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Khan You Live Like a Mongol?

Khan You Live Like a Mongol?

The early Mongols did not understand the culture and lifestyle of settled living. Their nomadic lifestyle meant that land could not be owned, much like air, or the ocean. Viewed by settled societies as barbarians, the Mongols were first united and conquered by Temüjin in 1206, where he eventually went on to form the largest neighbouring empire in history known as the Mongol empire.

Fashion Throughout the Ages

As the saying goes, “Clothes make a man”. Clothing can be seen as a form of identity - how you choose to dress can portray the mood you are in, the style you like and the kind of personality you have. With that in mind, surely you would have guessed the topic that we have chosen to talk about today: Clothes. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), clothing is seen as a basic need. In today’s society, clothing serves not only a functional need which helps to keep us warm but also fulfils a cultural need for the different cultures to identify themselves.

Here in Singapore, we are a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicity. For each group, we have our own ethnic clothing. Take for example, the Chinese Cheongsam, the Malay Baju Kurung and the Indian Sari. Hence, have you wondered what common folk in the ancient civilizations wore and how was their clothing like?  Let’s take a trip back in time to look at how people dressed in the ancient Chinese and Indian civilisations to see how similar it is to the ones that we see every Racial Harmony Day.



The ancient Chinese wore mainly robes known as Hanfu from the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 - 1000 BC). The men wore tunics that reached their knees, while the women wore lengthy tunics that reached the ground. The sleeves of their garments were wide and loose fitting, with sashes being added as an ornamental design for the ladies. Darker shades of clothing were preferred over light ones.

Over the years and many dynasties, the Hanfu underwent many modifications due to different preferences in style. There were primarily, three variations of ancient Chinese garments.

Pien-Fu: A 2 piece ceremonial costume, consisting of a tunic top extending to the knees, and worn with ankle length skirt or trousers. Ch’ang P’ao: This is a one-piece ankle length tunic dress. Shenyi: A combination of the first two, a shenyi is a 2 piece top and trouser/skirt outfit that has been sewn together to make a one-piece garment.




Jewelry was also considered an important part of fashion. It was worn by both genders to show nobility and wealth. The dragon in particular was a very popular motif for jewelry and was most commonly worn by the royals. The masses wore Jade and Gold in their pendants and rings as well as in their earrings and hair ornaments for the ladies.

EarringsJade BraceletsJewelry Set

In addition, what the women wore on their heads determined their social status and hence, they were very careful with the materials and design of their hair ornaments.

Hair Pins



People in the Indus Vally Civilization wore mainly cloth clothing made out of cotton as they were one of the first people to cultivate cotton crops and it was their most abundant source of material.

The women wore one very long piece of cloth (that can go up to lengths of 4 to 6 metres) called a Sari. The sari was first mentioned in the Vedas around 600 BC. As seen from the picture above, there were many ways in which the Sari can be wrapped and this signified the different roles they played in society.

For example, women wore saris like skirts with the top part thrown over their shoulder or worn over their heads as a veil when they wanted to dress up for an occasion. Those working in the fields often rolled up their saris to make pants to make them feel more at ease. There were also women who were part of the army and they tucked in the top part of the sari in the back to free up their arms. After the opening of the silk route, India began trading with China and upper class women had their saris made in silk.

The males wore similar one-piece cloths named Dhoti that was about 5 yards (4.57 metres). Again, Dhoti was mainly made out of cotton and in the colour white. The dhoti was fastened at the back and legs of the men to form something that was similar to pants. Similar to the women, those in the upper class had their Dhoti made in silk.

Regarding accessories, the women wore necklaces, armlet, fillets and finger-rings. They fancied bracelets made out of shells, and also earrings, anklets made of gold and used other various precious stones, shells and bones in their jewellery. 

The men wore turbans which were used not only for functional purposes. They could not cut their hair due to their religion and it was a good way to keep it neat, hence the turban was seen as a highly respectable symbol.



