Cultural Fashions that Made it Into Modern History
Every culture is made up of lots of little parts. Most of the time our minds leap to things like the great works of literature or particular philosophies that helped to define them. We also think of practices that we don’t necessarily understand. Each culture has ritual elements, rites of passage, and other things that they don’t share with other cultures. These all help to define how the world views them. What we don’t often think of is the clothing. Traditional fashion is as much a part of a culture as any other element. They even help to define some of the mental pictures that people have of certain cultures. These particular elements change as assuredly as any other element of culture though. Time brings new ideas to the design or they fall out of fashion. Plenty of them have been revisited over time though and refuse to entirely vanish even in a much more global modern era. Let’s take a closer look at some of these fashions that hold on to this day.
This garment tends to have a very particular association. It features heavily into many images that people have of China. What you might not know is that what you think is the cheongsam has comparatively modern orgins despite being intimately associated with its home culture. The body-hugging design that people are most familiar with is only from around the 1920s, but the actual overall design has a far longer history. No one is quite certain when it began, but the most commonly accepted point of origin has it first appearing sometime in the Qing dynasty’s later years. Various academic distinctions do exist as people try to figure out what the cheongsam is descended from, design-wise, but regardless of this it has remained a popular garment. The design has changed over the years though. In its original form, it hugged the body less and was potentially worn with pants below it. However, a cheongsam’s modern form reflects the trend towards aesthetics over practicality over the years and it will likely change again in the future.
There are few garments that necessarily have as long of a legacy as the Sari. Its origins are so far back in history that they are generally placed within a culture that existed at least as far back as 2800 B.C.E. This makes it potentially one of the most traditional and long-lasting garments in the world. Not only is the sari known for its practicality, but it is potentially visually stunning depending on the fabrics used, the designs on them, and any ornamentation paired with the garment itself. A sari is typically composed of a single piece of long and wide fabric designed to be wrapped and draped around the body with minimal clothing beneath it to minimize the amount heat lost or gained throughout the year. There are many variations on the sari depending on the particular country. Most have a recognizable style associated with a given country though. Currently, the most popular style is the Nivi version that utilizes a particular style of fabric and wrapping to create a breathable and beautiful outfit.
We need to be clear right here that the odds of most people seeing a true kimono these days are somewhat slim. The various components required and the particular ritual way of fastening them have actually made some forms of this garment entirely vanish. There remains a trend of taking the look and style of the kimono to make a modern version that isn’t quite what it was in the past and yet maintains some of the visual beauty. The actual garment itself likely originated from cultural mixing between mainland China and Japan sometime around 250 AD. It is hard to pin down any exact time since the kimono’s design was built upon older garments. These days the more popular versions tend to be simpler than the multi-part affairs of the past, but they are not true kimonos.
Many people, typically outside of Japan, favor an outer draping garment, called a “kimono cardigan,” that resembles one for the purpose of style. However, there have been variations such as kimono-inspired jackets that became popular in the West in recent years. Like most garments, the kimono will likely continue to change over time and inspire new variations.
Some garments have a place in the deep cultural identity of some countries. They tend to last as a result. However, they change with time just like all pieces of culture. We’ve highlighted a few notable examples of this. Most of the garments we’ve discussed have changed in the past and keep changing whether it is by variations on them or inspiring new designs. In this way, cultural attire remains alive. We would advise being mindful of what you choose to wear though. After all, everything we wear says something about ourselves.