The Dawn Of The Voluptuous Orient
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Although it has been calculated that weaving was known in Egypt by the time the fashions came in for 3000 B.C., the Professor ventures a guess that the first Marjorie anywhere to wear underclothing lived in the dim antiquity of China. There, remote from the rootstock from which the civilization of modern Europe sprang, she lived mysteriously—in a land known for centuries to the peoples of Europe merely as a shadowy region whence silk came. According to the date given by Chinese records, nearly forty-six centuries ago Chinese Marjorie had available the ideal fabric for undies—silk cloth.
Long before the classic period of Chinese civilization, which brings us within reach of authentic history, the "weaving maiden" was a figure of religious fable. In the legendary life of antiquity, some couple of thousand years B.C., "in the winter the women span and wove; springtime was occupied with silkworm breeding."
Those of any social standing among the Chinese entered historical times as a luxuriously clothes-wearing people. A people living for ages fundamentally by tradition, their traditional dress is of numerous layers, the state of the temperature usually acquiring its designation from the number of garments felt to be required.
In the chief work reflecting the early culture of China, which contains a survey of mythical days aforetime, progress is represented as a revelation through diagrams, interpreted by the oracles. Three lords—Huang Ti, Yao, and Shun—were exceptionally wise rulers of antiquity. To them, among other cultural achievements, is ascribed the fact that they "simply wore their upper and lower garments, and good order was secured all under heaven." So, among these dressy people in the twenty-second century B.C., it would seem that we find the dawn of the two-piece suit.
Rubbings from stone relievos in very ancient tombs show women swathed in voluminous robes apparently of a circular cut, which do not give the effect of a garment worn next to the skin. And we know that at a time when all Europe, outside of a very few urban centers such as Crete and Athens, was in a state of barbarism, and very careless as to such rudimentary clothing as it had, the Orient enjoyed an old and smooth civilization suggestive of underwear. Furthermore, to an oriental source is attributed the origin of the garment which, in one of its forms, became Greek Marjorie's article of underwear—the chiton.
Marjorie of ancient India had at least one article of lingerie in times remote beyond calculation. In what, muses the professor in highly lyrical vein, in what robe de nuit did burning Sappho sleep ? Cleopatra? Lady Flora . . . Hipparchia . . . Thais . . . Heloise . . . Dante's Beatrice ? What fashion draped in sleep the white feet of Nicolette? Maiden and Queen, no man may say. But we do know about Marjorie of ancient India.
In distant antiquity India was the home of cotton. The Greeks had cotton only in small quantities. This material was little known in Europe before Alexander the Great invaded Asia Minor and, later, India in the fourth century B.C. In Europe for some time afterward the costliness of cotton, in color always a deep yellow, made its use prohibitive for large garments.
Throughout the centuries the people of India have largely remained a cotton-wearing race. Nobody knows how many centuries ago they begat that article of luxurious leg-wear —pajamas. This garment was described as "cotton trousers," worn in bed by both men and women, by the first far traveler who brought back an account to an incredulous Europe.
Whether or not sleeping in pajamas had anything to do with it, scholars state that at a very ancient date this race was a people "acquainted even with many vices which are found only in an advanced condition of artificial life." At any rate, those who abstained from folly abstained also from clothes.
There, for instance, is the most celebrated loincloth wearer known to the world today—Mahatma Gandhi. And this meager article of attire, together with his shawl on occasion, seems to be worn merely in deference to the prohibition of public nudity by British law, which does not take cognizance of what has traditionally been regarded by multitudes as an elevated system of ethics. It must be remembered that Hindu philosophy teaches us that those who arrive at perfection dispense with the vulgarity of clothing.
Therefore, to those untutored in the mysteries of the national religion of India—Hinduism in its many-sided and elusive aspects—it is rather surprising to examine, with an eye to underwear, the devout representations of Hindu deities such as Brahma, Krishna, Indra, Lakshmi, Parvati, Vishnu, et al. These figures, altogether, show a highly sophisticated flair for the voluptuous note in garments. In several instances, something akin to rather loose, ankle-length drawers are discernible, or trousers worn under open-flaring outer draperies. Hanuman, the monkey-faced god, seems to be cavorting about in a pair of gaily ornamented shorts. No bust supporters are represented.
Marjorie of ancient India, however, more likely kept company with a young Indian merchant rather than with a nudist philosopher. Her bathtub may have been the Ganges. But no poets known to the Professor sang of her, and no artist fixed in stone or fresco the intimate graces of her form. If she had an exhibitionist complex, it was of no avail to posterity. Though one of the great epics of ancient India boasts a heroine miraculously born of a field furrow, unfortunately we never catch a view of her changing her clothes.
In early Babylonia, according to Herodotus, "Every one carries a seal and a walking stick." Here, without doubt, we have a people with a flair for Fashion. The Father of History, however, presumably did not, by "every one," refer to Babylonian Marjorie. Did she have any underwear to stress her It in a city notorious as a center of luxury, vice, and Fashion?
In Sumerian days, the early period, the sartorial turnout of her young man—a tall, bearded gentleman—was the kaunakes. This garment fastened over one shoulder leaving the other bare, and was made of natural locks of wool simply removed from the hide. For street and country life a long, heavy cloak, open in front, was thrown over it, somewhat in the manner of an "opera" cloak. Kaunakes of feathers were also worn.
This was the mode for men during the season 3000 to 2000 B.C. and, with some modification, also for Marjorie. In fact, at a distance she was distinguishable from her escort mainly by having her hair more elaborately dressed, but on the very oldest Assyrian bas-reliefs Marjorie sometimes appears in the chiton, in both its long and short forms, later to be identified with classical Greece.
