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Dress Of The Gallo-Romans And Anglo-Saxons

( Originally Published 1926 )



"Man's earthly interests are all hooked and buttoned together and held up by clothes."

A period of ten centuries of costume to be covered in one chapter seems an almost incredible task, but styles changed very slowly in the early days, due, perhaps, to the difficulty of supplying hand-woven materials, and the enormous expense entailed in the making and decoration.

The dark ages in history are the dark ages in costume, and very little information is available between the time of the fall of the Roman Empire and the tenth century, when records began to be made. Tapestries depicting the life of the time, illuminated manuscripts, statues and effigies on the tombs give a very clear picture of the dress from that time on. Inventories of personal belongings, expense accounts, and even the wills of prominent persons tell of the kind and color of materials and their cost. The writers of this period have also left minute descriptions of the costumes and the materials used.

Although man's career began some 50,000 years before the period of known history, little definite information can be had, as the Stone Age in Europe was without writing of any sort, for records of business, government, or tradition, without metals, except trader's copper, and without stanch ships to establish communication. The only means available are the paintings and rude carvings found in the dwellings of the cavemen of France. Webb, in his Heritage of Dress, speaks of a drawing found on the walls of one of the caves of a woman "devoid of clothing," who wears bracelets and possibly a necklace ; this shows that primitive man was fond of ornament, even before he clothed his body for warmth or perhaps from modesty.

The early Gauls and Anglo-Saxons used the skins of the animals slain in the chase for clothing. The women gradually learned to treat them in such a way that they became pliable and comfortable. Two skins were caught together on the shoulders and held at the waist by a girdle of leather or thong; no sewing was necessary, and they could be thrown off easily if they hampered the movements when the men were hunting or at war. The skins were probably also fastened together to form trousers, this being a characteristic of the barbaric races. The felting of the wool or fur, due to the action of the heat and moisture of the body, led to the discovery of felt, the first material known to these people. As the textile arts of spinning and weaving were developed, we find in the warmer climates a loin-cloth of coarse linen, dyed in red, blue, yellow, and brown, taking the place of the skins.

Head-dress.—A cap of fur or wool, ornamented with a feather, covered the hair, which was long and unkempt. The face and upper part of the body was painted with red and white ochre and a blue stain; both men and women used lime-water to turn their hair red, as it was considered a mark of beauty. Necklaces of teeth, stones, amber, jet, bronze, and beads of glass and baked clay, amulets, tokens, and bracelets decorated the body. Certainly the barbarians, as they were called by the Romans, must have presented a bizarre and rather frightful appearance to the effeminate civilization of the Rome of Caesar's day.

Women's Dress.—The women covered only the lower part of the body, using a short skirt or wrap of coarse linen, wool, or leather for that purpose. This was gathered up in front or folded on one hip. The upper part of the body was covered with ornaments and necklaces. Occasionally a simple bodice or jacket, like a man's shirt, with a heavy girdle or belt, was worn. A shawl which could be wrapped around the shoulders and head for protection from cold and rain completed the costume. It is quite possible that this garment had patterns woven into the cloth, or stamped on in color, the designs being stripes, circles, zigzag lines, diamonds, plaids, and squares, similar to the patterns used by the Asiatics. All primitive people, no matter how far apart they have lived, use practically the same form of ornamentation in their weaving or painting.

Head-dress.—The hair was worn loose and hanging, or plaited, and later was coiled on top of the head and held in place by means of bone pins or circlets.

When Caesar conquered Gaul in 55 B. C. he found a race of people in the southern part around the shores of the Mediterranean that had been influenced to some extent by the civilization of Greece. The women were very beautiful, and were noted for their 'extreme cleanliness. "No Gallic woman, whatever her rank, would have consented to wear dirty, untidy, or torn garments; nor did any of them fail to frequent the baths which were established everywhere, even in the poorest localities."'

