The History of the Tunic: From Ancient Times to Modern Fashion
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, 6 min reading time
The tunic represents one of the longest-standing garments that ancient civilizations wore and that today's fashion-forward individuals still wear. The development of tunics in fashion spans many centuries, morphing tunic styles from Ancient Greece to today.
The tunic represents one of the longest-standing garments that ancient civilizations wore and that today's fashion-forward individuals still wear. The development of tunics in fashion spans many centuries, morphing tunic styles from Ancient Greece to today. Learn more about its history with Modest Eve today!
The tunic, or tunica, offered a popular mode of dress for men and women as far back as ancient Rome, Greece, and Mesopotamia. Stretching from the shoulder to knees or just below the knees, making a tunic requires either a single piece of cloth with a neck hole cut in it or two rectangular pieces of fabric joined together by sewing.
In ancient Rome and Greece, people typically belted their tunics, but in modern times, such as the 1960s, it became common to wear the tunic loose and unbelted. Today, combining the tunic with leggings or other pants tops the list of ways to wear this fashion staple.
Tunic styles developed through the years. The Roman and Grecian designs featured no sleeves or fasteners. The wearer wrapped the garment around their body, then used a pin or brooch to fasten it. The belt could consist of a simple rope or sash. The elegant original reached the ankles and used a design that looked fabulous on any body type.
In ancient Egypt, the tunic developed as a sheer overgarment for women. They slipped it over their heads, and its sheer nature let the rest of their outfit still show.
The Celts also wore tunics, calling them by various names depending on their use as an outer or inner garment that reached the hips to the knees. In medieval times, a person might wear a doublet, surcoat, jupon, or tabard in combination with one another. Let's consider the difference between these garments.
Doublet: This tunic served as a military undergarment of a fitted nature. It appeared on the fashion scene around the mid-14th century.
Jupon: In the 14th century, another design developed – a tight, padded tunic that fitted to the body. It fastened down the front using laces or buttons.
Surcoat: From the 13th century to the early 14th century, people wore loose pullover robes of wool, lined with linen, that reached the ankle. These tunics featured sleeves the wearer could toss behind them to get them out of the way.
Tabard: This outer tunic fits like a poncho, but features closed sides. Heralds wore tabards with sleeves that only covered the outside of their arms.
Medieval Europeans frequently layered one tunic over another as a fashion measure and for warmth. The chillier climate of that time required many clothing layers for a person to remain comfortable and warm.
Although tunic design had developed beyond the Greek and Roman practice of all-white garments, designers still stuck to monochromatic designs. Wealthy individuals showed their opulence on the outside of their topmost tunics, which typically featured embroidery. Wool and linen formed the essential fabrics of these garments, while wealthy individuals tended to choose silk tunics.
The popular tunic has enjoyed such a long-lasting run as a fashion garment because it allows freedom of movement and easy wear. Its loose nature offers airflow beneath the garment, and its design allows the wearer to layer it to create warmth when needed.
In Turkey, a practice developed among both genders of wearing a tunic over pants. This increased the freedom of movement and made chores simpler in the predominantly agricultural society.
As early as 1618, art depicted women in Turkey wearing tunics called anteri and pants called chalvar. These clothing designs preserved modesty while allowing non-constricted movement suitable for farm work and other manual labor. However, even wealthy women who didn't have to work in fields wore this dress.
In 1851, the fashion-forward publisher of "The Lily," a magazine of the time, Amelia Bloomer, wrote that she had opted to switch from the restrictive petticoats popular at the time to the mode of Turkish dress. She shared a pattern for the design and encouraged U.S. women to adopt the same look to free themselves from the weight of the up to 16 petticoats women wore at the time – all layer on top of one another.
In the U.S., the chalvar pants became known as bloomers, named for the woman who popularized them, and anteri, or women's tunic shirts, became known as tunics. An entire generation of women adopted the wearing of bloomers, symbolizing the growing suffrage movement in the United States. Fashion designers turned the tunic and bloomers into appropriate garb for any occasion, creating swimwear from the combination of formal, work, and everyday clothing. Women of every social stratum began wearing tunics and bloomers and enjoyed the newfound freedom of the design.
Although it began as a design of cool air circulation and convenience, designers of haute couture transformed the tunic into one of the top fashion icon garments. It happened in 1955 when Italian designer Cristobal Balenciaga adapted the tunic into the envelope dress. His regal, all-black design tapered to a close around the knees and flared out at the shoulders, creating a triangle shape.
About a decade later, designer Yves Saint Laurent took the tunic further, modernizing it as a staple of Bohemian fashion. His design featured short or long sleeves and embellishments on the front, typically embroidery. Saint Laurent adapted the medieval European practice of wealthy individuals adding embroidery to their tunics. Essentially, the entire population of the hippie movement wore the tunic of the 1960s.
Today, the humble development of the Greeks offers cultures worldwide a comfortable top that suits most body types. Its loose fit affords comfort, and its adaptable design suits numerous cultures. It works at lengths from the hips to the ankles and layers well. Crafted from various materials, it can top an outfit or comprise the entire look. Plus, it still offers a suitable choice for all genders.Contact us and shop Modest Eve for the latest in women's tunic tops. Enjoy wearing this time-tested fashion garment in the latest styles.
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