Apparel History Timeline – The Evolution of Clothing Over Time

From the draped linens of Ancient Greece to the casual t-shirt and jeans of today, the history of clothing is an exciting part of our past to explore. Who knew that the t-shirt was actually invented in the 19th century, or that high heels were once popular among men? Fashion design is reflective of its time period, and it is interesting to see the morals of the era echoed in the fashion of the day. It also interesting to see how popular culture has influenced men and women's apparel history over the centuries as theater and art became more mainstream. This timeline is meant to be a brief illustration of the similarities and differences of clothing throughout time.

Ancient Greece (1000 BC--1 AD): Clothing in Ancient Greece was typically homemade and worn loose and flowing. The most basic piece worn by both men and women was called the "Doric chiton," which was a large piece of woolen or linen fabric worn draped around the body or secured in place with buttons or pins. The second most popular clothing item was the "himation," which was made of a heavier weight fabric and used as a cloak. Both garments were usually ankle-length and often worn with a belt. Men usually sported a knee-length chiton, which made is easier to ride horses and do hard labor. Jewelry was also very popular in ancient Greece and was even worn by men until around the fourth century. Both sexes either went barefoot or wore sandals.

Medieval (449-1500 AD): Early Medieval women usually wore floor-length tunics called "kirtles," draped over a linen shirt and undershirt. Both men and women would cover themselves with a woolen cloak fastened at the neck or shoulder. Also popular among women were headdresses made of linen, which covered their hair and was held in place by a headband. Beading and embroidery were popular fabric embellishments and shoes were favored over sandals. An important shift in apparel history happened around 1300 when lower necklines and tighter-fitting gowns became popular. Corsets were worn to give a more curvaceous shape to the waist and display the upper chest. Popular with men were tunics, cloaks, leggings, and trousers. Cloaks were often fur-lined or made of wool.

Renaissance (1450-1600): Renaissance fashion is one of the most identifiable periods in clothing history. Flowing skirts, extended corsets, and decorated hair became very popular with European women. Men sported hose and low-necked tunics. Rich velvet, brocade, and linen were the most popular fabric choices for men and women. A typical Renaissance man wore a doublet a snug-fitting jacket with or without sleeves. After that came the skirt, hose, and shoes. A longer, flowing jacket was worn on top of the doublet. Men's shoes were long and pointed, with leather clogs worn for outdoor use. Women wore a chemise and stockings made of wool, linen, cloth, or silk, depending on social class and status. Gowns were known for their full skirts and wide sleeves, and headdresses were very elaborate, featuring coiffed hair and padded hoods.

Elizabethan (1558-1603): During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, English fashion hit a peak of style and originality. The Elizabethan Age was at the height of the Renaissance, with theater, art, music, and literature thriving. Men and women's apparel became even more elaborate, with men wearing styles that were very square and severe and women sporting large, voluminous skirts framed by wire hoops secured with tape and ribbon. The iconic portraits of William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I are indicative of this period-ruffled collars and wide, stylized headdresses were symbols of being at the cutting-edge of fashion. For the first time in recent (apparel history), women wanted their clothing to be similar to that worn by men, with slim waists, broad shoulders, and puffy sleeves.

Baroque (1604-1682): The Baroque period in clothing history began in Italy under the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV, and later spread to the rest of Europe. Ruffled collars gave way to softer, wide collars made of lace or linen. Sleeves were often split to expose the fabric of the chemise or undershirt beneath the garment and ended at the elbow in order to show the forearm. Floppy, wide-brimmed hats and higher waists were popular with both sexes. Women's gowns were looser fitting than in the past, and were decorated minimally with embroidery and ribbons. Men wore doublets and utilitarian leather jackets called "jerkins," while hose was replaced by full, knee-length garments called "petticoat breeches," decorated with ribbon and bows

Georgian (1714-1830): Georgian fashion in the pre-French Revolution era is most recognizable by the expensive, exquisitely tailored garments of Marie Antoinette and her court. In England, this style was called Georgian because it took place during the reign of King George I-IV. Lace, silk brocades, high heels, and very tall powdered wigs were popular with both men and women. Panniers, or structured side hoops, were worn under women's dresses in order to widen the silhouette. Men wore plain coats with curving tails and long, tight breeches. After the French Revolution, women's fashion became influenced by ancient Greece, and dresses were worn draped around the body and without corsets.