Women's Dress.—The Gauls had developed the industrial arts to some extent before this time, and had become quite expert in the weaving of linen, and in dyeing the materials which were used to make the wide plaited tunics worn by the women. These were long in front and trailed on the ground behind, and over them was fastened an apron, a distinctly new characteristic of dress. Some of the more wealthy women wore several tunics of different colors, one over the other, held on the shoulder with a clasp. A mantle of linen covered these, and was arranged in such a way that it might be drawn over the face. A distinguishing feature of this costume was a pocket made of leather or of network, similar to the "reticule" of the 1860s or 1870s.

On the head was worn a "mitre," or a Phrygian cap, and the hair was held in place by a "vitta," or band of ribbon, which only the patricians had a right to wear. Yellow hair seems to have been greatly desired, as dark hair was often dyed red or yellow, or else covered with the fair braids taken from the German slaves. A veil of gold tissue, or of colored tissue covered with gold and silver spangles, was draped over the head and shoulders; this was called a "mavor" when short, and a "palla" when falling to the feet. These veils went through many changes, but were a part of women's dress until about the middle of the eighteenth century.

In the southern part of Gaul the costume varied slightly, the skirt was shorter, reaching only to the knees, and the apron of a bright red. Many very beautiful jewels in the form of necklaces and bracelets were owned by the women. The civilization of the Greeks had spread among the people at Marseilles, and young girls were always dressed with much elegance. They were not allowed to drink wine, for fear of injuring their complexions.

Gallo-Romans.—After the conquest of Gaul, "Roman civilization and Roman corruption were introduced into France." ' Roman fashions were also accepted by the women, and the stola became the typical dress of the Gallo-Roman period. This consisted of a long, flowing tunic, reaching to the ground, and held in place by a girdle at the hips and by a band higher up. A strophium, or corset, was worn under this. There seems to have been some variety in dress; some women "wore a chemise, with the wide drapery of the tunic scalloped on the edge, a short apron and sandals, while others would load themselves with tunics, in which case the upper one was sleeveless, sometimes embroidered and sometimes not, and confined by a band round the waist and by a clasp on either shoulder." I Where there was great width these garments were called "pallissades"; they were the forerunners of the vertugadines and crinolines.

Foot-gear.—The Gallo-Romans wore in the house cork-soled slippers with points which turned up at the toes, and were without heels, but they changed these for sandals when they left the house. Shoes were a mark of distinction, and those called "peribarides" indicated that the wearer belonged to a patrician family. The place of stockings was taken by a linen trouser held in at the ankle with a jewelled garter. Occasionally these garters were used without the trousers.

Each patrician lady had often as many as twenty women in her service, whose duty it was to look after her wardrobe, wait upon her and dress her. An inventory of her garments would sound quite modern : there were tissues of linen, cotton, and silk which took the place of the modern lingerie, the strophium, or boneless corset, a dressing-gown, robes of ceremony, tunics, half-tunics, and violet-colored mantles in profusion.

As to cosmetics, this Gallo-Roman lady was also most up-to-date. She made use of perfumes and unguents, stained her eyelids to give brilliancy to her eyes, colored her cheeks with vermilion, and put lime on her hair. She took cold baths, and bathed her face in the froth of beer to preserve her complexion. She also dyed her eyebrows with a juice taken from the sea-pike.' Like the Romans, she made use of glass and amber balls; when the hands became warm and were placed on the amber, a delicious perfume was given off. These balls were carried by slaves in gold and silver nets, made for that purpose, a custom borrowed by the Romans from the Egyptians

The invasion of Gaul by the Franks wrought a decided change not only in the mode of living and thinking but also in the dress of the time. Other invasions had been of a temporary character, but this was permanent. The Frankish women had rough, ferocious manners, and would rush into the fray with the men. Their character showed exact opposites, as they often seemed endowed with the spirit of prophecy. They had a dreamy creed and were very adaptable, taking on some of the manners and modes of living of the southern civilization.'

The later establishment of the feudal system, with its "vassalage," developed a distinct division of classes, and brought about a different state of society from that of Caesar's time. The primitive manner of living of the Franks counteracted the excessive refinement of the Gauls and overcame much of the corruption, and a stronger race of people was the result.

