The clothes worn by men and women over the centuries, and in different cultures, have changed in many ways. Each period has its own distinct costumes that are recognisable, and in some ways define the era. Buyers looking for historical costumes for women must make several decisions when choosing costumes. They must first decide which period in history the costume represents. They should then choose which type of costume from that era to purchase. Finally, they should know where and how to conveniently purchase the historical costumes they want.
Since periods of time are the most convenient way to classify a particular set of costumes, most classifications for historical costumes are based on an era: the "Victorian period", for example. Another way to classify costumes is based on the culture or region they originated from.
Historical Costume #1: Greek Costumes
Greek costumes were simple. Made of rectangular pieces of linen or wool fabric, the clothes were secured with pins, or ornamental clasps. A belt or girdle was added to secure the waist. Women's robes reached down to their ankles. Women also wore an inner garment called the "peplos". This tunic was usually a heavier woollen garment with shoulder clasps. Other parts of the Greek dress included the "chiton", and the "strophion", which were both worn as undergarments. During winter an outer garment called the "himation" was worn over the rest of the costume.
Historical Costume #2: Roman Costumes
Wool was the most common fabric used for ancient Roman clothing. Silk was imported, rare, and expensive, as a result becoming a fabric for the rich. Cotton was also imported but more easily available. Women wore tunics, but after the 2nd century BC, also started wearing a "stola", a simple garment similar to what was worn by Greek women at the same time. The stola was made of two rectangular lengths of cloth joined at the side by buttons. A "palla", a type of shawl was worn over the stola.
Historical Costume #3: Medieval European Costumes
The middle ages in Europe were a time when the feudal system was at its peak. Though styles varied from country to country, the clothing people wore in medieval times easily identified their status. The nobility, and the wealthy, could afford to dress in fashionable clothes. Peasant women wore simple clothing: a shapeless dress that was fastened at the waist by a girdle complemented by a wimple. The medieval period spans a large period of time and fashion changed a lot over the years.
Medieval Time Period (AD)
Features of Women's Clothing
900 to 1000
Influenced by classical Greek and Roman styles
Some clothes were tight to accent the figure
Some clothes completely covered the neck
A long tunic reached the heels
The tunic could be worn with or without sleeves
Two tunics were worn, completely surrounding the neck
Ladies of the nobility wore long cloaks lined with ermine
1000 to 1100
Two tunics were worn
One tunic was longer, but smaller than the other
Sleeves came down tight to the wrists
Ornamented bands around the neck, and borders of the sleeves
A girdle was worn just above the hips
Hair was completely hidden by a long veil
Outer garments were usually white
Inner garments were made in different colours
1100 to 1200
A linen caps with lappets handing down over the shoulders was worn
Robes were fastened around the waist
Long bands attached the robe to the sleeves near the wrists
Pointed shoes made their appearance
In addition to a head-dress, a band was tied under the chin
The "surcoat", a large wrapper, was worn over the upper part of the robe
The undergarment may have been visible
1200 to 1300
Gems and precious metals were used to embellish clothing
Golden belts were worn
Gowns had tight bodices
Hair was plaited and decorated with pearls and ornaments
Pointed caps were worn
The gown had long and tight sleeves
A second robe, similar to a cloak, was sometimes worn
Embroidery and rich decoration were common
Shoes were long and pointed
1300 to 1400
Clothing, including coats and surcoats, trailed on the ground
Hats were built with inner frames
Nets were used to keep hair back
Women's clothing was elegant and simple, in contrast to men's clothing of the time
Large openings in the overcoat highlighted the inner coat and figure
The surcoat extended downwards and became a wide, trailing skirt
False hair was popular
The external corset was invented
1400 to 1500
Long trains were worn, and then shortened lated during this period
Sleeves lengthened, and were embroidered or fringed
Necks were revealed and necklaces became popular
Women's clothes became more "full"
Ruffs and small collars were introduced
Dresses were tight at the waist, but were made full at the hips using padded rolls
Women's clothes worn during the medieval period varied widely from country to country. New fashions developed in one country were quickly imitated in another, yet each still managed to hold on to its own identity. German and Swiss clothes tended to be heavy and large in appearance, while Italian fashion had an air of grandeur. England and Holland maintained elegance and propriety, while French fashions changed quickly.
Historical Costume #4: Costumes from the Victorian Period
The Victorian Era refers to the time when Britain was ruled by Queen Victoria. The period lasted from 1837 to 1901 and saw many changes in architecture, literature, clothing, and art. Women's clothing underwent various changes during the period.
- The 1840s and 1850s saw the development of wide puffed sleeves
- Petticoats, corsets, and chemises were worn under outer garments
- Day dresses had a solid bodice
- Evening gowns had low neckline and were worn off the shoulder
- Skirts with flatter fronts appeared in the 1860s
- Evening gowns in the 1860s had low necklines and short sleeves
- Short gloves or fingerless lace were worn with evening gowns
- The 1870s saw the introduction of uncorseted "tea gowns"
- The 1890s, the last decade of the Victorian Era, was marked by high collars
The Victorian Era is considered prudish, a period when women's clothing was inconvenient and fussy. "Steampunk" is a trend which uses Victorian Era design with tweaks. When applied to fashion, this could be Victorian style clothing combined with a modern style, such as Goth, or Punk.
Historical Costume #5: Edwardian Period Costumes
The Edwardian period is the time following the death of Queen Victoria. England was ruled by Edward VII, from whom the era takes its name. The Edwardian period usually refers to the time between 1901 and 1910, but sometimes is extended to include the beginning of World War I, and sometimes even to the end of the war in 1918. Women's clothing in Edwardian times saw a few changes. It was the last time corsets were worn in normal life. As the upper classes engaged in sports, the need for more flexible clothing became apparent. This translated into several new styles that moved away from Victorian Era clothing.
Other Historical Costumes
The five types of historical costumes are not the only ones available for women. There have been countless cultures and just as many types of clothing throughout human history. Buyers can also consider ancient Egyptian costumes, Middle Eastern costumes, Far Eastern costumes, African costumes, and a range of costumes from native cultures from around the world.
Buying Historical Costumes for Women on eBay
Buyers looking for historical women's costumes can choose from many different types on eBay. To begin searching, buyers can visit eBay's home page. The search bar provides a quick and easy way to find costumes on the site. Providing more specific keywords results in fewer but more relevant results. For example, a search for "Edwardian summer costumes" lists less results than a search for "Edwardian costumes", saving buyers time.
Results can be narrowed down even more by choosing from various criteria including price range, and the location of the seller. Buyers should review a seller's return and exchange policy before committing to a purchase. As with all online purchases, there is no possibility of trying an item before purchasing it, and buyers may need to return costumes.
Historical costumes are costumes that reflect the style of a certain period, or culture, in human history. There are several reasons to buy historical costumes: nostalgia, theatrical performances, or for costume parties and events. Some of the most popular historical costumes for women include those from Greek, Roman, Victorian and Edwardian eras. Each of these periods had a unique set of women's clothing.
Historical costumes however, are not limited to just these popular periods. The number of cultures and types of clothes that have appeared over the centuries is vast. However, not all types of historical costumes are as easily available as the popular ones. Buyers looking for historical costumes for women can conveniently find and purchase them online on eBay.