As discussed in class, the Romans deemed pants as barbaric and they would not be pleased to find out that till today, pants are being worn by people all over the world. However, some of the traditional costumes from the past are losing their appeal among the younger generation. With globalization, the younger generation might see such traditional dressing as unfashionable and obsolete in this time and age. Hence, fashion designers should continue to try and incorporate traditional dressing with modern day needs and fashion to prevent a rich part of culture fading into oblivion.


Dressing and Standard of Costume in Ancient Greece

Greece is known throughout the world as a source of beauty, grace and culture. A majority of ideas that we have in politics, religion and philosophy actually came from ancient Greece. Greece has been a place whereby there are a lot of beautiful creations in clothing as well as in the arts since it has such a high value for beauty in form and in the idealizing of character. Greece’s climate is similar to that of Mediterranean countries. During summer, it is normally hot and dry with a clear, cloudless sky. During winter, it is cold and wet and may have some snowfall. It is much cooler in the mountainous region with rain occurring occasionally in the summer months. The rainfall varied greatly from region to region. As such, the dress that the Greeks wear will vary in thickness and also in the number of layers that were worn from season to season.

There is a common misconception among people that all Greek costumes were white in colour. However, that is not true. People might think that way because most of the time the Greek costumes that we see are statues which are usually made of marble, bronze or some other neutral-coloured material. Or even the ones which had colour to them, probably faded by the time they were discovered. In fact, Greek clothings were dyed in a variety of different colours. For instance, the wealthy aristocrats had purple clothes dyed from some species of shellfish.

Greek women made clothes themselves by dying the wool or linen threads and weaved them on a loom so that it becomes a piece of cloth. Besides dyeing their clothes, they also had decorative designs embroidered or woven to their clothes. Greek embroidered patterns (shown below) has been used as one of the most common decorative design for the border of their clothes. However, more complex embroidery involved different themes ranging from animals, fish, birds to complex battle scenes.  In a single garment, the coloured threads for those embroideries seem to be limitless. It can be yellow, violet, indigo, red and purple all in one garment, as mentioned in the book, Home Life in Ancient Greece (p. 17). The pictures below show some examples of embroidered Greek borders on clothing.


Have you ever looked at pictures of Ancient Greeks and wondered – isn’t that just a cloth draped over their body? Well, you are right! Clothes were weaved and sewn together by women into a large rectangular piece of fabric and secured together in place by pins (fibulae) and belting (girdling). That simple piece of fabric was styled in many different ways to suit different occasions and weather.

Regardless of gender, both men and women wore a garment known as a chiton. As stated in the book, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Costume (pp. 39-44, 47-50), the chiton was made up of thick linen or wool. It is worn loosely so that the chiton can drape well. There are two different types of chiton, Doric (also known as peplos) and Ionic. The Doric chiton is a thick woolen cloth more than twice the width of the wearer and has a much longer overpiece. The folded overpiece is a unique feature of the dress and it is fastened on each shoulder using large pins. To ensure that the skirt will have an even length, the wearer must have her arms outstretched horizontally while another person ties the girdle. For men, the chiton were either draped over the left shoulder or on both shoulders. The Ionic chiton on the other hand is fastened on the top edge by a series of small brooches and buttons, made to look like a T-shaped tunic, while the rest of the chiton is sewn up. The Ionic chiton also requires the use of a girdle for tying.

How a cloth is folded to become a Doric chiton


Ionic chiton



As seen in the artifact above, the length of the chiton varied, it was dependent on gender and job. Typically, the length of women's chiton reached their ankles while men had shorter, knee-length chiton. It was more comfortable for men to wear the shorter length chiton, as they were usually the ones outdoors – riding, exercising, hunting or working.  Women who played sports also wore the shorter length chiton.

During cold weather, the Greeks wore a cloak over themselves, an outer garment known as a himation, which was made out of thick wool.


Greek men usually wear the himation on its own (shown in the picture above) or over a chiton, while Greek women usually wore it over their Ionic chiton as the linen is thinner. The men will wrap their himation over their left shoulder, because to bare one’s left shoulder was a sign of being uncivilised. The himation was extremely useful for men as it could also be used as a blanket if they were fighting a war. For women, they would wrap the himation around their body.

The Greeks were usually barefooted. However, they would wear leather sandals or boots if their legs were not bare.