The manner of living was greatly changed, also, and few comforts were found in the homes. For several centuries dress went back to its primitive state, and men and women clothed themselves in the skins of animals. As they became versed in the arts of spinning and weaving again, they began wearing garments of felt, or narrow, short-sleeved mantles of silk which were dyed red or scarlet.' They also used a coarse material made from camel's hair called "camlett," which was sometimes woven with a silk warp.

Women's Dress.—The tunic was still worn by women, but it was undergoing some changes; it was loose and reached to the hips, where it was held in place by girdles. Sometimes these were placed at the waist and sometimes they crossed in front and went over the shoulders, like the crossed girdles of the Ionic costume . The tunic was either with or without sleeves, and had a V-shaped neck, a fore-runner of the shaped neckline of the thirteenth century. The most decided change came in the skirt, which was hung from the waist, with more fulness in the back than the front ; some were even attached higher up and were held in place by the girdle. These girdles, made of gold and silver and set with precious stones, gave a great interest to the dress of the early centuries and aided in the arrangement of the draperies. The skirts were very long in front, lying on the ground, and some had trains.

A cloak similar to the chalmys of the Greeks became one of the distinguishing features of this costume. It was very full and was fastened with a clasp in front, or on the shoulder when it was turned to free the right arm. Many colors were used for these garments, as well as flow; ered materials and rich embroideries, and they must have made a beautiful and artistic dress. In the wills of this period we read of these embroidered capes being left to the churches, where they were used as copes, and became part of the treasure of the church.

Another type of outer garment was made of striped goods cut in circular shape, with an opening in the centre for the head and two slits for the arms; it was extremely graceful, being bound to the hips with strings.

By the early part of the eleventh century the long, flowing garments borrowed from the Greeks and Romans were given up, and the dress began to be fitted to the figure for the first time since the early Myceans. The main change was in the bodice or waist, which was drawn in at the back by means of laces. The neck was cut low, either round or square, and the long, tight sleeves were cut in one with the waist, similar to the kimono sleeve . The ample skirt had the fulness massed on the sides, and touched the ground all around. The shape of the cloak had also changed; it became a half-circle, sloping in a curve from the neck and not meeting in front, but held together with a jewelled clasp or embroidered band. It was frequently bordered by bands of embroidery, and was made of heavy material which hung in deep folds. The circular cape was still used, but it had developed a pinked, or foliated, edge.

Hair-dressing.—The women were wearing their hair parted in the centre and drawn down over the ears, forming an oval forehead. It was braided in two long plaits which hung over the shoulders and sometimes reached nearly to the floor. These braids were bound with jewelled clasps or twisted with ribbons and strings of pearls. Young girls wore their hair hanging and were not allowed to braid it until they were married; if they remained unmarried they were said to "wear their hair," which was synonymous to our term of "bachelor maid."

More originality was being shown in the covering of the head. Veils of linen and cotton ornamented with gold and gems were replaced in some cases by a small, crown-like hat set with jewels, which came in the centre of the forehead, and by the coif, which was shaped like the ancient mitre; if the veils were worn, the right end was drawn over the left shoulder. The Frankish women had worn a small skull-cap, called an "obbou." It was a great misdemeanor to knock this cap off of a woman's head, the guilty party being severely punished. By the eighth century many ladies began binding the head and face, covering the hair entirely.

Women of wealth and position wore necklaces of jacinth and diamonds, earrings and rings, bracelets and stomachers, clasps and brooches in profusion, and on festive occasions even their garments were incrusted with gold and jewels. The men used chains of bronze and gold, beads and charms; they also wore bracelets and armlets.

Men's Dress.—The dress of the men had much similarity to that of the women. It consisted of a simple garment cut like a shirt, coming about to the thigh. There was a round neck-line, decorated with a band of embroidery, and the sides of the garment were often left open to the hips, and the front was caught between the legs to form trousers belt was worn at the waist-line, and the tunic was bloused loosely over it. The dagger, knife, comb, and sword were carried in this pouch. For outer covering they wore a cape open in front, or wrapped across either shoulder.