The fashions for goddesses, who much more frequently sat for their likenesses, were decidedly more nifty than those for mortal women. They wore pleated gowns, sometimes featuring pleated or spiral flounces, not differing greatly from those worn by Minoan goddesses. However, a corset is lacking. Neither is there any suggestion of hoops.
We know nothing of Babylonian painting, though Babylonian art appears to represent man's earliest artistic effort in many directions. Indeed, it prepared the way for the glories of classic art. Its characteristic forms were brick architecture, sculpture, and the industrial arts. In sculpture, while animals were represented with superb realism, the human figure was rather clumsily executed, affording a decidedly vague idea of its costume.
In the British Museum is a bas-relief of King Assurbanipal and his Queen, 668-626 B.C. Her Majesty, seated in an arm-chair with a foot-rest, rather like the typical highchair used in poolrooms, is apparently refreshing herself with a plate of soup. She is substantially clothed in a brocaded gown, decidedly "shaped." Two husky female figures, apparently ladies-in-waiting or, perhaps, waitresses, stand behind the King, also with uplifted plates.
Though their gowns are less elaborate than the Queen's, they also are quite substantially clothed. Indeed, they appear to be positively "tailored." They seem to have leg-o'-mutton sleeves, though this was the best the sculptor could do in rendering shoulders. So much outer dress assuredly implies something beneath. It is, however, sad to reflect that none will ever know surely the kind of undies worn by these dressy and voluptuous Babylonian women.
Marjorie, when she was called Cleopatra, wore skirts of silk cloth which had been closely woven in China and brought overland, by Persian traders, in long caravans to Gaza. There, Phoenician women unraveled the precious fibre by hand, then valued at twelve ounces of gold for sixteen ounces of silk, and wove it into a gauzelike material which "exposed to the public eye transparent draperies and naked matrons."
Though Cleopatra, as late as the first century B.C., was so patrician as to import her silks, the earliest pictorial records of the arts of spinning and weaving represent Egyptian scenes. Mechanical weaving was done in Egypt in 2000 B.C. Egyptian fabrics dating back to roo0 B.C. are to be seen in the Louvre. And as the art of historic Egypt—the Egypt of the Pharaohs—began about 4000 B.C., we have what constitutes a series of fashion plates going back a very respectable distance.
The earliest Egyptian styles for women with which we are acquainted remained in for some fourteen hundred years —possibly several seasons longer. The costume then in vogue consisted almost entirely of a single garment. Egypt during the dynasties seems to have been an exception to the general rule that the desire to formalize and elaborate dress is usually a concomitant of civilized life.
This exception, the Professor says, has been attributed by some writers to the climate of this country bisected by the equator; in other words, the heat squelched the development of "self-consciousness" and a sense of modesty.
From the Fourth Dynasty—2980 B.C.—until sometime in the Eighteenth Dynasty—1580 B.C.—a simple garment extending from bust to ankles, very close fitting without folds, was worn by all Egyptian women, with the exception of some servants and dancing girls. As is shown in abundant contemporaneous representations, this dress was about as transparent as a plate glass window. Some writers state that it was often blue in color.
Its tightness around the legs gave the lower portion the effect of a "hobble" skirt. In some instances it had a yoke over the shoulders. Again, it was held up by rather modern-looking shaped shoulder straps, sometimes by only one strap, and sometimes by a necklace. Embroidery was frequently applied to borders, and, along with bracelets, embroidered anklets were popular. Hairdressing styles (women, as well as men, shaved their heads) ran to huge wigs.
Beautifully ornamented waistbands, examples of which have been uncovered by excavation, are the Nilotic ancestors of the corset. The costume of ladies' maids, waitresses at fashionable functions, and dancing girls consisted altogether of heavy earrings and an ornamented girdle over the hips. This idea as to what was de rigueur for waitresses was revived at the celebrated "Pie Dinner," a sensational event in the New York of the early nineteen hundreds.
The tight transparent robe, with nothing under it, continued to be the thing among women of position until Greek civilization began to make itself felt in Egypt. Under Greek influence, it is believed, Egyptian ladies became conscious of their bodies and evolved their first undergarment—a short tunic worn under the long transparent robe.
At the outset of the New Empire, in the Eighteenth Dynasty, a tunic, open on the right side and furnished with a short left sleeve, was sometimes added to the man's skirt or short kilt. Accompanying this innovation, the woman's garment was carried over the left shoulder, and the tight dress gave way to a more gracious costume of gauffered linen, with pleats and left sleeves popular. Somewhat similar to the man's, this garment was more flowing and robelike in design.
Particolored robes were worn by queens. The fashion for goddesses continued till the end to be the tight, hobble-skirted dress of the Old Kingdom. Egyptian goddesses obviously forever remained innocent of underwear!
Late Egyptian art indicates that both sexes wore an undergarment that came in during the Twentieth Dynasty. This reached to just above the knees and appears to have been of some fairly heavy material—sufficiently substantial, at any rate, to do away with transparency. A thick underdress de-scribes it. In addition to white, red, saffron, and blue also were in favor.
The tunic worn by the Greeks and the Romans as an under-garment, unlike the Egyptians' half-length garment, was a full-length affair. This underdress, then, of the Egyptians—may it not more properly be called, according to the general interpretation of the term, a petticoat? Thus, as worn by the women, it would seem to be the first feminine petticoat known with any certainty to history. But as the designation of a garment for women, the word petticoat does not occur till the fifteenth century.