January is the month of trend reports.
What are we going to wear this summer?, 5 essentials for your spring wardrobe, The best 10 trends for the next season and so on.
These blog posts and articles on magazines are very interesting and pleasing to read, so last year I had the idea to write a similar one, from the perspective of a fashion history addict!
You can check it out here: 5 fashion trends for 1915 (yes, 100 years ago!)
I had so much fun, searching for 100 years old trends, that this year I’ve decided to add a zero to 100! In a single moment I’ve made a jump back of 1000 years!
I thought it would be impossible to create a trend report for what was happening in fashion 1000 years, but after many researches, consulting my old notes from school and college, I’ve compiled an interesting list of ancient trends.
Cause and effect. That’s where my research was focused.
Finding a cause and the effect derived from it.
Trend is a very recent word, used in economic field and then stolen by the fashion system. Its meaning (endless movement) is absolutely correct to identify the alternation of facts in history.
Trends of that age were macro and spread very slowly. They were caused by social, political, economical factors, as they’re now, and they signaled a constant search for improvement.
First let me introduce you to the environment of the time.
The 19th century historiography put a romantic emphasy on the expectation of the end of times in 1000 AD.
According to that belief Europeans gathered around churches and monasteries on the eve of the millennium, only to return to their homes filled with new energy and the joy of living when they realized that nothing had happened.
So as the world didn’t end in 1000 AD, the year was used to split up the so-called “dark ages”, barbaric and superstitious from the era of magnificent cathedrals, universities, chivalry and courtly love.
The production of fine quality fabric is essential for costume history. The development of some of the most important fabric districts of the time (which are incredibly still active in the present days) took place in the 11th century. And it had to do with war.
At Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called for a holy war to wrest control of Jerusalem from Muslims, which launched the First Crusade (1096) to regain the Holy Land.
Because of the crusades Muslims were forced to leave their Mediterranean colonies in order to defend their territories. Sardinia, Sicily and Corsica were liberated from the Muslim’s colonization.
In the meantime a new ideal of city life was developed. To escape from the raids of the Hungarians and the Saracens, the inhabitants of countries and small towns, take refuge in fortified cities.
There, a a new life and new commercial trades were settled.
The Italian cities of Como and Pisa flourished with silk production and trade. (Como is still nowadays an important center for silk production).
Fabric dealers were able to cross the Alps and came in contact with a newly flourished textile area: Flanders. Flanders occupied the Netherlands and Belgium and a large part of northern France. Its inhabitants were specialized in weaving and fulling.
The new business had a remarkable success and even some Spanish and Sicilian cities gained a special reward for their high-quality and accurate production of fabrics.
The echo of this magnificent and refined civilization came to North Germany, the Scandinavian lineage, where Normans reigned. This population had barbaric origins and they were supposedly ferocious and bloodthirsty warriors. In Sicily, however, they gained power and cleverly occupied the territory in 1060 AD. The Normans were aristocrats and forward-looking people, since they showed the ability to absorb foreign influences: they signed a coalition with the Byzantine realm, becoming Christians and preserving a modern way of thinking.
They favored the Tiraz in Palermo, which was a laboratory of luxury items for the Norman court, (inspired by Muslim influence).
This laboratory supplied the aristocracy of fine fabrics, silk, embroidered garments, and exquisite jewelry, which was considered an expression of pure art.
That was the same laboratory, which produced the incredible and beautiful Mantel of Roger II of Sicily (1133-1134), the most exquisite example of fine techniques, achieved by humanity at that time.
The female costume of the first half of 11th century, consisted of a basic and tight tunic, which reached the ankles and another visible tunic, wider and shorter. It was embellished with thigh sleeves decorated with an old Byzantine style. The outfit expressed a rigorous austerity, strictly related to ancient traditions.
Make-up was the only possible escape, as well as jewelry, from those chaste garments.
But make-up was even more interesting than crown, necklaces or bags. It was scandalous!
