Skip to content

The history of the dress

From Diana's "Revenge Dress" to Lady Gaga's "Meat Dress," dresses have moved a lot throughout history. Find out more in this post. Read now.

Marilyn Monroe, Kate Middleton, Lady Diana and Lady Gaga have one thing in common: we all see these women in an iconic dress when we think of them. They and their clothes couldn't be more different. From Lady Diana's breathtaking "Revenge Dress" that caused quite a stir to the "meat dress" in which Lady Gaga shocked on the red carpet. Clothes are not just part of our wardrobe, they have moved and changed, symbolized and reflected a lot throughout history.

The oldest dress in history

One might think that the first clothes in our history were simply (any) cloths that Egyptians and Greeks wrapped creatively and dynamically around their bodies. But that's not entirely true: the Kalasiris was a dress that the Egyptians wore elegantly around themselves, but even back then (at least in more upscale circles) it was richly decorated and finely pleated and by no means a baggy piece of clothing. The Tarkhan dress is over 5,000 years old  a rare find. It was discovered in an Egyptian tomb in the city of the same name (Tarkhan), making it the oldest woven garment in the world to this day. Folds under the arms and at the elbows indicate that the dress was worn every day and not just for ceremonial purposes.

Men and clothes

Men also wore dresses until the introduction of trousers in the Iron Age (from 800 BC). From the short chiton of the Greeks to the tunic of the ancient Romans: clothes on men were nothing special, quite the opposite. Some dresses, such as the so-called Dalmatika , were even reserved only for rulers and dignitaries of the Byzantine Middle Ages. It wasn't until the 18th century that men's clothes almost completely fell out of fashion and were then mainly reserved for women. However, here too they had no free choice.

What skirt lengths say about the zeitgeist 

Status and social affiliation have long played a major role in the choice of dress. But that increasingly changed in the 20th century. With the First World War, the length of dresses increased again for the first time in centuries and by the roaring 20s, dresses were so short that you could catch a glimpse of women's knees. From then on, clothes showed the self-confident, revealing and independent image of women. They were an expression of emancipation, newly acquired freedom and reflected economic prosperity. Women reached the pinnacle of this expression in the 1960s with Mary Quant's introduction of the miniskirt to the international fashion market. Never before have dresses and skirts been so short and the nation so divided. What some saw as a decline in decency and customs, others saw as an expression of freedom. From the 1980s onwards, women's movements fought primarily against sexism and for more self-determination. Fashion became more and more individual and women now mostly wore what they wanted. Skirt and dress lengths varied in length and shape and increasingly became an expression of the self-determined woman. 

Clothes today

Even today, clothes are not just clothes. Through form and color we can provoke with them, draw attention to issues and grievances, change things and hold a mirror up to society. But they can also simply be an expression of our individuality, our taste and self-expression. A dress means something different to everyone: some special ones we only wear on certain occasions, some we associate with a story, others make us feel exceptional and self-confident. Today we have more choice than ever before. No social class, no norms or roles dictate to us what we can and can wear. We can reinvent ourselves every day and always remain ourselves, because today the way we present ourselves is fortunately entirely in our control. 

Author: Marlina Laß


1 Verlag Europa-Lehrmittel, specialist knowledge of clothing, 9th edition 2007, pages 256-257


3 Verlag Europa-Lehrmittel, specialist knowledge of clothing, 9th edition 2007, pages 262-263

4 Verlag Europa-Lehrmittel, specialist knowledge of clothing, 9th edition 2007, pages 264-265



Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping

Select options