has Its Place

While those engaged on the ground need to blend in with their surroundings, the more ceremonial and traditional elements of battledress are now reserved for ranking members of the military. Those who war through diplomatic channels against their adversarial counterparts use emblems, medals and other ornamentation to communicate rank, power and military might.  

As we move into an era of cyber warfare, it will be interesting to see how battledress evolves to reflect modern trends. For example, will military robots figure in future wars? Similarly, how will nations distinguish themselves during non-violent conflicts?  Or, will anonymity be a weapon of its own?  Only time will tell. Nevertheless, the battledress remains a stalwart element of modern warfare.

Peplum: Form Flattering Fashion

Peplum is a popular fit-and-flare style. It referred to a woman’s outer tunic in ancient Greece and was highly prized during the Italian Renaissance. The peplum style migrated to Italy from the Eastern Ottoman Empire, which controlled the majority of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa for roughly six centuries.

This beautifully feminine style resembles an upside-down tulip. Historically, the peplum was a fashion embellishment worn by both men and women. Today, it’s overwhelmingly used to create a fit-and-flare silhouette in women’s clothing.

Daring Flare Style

The unique peplum style refers to the extra strip of fabric fitted to the bodice or waistband of a blouse, jacket, dress, skirt or overcoat. This extra fabric (or overskirt) gives a flared, flouncy silhouette to the garment. Peplum can be made in various lengths, cuts and styles.

The flaring overskirt accentuates the hips and visually slims the waist. This versatile fashion can be paired with pencil skirts or full skirts. Both daring or conservative necklines also go well with a peplum outfit. 

East Meets West

In Charlotte A. Jirousek’s recently published book Ottoman Dress and Design in the West: A Visual History of Cultural Exchange, she explains that “the Eastern idea of open-fronted garments layered over other garments was introduced into European fashion via Italy late in the 14th century.”

During this early period, the peplum style was apparent in both male and female garments. In Italian artist Sofonisba Anguissola’s mid-sixteenth century painting of a family, the young subjects of his painting (a girl and boy) was dressed in the peplum style of the time.

Though no longer fashionable for men or boys, peplum has a long history in the feminine world of fashion. This versatile style was especially popular during the decadent 1980s and has taken on different incarnations since. A modern, elegant choice for all body types, the peplum’s ability to imbue traditional office wear with a feminine touch has made it an essential piece in many career women’s wardrobes. From casual to chic, this style suits every occasion!

Iconic Imagery Since The First Millennium: The Pallium

Throughout the last two millennia, there have been few garments as exclusively worn as the pallium. From the early middle ages onward, only the pope of the Roman Catholic Church or select archbishops had permission to wear one. Even today, it’s seen as a distinctive garment reserved for bishops, archbishops, and the pope himself. This makes it an excellent example of how a select style of clothing can become emblematic of something bigger than itself, and persist for multiple centuries for that reason. 

What Exactly Is A Pallium?

Essentially, it’s a woolen garment worn around the neck, breast, and shoulders. There are usually two pendants, one on the front side and the other on the back, as well as six black crosses adorning each separate space. Additionally, gold pins set with precious stones are used over the crosses on the breast, back, and left shoulder. This is worn over the chasuble, being an outer-piece that accentuates the rest of the outfit for a more regal, prominent effect.

Only the pope has official permission to wear a pallium, though archbishops are allowed to wear them with the pope’s blessing. Other bishops may be gifted a pallium in certain circumstances, but these are rare cases. To this day, the pallium retains a solemn significance for its limited availability and its direct ties to the highest members of the church. 

Centuries Of Iconic Status

The earliest known mention of the pallium comes from the ‘Liber Pontificalis,’ written in the fourth century C.E. It’s here we learn that the pope would occasionally bestow palliums as an honor to select archbishops, giving them status as a preferred member of the church. This persisted through the generations for more than a thousand and a half years. Given that so few people ever wore it, and only during church functions, it has remained an icon of the Church, demonstrating the significance of the papacy and the favor of those who wear it. 