Regency (1811-1837): Fashion of the Regency era was much simpler than in the past, but is still an important part of apparel history. Elaborate gowns were replaced with lightweight dresses tied at the waist by a sash and accentuated by a bodice made of gauze. Ladies wore pelisses, which were long-sleeved three-quarter length jackets, and wide brimmed hats secured under the chin with ribbon. Men's clothing was mostly practical, with pantaloons and tall boots suitable for riding.

Victorian (1837-1901): During the early Victorian era, women's dresses were pale and simple, with wide "mutton leg" sleeves. Standard undergarments were the petticoat, chemise, and corset. Interestingly, the Victorian era is an important part of t-shirt history, as an early version of an undershirt was invented in this period. Popular accessories were bonnets, gloves, and cameo brooches. By the mid 19th century, wide sleeves were replaced with long, fitted sleeves and later "bell" sleeves. Necklines rose to parallel the modesty of the time period. Men wore informal, loose fitting "sack coats" during the day and a waistcoat or frockcoat with a top hat for formal attire.

Art Deco (1911-1946): Early 20th century fashion blossomed before and after the Great Depression, when knee and calf-length skirts became popular for the first time in the history of clothing. This was an experimental time in history, and dresses were being made with interesting fabrics, beading, and draping. New ideas, such as the sweater, were being introduced into menswear with the popularity of knit and rayon fabric. Another important part of t-shirt history came after World War II, when men began wearing them as casual attire.

Mid-Century (1950-1970): Hourglass figures, tailored bustlines, and full, A-line skirts were the defining points of mid-20th century fashion. Poodle skirts worn over petticoats were a common trend for young girls, and they were often worn with cardigan sweaters and saddle shoes. Suits, ties, and button-downs were standard formal wear for men, and the popularity of the t-shirt and jeans began to grow among the younger generation. Fashion had changed drastically by the 1960s, with short dresses and tight jeans a popular option for women.

  1. Kent State University Library Guide: Clothing and Costume History Fashion Resources- A history of clothing and costumes from Kent State University.

  2. Fashion Design Library Guide - A video of the history of fashion from 1795 to 1948.

  3. Metropolitan Community College Apparel and Textiles Program: External Resources - A list of resources relating to general apparel and textiles.

  4. Brighton Univeristy Faculty of Arts Dress History and Fashion Research Resources - A list of links for costume history and dressmaking.

  5. Christchurch City Libraries: Costume History References - A resource list from Christchurch City Libraries related to costume history.

  6. Meg Andrews: Antique Costumes and Textiles - A site with photos of 18th century costumes.

  7. Demode Couture: Research and How-To - A collection of links for 18th century, Victorian, and 1910-era costumes.

  8. Tudor History: Fashion, Costuming, Armor and Needlework - A page of Tudor-era costuming resources.

  9. Virginia Romance Writers: Costumes and Fashion - Costuming information from the Elizabethan period to the 1920s.

  10. Melissa Jagears: History Links - An interesting collection of links regarding everything from 19th century clothing to popular culture throughout the ages.

  11. The Dreamstress - A dressmaking blog dedicated to historic costumes.

  12. Elizabethian Costume Page - A site all about Elizabethan costumes and accessories.

  13. Mostly Victorian: Fashion - A list of resources about popular Victorian fashion, colors, and fabric.

  14. Fashion Encyclopedia: Doric Chiton - Information about clothing in Ancient Greece.

  15. Ancient Greece Clothing - A short description of popular clothing items in Ancient Greece.

  16. Elizabethan Clothing - Information about clothing in the Elizabethan period.

  17. Costumer's Manifesto: Victorian Fashion Links - A master list of links for Victorian costumes.

  18. The World of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion - A resource guide for women and men's fashion trends in the Regency era.

  19. History: Georgian Fashion - An exploration of Georgian fashion from the History Channel.

  20. Historic UK: Georgian Fashion - A page describing Georgian men and women's casual and formal attire.

  21. Victorian Clothing - A valuable resource for 19th century Victorian fashion styles.

  22. 1920s Fashion - A brief description of 1920s Art Deco fashion.

  23. Fashion and Accessories of the 1950's - A resource for fashion and accessories of the 1950s.