Across vast swathes of the world, many of us — arguably too many of us — have grown accustomed to putting on little more than a T‑shirt and jeans every morning, regardless of our status in society. We all know it wasn’t always this way, but we may not fully understand just how much it wasn’t always this way. Throughout most of civilized human history, dressing didn’t just reflect one’s way of life, it practically constituted a way of life in itself. Thanks to Youtube channel Crow’s Eye Productions, we here in the twenty-first century can enjoy detailed, even cinematic re-creations of the dressing process in various eras and places the West, from Roman Britain to Renaissance Florence to 1969 London.
You can watch all 35 of these dressing videos in chronological order with this playlist. Many of the dressers, including such august personages as Prince Albert and Queen Victoria (on Christmas Day, no less), occupy elevated social positions.
But the maids and gardeners of the Victorian era had to get dressed too, and though their clothing may be simpler than that worn by the royals — or even by the middle class — it’s no less revealing of history. One could no doubt tell an even richer story of technological, economic, and cultural change over the centuries through the clothing of “the masses” than through the clothing of the elites.
Even war, that most traditional historical subject of all, has its connections with dress. This playlist features three videos on the dressing routines of soldiers, nurses, and young women during the First World War, as well as one on the members of the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War. Established in 1917, the WLA organized “Land Girls” to take over the agricultural work while the men who’d been doing it were out fighting on the front.
This was just the kind of effort necessitated by total war, as well as one that could only have been performed by women. It’s also, therefore, engagingly approachable by a series like this, with its primary focus on women’s dress — which, at least since the Great Male Renunciation, has had a pretty spectacular history of its own.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.