With such a combination of uniqueness and cultural significance, garments like these are perfect examples of how clothing and culture combine to shape history. Even a garment worn as little as the pallium has the power to transform the perceptions of the wearer, as well as the people around them. 

The British Jerkin From Upper Class to the Troops

Styles come and styles go. Much of the clothing from the Renaissance period and beyond still has an influence on fashion today. Take, for example, the jerkin.

A Brief History of the Jerkin

The jerkin’s history falls back to Scottish and British roots. A jerkin was traditionally worn by upper-class men in the 15th and 16th centuries. This short-waisted, often sleeveless, tight-fitting waistcoat was designed for warmth with buttons or lace-ups all the way up to the neck and worn over a blouson shirt and perhaps a doublet. Many were made of cloth, some of velvet, and yet later were made of leather. With time, some jerkins became flared at the bottom, while others were looser around the neck.

Centuries later the jerkin was brought back for British men serving in World War I. There was no fashion statement here; the purpose was solely warmth. These early 20th-century jerkins were made, rather crudely, of leather. Similar jerkins were offered to Americans fighting in Europe on the Western Front of the war. These were generally sheepskin or goatskin, some made with the fur on the inside, others with the fur outside, adding considerable warmth to the uniform.

Jerkins in Today’s Fashions

Jerkins never really made too much of a fashion statement, but some of their influences can be seen. Of course, jerkin-style has its place in costuming for Shakespearian plays and Renaissance-period productions. Some of the jerkin-style has transferred into what some have thought of as pirate-style clothing. Jack Sparrow, portrayed by Johnny Depp, and other pirates of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies often wore leather vests, some similar to the jerkin style.

While jerkins are not particularly popular today, per se, we can see some of their influence in certain stylings of vests and jackets, as well as shirts and blouses, worn by women as well as men. Many still refer to most any style of sheepskin vest as a jerkin. But the more traditional jerkin-styles in short waist vests and bodices with high necks in any fabric seem to come and go both in European and American clothing styles, and will, no doubt, well into the future.

Bathing Suit: From the Modest to the Risqué and Back Again

While today it may seem like swimming and specialized clothing go hand-in-hand, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, for most of human history, people simply swam in the nude. In the 18th century, both recreational swimming and Western sensibilities about modesty were on the rise. The combination sparked the first women’s bathing suit.

Take a look at how swimwear has come to represent first modesty then sexiness before returning to a more practical variety. 

First Bathing Suits Covered Everything

In the early 1800s, “bathing” (recreational time in the water) became a popular pastime. However, Victorian modesty dictated women cover up. They also wanted to protect their skin from tanning. The first bathing suits were long-sleeved, full-skirted garments that had weighted hemlines to keep them from floating up. 

While these suits may have met the needs of modesty and sun protection, they were very cumbersome and not very useful for athletes. Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimmer, wanted to wear something allowing a full range of motion. In 1907, she was arrested for indecency when she wore a short-sleeved, scoop-necked suit. She was still fully covered. The outfit even had shorts. However, the fitted silhouette was much more revealing than the ballooning suits that were popular at the time. Her arrest did not deter other women from (literally) following suit. 

Bikinis Cause a Stir 

In the 1940s, there was a new recreational pastime that took place on the beach: sunbathing. Gone were the days or protecting pale skin. Tans were all the rage, and women were constantly adjusting the straps and legs of their bathing suits in an attempt to get the most even tan without lines. This led to a pair of similarly-constructed versions of the bathing suit to come out within weeks of each other. Designers Jacques Heim and Louis Reard both release two-piece designs in the summer of 1946. Reard would name his design after the U.S. atomic bomb test, dubbing his new suit a “bikini.” 

The bikini started out as scandalous, but as they say in show biz, “there’s no such thing as bad press.” Every headline featuring the scandal of a young starlet wearing a bikini further entrenched its desirability. This was certainly the case when then-new actress Brigitte Bardot wore one in 1953. By 1960, the song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” was filling the airwaves. 

