5 clothes that have shown the power of fashion over 1000 years

The notion of becoming is inherent in fashion: our clothing choices can tell a story of who we are or who we want to be. In many ways, donning an outfit can be one of the most powerful acts of self-expression, and it’s a tool people around the world have used for millennia.

The stories we carry“- a new exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) – explores 2,500 years of style through approximately 250 objects classified by work and play, battle, performance, ceremony and With a range that includes the armor of 17th-century samurai warriors and a coral-beaded Givenchy dress worn in 1965 by Hollywood star-turned-Princess Grace Kelly, the exhibition aims to showcase the connection between fashion and ideas of identity in a way that transcends “language, culture and time,” according to the museum’s website.

“Today, we often dismiss fashion as frivolous,” Senior Curator Lauren Ristvet said in a statement. “But our appearances matter. The way we dress communicates who we are and what we do.”

Here are five more historic garments that demonstrate the power of fashion as a tool for self-actualization.

Headdress of a 16th century Buddhist priest from Nepal

The crown of a 16th century Nepalese Buddhist priest can be found in the “Dressing for Ceremony” section of the exhibit. Credit: Eric Sucar / University of Pennsylvania

Attached to the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, this headdress has five cosmic Buddhas arranged in the shape of a mandala, a geometric symbol used for sacred rites and meditation. When priests occasionally wore this Mukuta, or crown, it was an outward demonstration of their appropriation of the attributes of Buddhahood, including morality, selflessness and wisdom.

“Our crown and other similar crowns are extremely heavy. So they wouldn’t have been the kind of thing you would want to wear for every ritual you perform,” Ristvet said in a telephone interview.

Those who put on the Mukuta became the most important figure in their religious tradition.

The ancient burial of a Chief Coclé of what is now Panama

The burial of a Coclé chief (circa 750-1000 AD) shines in the exhibition "Dress to rule" Region.

The funeral insignia of a Coclé chief (circa 750-1000 AD) glow in the “Dress to Govern” area of ​​the exhibit. Credit: Eric Sucar / University of Pennsylvania

These gold plaques and other materials were found in 1940 on a man buried among a dozen people, whose deaths dates back to between 750 AD and 1000 AD, Ristvet said. Adorned with extravagant gold, “he was by far the richest clad individual found in the grave,” Ristvet said.

On each plaque is engraved a human figure with sharp teeth and legs that turn into alligators or crocodiles. Crocodiles have often been associated with dominance and power, Ristvet said. “The man who transforms into a crocodile was also understood in terms of esoteric or shamanic powers that a ruler might have.” And the jaguars – enclosing the emerald in the pendant – have been a symbol of power across Mesoamerica.

A 1930s velvet dress worn by Marian Anderson

The velvet merlot dress that belonged to contralto Marian Anderson is the star of the exhibition "Dress to play" section.

The velvet merlot dress that belonged to contralto Marian Anderson is the star of the “Dress to Play” section of the exhibition. Credit: Eric Sucar / University of Pennsylvania

This velvet merlot dress was likely designed by Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes, one of the first black fashion designers to open a boutique on Broadway in 1948, according to Ristvet. Valdes has dressed contralto Marian Anderson – the first black woman to perform with the Metropolitan Opera – for much of her career, Ristvet said.

This dress, which Anderson has worn several times during her career, could have been one of the dresses she wore for her annual performances at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, she added. Once rejected by the United States for her race but adopted by the European public, Anderson eventually became a cultural icon who sang for American presidents, notably Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

A court robe worn by an official during the Qing dynasty in China

A court robe worn during the Qing Dynasty in China (19th century) is in the "Dress to rule" part of the exhibition.

A public dress worn during the Qing Dynasty in China (19th century) can be found in the “Dressing to Rule” section of the exhibit. Credit: Eric Sucar / University of Pennsylvania

Donated to the Penn Museum in 1898 by a Miss Livingston, the Chaofu (audience robe) was the official costume of a second-rank civil servant, according to the museum. The silk and brocade gown, adorned with embroidered dragons, waves and clouds, was only worn on some of the most important occasions in the lives of officials, Ristvet said.

“In China, every aspect of official dress is fundamentally tightly controlled, and there is a lot of symbolism that goes into all of these results.… The blue-black color of this dress is something that is only worn by officials. of the court, “says Ristvet.

Blue was one of the main colors of the Qing Dynasty flag. “Of course, the dragon is a symbol of the emperor of power in China. And the number of claws on the dragon actually corresponds to the rank of an official.”

Gold floral crown of a Scythian warrior

The crown of a Scythian warrior is displayed in "The stories we carry" exhibit at the Penn Museum.

A Scythian warrior crown is on display in the “The Stories We Wear” exhibit at the Penn Museum. Credit: Eric Sucar / University of Pennsylvania

The rosettes of this gold tiara were made of gold leaf and wire and probably adorned a headdress or garment of an elite Scythian woman.

“Many cultures around the world viewed gold as a symbol of high status,” wrote Debra Breslin, an artifact conservator who examined and processed more than 200 artifacts for the exhibit, in A declaration.

“This idea of ​​military prowess, we tend to really think of it as masculine down the centuries,” Ristvet said. “It is interesting to note that almost all of the (Scythian) material we have in our museum appears to come from women’s graves, which is cool and unusual, as much of the high-ranking material from this era comes from graves in ‘men.”

Exhibition “The stories we carry” is on display at the University of Pennsylvania Archeology and Anthropology Museum (Penn Museum) until June 12, 2022.
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