As you know, when something was forbidden, it became very much in vogue! Women used to paint their lips with carmine red and applied evanescent red powders on their cheeks.
The ground leaves of angelica archangelica were the principal ingredient for the manufacture of ‘ladies’ red powder’. Dried flowers of the safflower carthamum tinctorius were also used in the making of rouge.
There was a witness of the cosmetic usage, during the 11th century. Her name was Trotula de Ruggiero, a teacher whose main interest was to alleviate suffering of women.
She taught at Schola Medica Salernitana, located in the southern Italian city of Salerno and the most important native source of medical knowledge in Europe at the time. She wrote De Ornatu Mulierum (About women’s cosmetics), also known as Trotula Minor, in which she taught women to conserve and improve their beauty and treat skin diseases through a series of precepts, advices and natural remedies. She gave lessons about make-up, suggested the way to be unwrinkled, remove puffiness from face and eyes, remove unwanted hair from the body, lighten the skin, hide blemishes and freckles, wash teeth and take away bad breath, dying hair, wax, treat lips and gums chaps.
However, the Church was firmly against cosmetics, criticizing their frivolous effect on women’s moral integrity. Make-up was considered a bad sin and women who dared to wear it, were pointed as non-respectful and immoral.
Nevertheless make-up survived throughout the years, as a faithful friend for women, losing with centuries most of its sinful meaning.
At the beginning of the 11th century, the construction of fortified castles and feudal relationships between families, contributed to create a new generation of brave and fearless vassals and aristocrats.
Knights were an exclusive elite, whose performances on battlefields were celebrated as the most exceptional and incredible of all the time.
The epic literature idealized and celebrated the new heroic figures of knights, fascinating the entire population with the stories of their adventures and dangerous missions.
Between myths and warriors, knights really existed and they soon developed an incredible way to differentiate themselves from other banal warriors.
If you want to be a hero, you have to dress for that!
During war time, knights learned to differentiate themselves, in order to be recognizable on the battlefield. The iconic heraldry was officially born.
The emblems were nothing but signs, drawings to identify knights. The colors and symbols varied according to the individual role in the war.
They often used animals as symbols and the quality of the animal used to describe the unique personality of the knight.
Knights of aristocratic origin also used to take care of the clothing of their valets, archers, pages and squires, which perfectly matched the style and colors of their garments.
Can we say that knights were the first example of designers? Why not!
A good and distinctive haircut is always a good chance to express your personality, in order to be in the spotlight. But this story tells us more than that.
The Anglo-Saxon’s customs were deeply influenced by Normans’ tradition, even before they conquered England in 1066.
English aristocrats used to spend long periods in France, changing their fashion habits, influenced not only by Normans, but also by Franks. Reporters from monasteries immediately railed against the lack of morals and the loss of austerity.
Despite their knowledge of Normans and Franks’ appearance, when English spies were sent on the enemy front during the famous Battle of Hastings, they mistankenly thought the enemies’ soldiers were priests, due their distinctive haircuts.
They didn’t realize that such hair style was so popular for Normans, that most of them used to shave their head from nape to crown, eventually giving them an unimaginable advantage in the fight, where they were considered to be priests instead of warriors.
To celebrate the victory against England, Queen Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror, and her ladies weaved a linen tapestry, (now exposed at Bayeux museum in France), which is considered the most important find in the history of costume.
It has immense value, because it documented the Norman’s fashion habits, from laborers to the King. The complexity of this tapestry is incredibly remarkable and the embroidery is often compared to a comic strip or a sequence from a movie.
11th century was an important turning-point for humanity.
Discoveries (such as the use of compass and the mechanism of the tower clock), inventions (such as the ambulance service, the first Chinese record movable type system for printing), the faith of people in a future ruled by economical growth, the demographic growth and university knowledge instead of superstition, put the bases for the development of a modern and better world.
People were optimistic for their future lives and I hope we can share, in our troubled times, a little bit of their enthusiasm and faith in the future.
The future is medieval.