By the eighth century men of the ruling class had adopted a long garment of simple shape reaching to the ankles, with a deep border of rich embroidery at the hem, and a narrow one at the neck. The sleeves were long and tight. Over this was worn a shorter tunic reaching below the knee, sometimes sleeveless, and sometimes with full sleeves tightened to the wrists. Another type of garment was a square chasuble shape; it reached to the calf of the leg and was made of very rich material, and was worn unbelted. Loose breeches reached to the ankle, where they were tied and bound crosswise from the boot to the thigh with garters. By the tenth-century close, short breeches and woollen tights had come into vogue, and an ornamental knee-piece or garter was worn below the knee.

The outer garments were capes, similar to those of the women, decorated with embroidered borders and fastened on the shoulder with a jewelled clasp in the form of a plaque; or circular ones with a hole in the centre for the head, like a Mexican poncho. These cloaks were fastened with brooches and clasps of gold set with precious stones.

Shoes were also set with precious stones, and the leg bandages worn with these shoes were of gold. The shoes terminated at the ankle, and came to a rather sharp point at the toe. ,They seem to have been made of a soft leather which took the shape of the foot.

Head-dress.—The tapestries of that period and the effigies on the tombs give a good idea of the costume, the fashion of hair-dressing, and type of head-coverings used. The hair was combed and cut square at the back of the neck, the beard was divided in two points and well-kept. Caps with lappets tied under the chin, or tight round caps of wool, fur, or velvet were worn in winter; and for summer, hats made of rushes and straw took their place. This fashion lasted until the eighth century, when hoods with short capes began to be seen. These gradually developed into the laripipe of the Middle Ages.

Materials were brought from all parts of the known world to furnish the garments of the kings, queens, and wealthy persons. A description of the robes of Charlemagne, found in his sarcophagus at Aix-la-Chapelle Cathedral when it was opened by the German Government, speaks of certain pieces of valuable silk, and a robe of Constantinople work, from a celebrated imperial Byzantine workshop. This robe represents a brilliantly colored material embroidered with elephants in circles. Another piece is believed to be of Sicilian origin, and has a design of birds and hares.'

Considering that the making of a costume took approximately a year, and included the spinning and weaving of the material, the sewing entirely by hand with very crude implements, the decoration with elaborate embroidery, often incrusted with precious stones, it was no wonder that the styles changed slowly and that the garments were handed down from one generation to another. It was only when there were no descendants that the garment found its way to the treasury of the Church.

In these early days the men of the family were almost constantly at war; this left the women alone. Homes were primitive, with few comforts, but service was plenty, due to the feudal system. The chatelaine had many serving-maids to carry on the business of the household, and much of their time was spent in spinning, weaving, making, and decorating the garments of the family. In England, embroidery, both secular and ecclesiastical, was at its height, and many of the pieces still in the possession of the churches were executed during this period.

The large hall of the feudal castle was the meeting-place of the family for meals, but the women lived in quarters of their own called bowers; here all the tasks of the day were carried on. The walls were hung with tapestries depicting religious scenes, or scenes to commemorate some occasion of note. The light came through narrow slits in the thick stone walls; there was no glass in the windows, and the cold and rain came with the light. In one corner a crude handloom with many heddles was used to weave the beautifully patterned materials. A group of young girls are making the air hum with their spinning-wheels, their flowing hair denoting that they are still unmarried ; when they marry, their hair will be cut or braided and bound around their heads to show their subjection to their husbands.

Near the windows stand the embroidery-frames, and there the women sit all day, their busy fingers working out designs in the various colored silks and wools which fill the baskets on the floor. Boys and girls, small counterparts of their elders, amuse themselves without other playthings than the dogs and cats, or possibly the bright-colored bits of materials that fall to their share. They may be entertained by the stories that the maids have heard the previous night when the wandering minstrels sat by the fire and paid for their lodging with songs and tales. The furnishings of the room consist of benches and chests only; in these troublous times the family must be ready at a moment's notice to pack all their belongings into the chests that they may be moved to safety, or else buried until the enemy has passed on.



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