Modern Bathing Suits are About Options

While the bikini was all the rage for a while, swimwear eventually became more practical again. In the 1990s, the Miraclesuit and its slimming features refocus attention on one-piece suits. Meanwhile, modern options come in all shapes and sizes. From full coverage swimwear that meets strict religious modesty requirements to tiny bikinis that barely cover anything, women are free today to dress in whatever provides them the most comfort. 

The Turtleneck’s Evolving Identity

The modern turtleneck is a common item in wardrobes today. It offers a timeless look that has been adopted by diverse groups of people. Is there any garment that has undergone as many identity changes as the turtleneck sweater?

A Working-Class Hero

The turtleneck became a wardrobe staple for male laborers in the 1800s. A heavy, knitted sweater topped with a high collar made for an appealingly warm garment. The sweater provided protection from the wind, rain, and snow. A favorite among fishermen and other seafarers, the wool turtleneck eventually became an official part of the U.S. Navy uniform during WWII.

It didn’t take long for this specialized sweater to become more than a working-class uniform. The turtleneck functioned as equestrian sports wear when polo players adopted the garment in the 1880s. In fact, it’s still sometimes referred to as a “polo neck” by European wearers today.

Introduction to Women’s Fashion

The turtleneck made its entrance into women’s fashion in the 1890s when the Gibson Girl was created as an ideal of the active, independent woman. The garment’s high neckline and squeaky-clean reputation fit perfectly with the Gibson Girl lifestyle. Although the turtleneck was becoming more widely worn, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the high-necked pullover gained popularity among the middle class.

Bombshells, Beatniks, and Black Panthers

The turtleneck got its sultry reputation when Hollywood bombshells such as Jayne Mansfield began sporting it in the ’40s and ’50s. Radical, free-thinking beatniks also adopted the stark black turtleneck as a uniform staple. Meanwhile, actress Audrey Hepburn wore it in the 1957 film Funny Face.

Finally, the turtleneck paired well with the Black Panthers’ leather jackets in the ’60s and ’70s. It was also favored by feminist activists such as Gloria Steinem. All in all, the turtlenecks of the mid-nineteenth century was all about being bold and original.

Fall from Favor

Despite the powerful statements the turtleneck made in previous decades, the ’80s and ’90s saw a sea change in the garment’s reputation. The awkward fashion styles of those decades turned the turtleneck into a punchline. Simply review old episodes of Saved by the Bell and Friends to experience the cringe-worthy styling choices of the period.

During the 1990s, Steve Jobs built his Apple empire while wearing a black turtleneck. This clothing choice may have classed Jobs as a nerdy figure, but it helped make the turtleneck a symbol of white-collar daring and ingenuity. The garment eventually gained prominence in boardrooms across America.

Return of the Turtleneck

Recent years have seen a revival of 1990s fashion trends and the advent of normcore. This new style allows adherents to express their individuality by wearing unassuming, everyday clothing. Both of these movements have effectively fostered the return of the turtleneck.

Today’s turtleneck offers wearers a timeless look that’s sleek, sophisticated, and even a little bit sexy when paired with the right wardrobe essentials.

Grace and Poise: Meet the Tutu

Does the word “tutu” evoke visions of slim dancers in puffy, pink skirts? It may surprise you to learn that the tutu was originally designed as a long, elegant ballet costume.

Practical Evolution of the Tutu

The first tutu appeared in Paris in 1832. Marie Taglioni wore a costume designed by Eugène Lami for her performance in La Sylphide. This costume featured a tight bodice that left the neck and shoulders bare. Its long skirt hung above the ankle and was made of a heavily starched cotton muslin called tarlatan. The “Romantic tutu,” as the new costume was called, quickly became a staple on the European ballet scene.

It soon became evident that the tutu would require further refinement. The long skirt with its five layers of fabric posed a fire hazard to dancers navigating the gaslights onstage. Also, although the tutu’s skirt featured sheer fabric, dancers were reportedly dissatisfied with its construction. They wanted to show more of their poses and footwork.

Thus, the skirt was shortened to fall above the knee by 1870. Meanwhile, ruffled drawers were added to create the famously flared effect of the “classical tutu,” which previously featured 10 layers of tarlatan.

Dancers Immortalized in Art

The French Impressionists at the close of the nineteenth century were dedicated to capturing profound moments in day-to-day living. Ballet proved to be an inviting subject for some of these artists. Edgar Degas produced paintings and sculptures depicting the reality of life for ballerinas in the Paris Opera Ballet. The ballerinas in his works are shown wearing short tutus with ruffled skirt layers.

Twentieth-Century Innovation

The early twentieth century brought some design changes to the classical tutu. Tulle made from stiffened silk or synthetic material replaced the original cotton tarlatan. This, along with the addition of wire hoops in 1940, made the skirts flare out from the dancers’ hips. These innovations supported important changes in the ballet industry. Tutus were increasingly designed to fit the unique performance styles of the modern era.

Styling the Tutu Today

To this day, the tutu remains an essential part of any ballerina’s costume. It has spread to modern popular entertainment, as well. Icelandic musician Björk turned heads when she wore the designer Marhan Pejoski’s “swan dress” on the red carpet at the 2001 Academy Awards. The tutu-style skirt topped by a mock swan’s head and neck ruffled feathers, but it was later copied by Valentino to great acclaim.

More recently, performers such as Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift have worn tutus on the stage and in music videos, inspiring a new generation to wear this showstopping garment. Among the sweetest — albeit impractical — interpretations of tutus are the handmade skirts for young children using strips of tulle knotted around elastic waistbands. 

Because the tutu has a history in professional dance performance, it isn’t often the first choice for making a fashion statement away from the stage. However, the grace and poise of the original version provide plenty of styling ideas for the modern-day trendsetter.

The Zoot Suit: More Than A Fashion Trend

The zoot suit is an iconic fashion trend from the 1940s that continues to capture the public imagination. So, what makes zoot suits so fascinating?  

Unique Design

The zoot suit is big and bold in nature. It’s hard to miss, with its characteristic shoulder padding, oversized lapels, draping fit, and wide-cut pants that taper to the ankle. In its heyday, zoot suits were made of brightly-colored fabrics. The men who wore them frequently accessorized with wide-brimmed fedora hats. While it was possible to buy a zoot suit in a store, many people chose to purchase oversized suits and amend them at the tailor.

Jazz Origins

The zoot suit was born in the jazz clubs of Harlem during the mid-1930s. From there, the trend spread to minority communities across the country.  African-American and Mexican-American men, perhaps influenced by the likes of popular jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Cab Calloway, adopted the style in many American cities. Zoot suits could be seen in Chicago, Memphis, and Los Angeles. By the 1940s, the fashion trend was so well-recognized that it was featured in an episode of the cartoon Tom & Jerry.

The Political Significance of Zoot Suits

The extravagance of the zoot suit is one way disenfranchised communities used fashion to assert their identities during a period of upheaval. Famous activist Malcolm X wrote about the importance of the zoot suit in his autobiography. After the United States entered World War II and rationed the use of fabrics, donning an oversized suit became even more controversial.

In 1943, tensions erupted in Los Angeles between primarily white American servicemen and so-called “zoot suiters” (Mexican-American men who donned the suits). Later, a committee appointed by the Governor of California determined that racism was the central cause of the Zoot Suit Riots.

The Zoot Suit’s Cultural Legacy

Although the zoot suit craze faded in the 1950s, its legacy lives on in music and movies. The song Zoot Suit Riot by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and the costume worn by Jim Carrey in the film The Mask are two well-known examples. Unfortunately, today, it is very difficult to find authentic zoot suits from the 1940s. Zoot suits are so rare that in 2011, a Los Angeles museum paid $80,000 for an original suit!