Clothing around 5,000 BC

The Globe




Southwest Asia

 ...a decrease in hide-working tools was matched by an increase in spindle whorls, suggesting, with the cultivation of flax, that the skins of wild animals were now being replaced by woven cloth. (Plato Prehistorian)

…knowing that the gods created man to die they endeavoured to enjoy life to the fullest extent. To eat one's fill, to make every day a day of pleasure, to dance and sing by day and by night, to wash the head and body and to wear clean apparel were the aim of most people. And the doctrines of the priests encouraged men to enjoy life to the full, for their descriptions of the Underworld were terrifying indeed. (Babylonian Life and History)

The dress of noblemen, priests, and high officials was comparatively simple, but it varied in quantity and thickness with the climate of the part of Babylonia in which they lived. In Sumerian times many people in the south went almost naked. Field labourers, fishermen, diggers, and cleaners of canals wore nothing at all, except a string tied round the loins. Men of the upper classes wore a sort of fringed tunic. Working women wore a narrow band round the loins; those of the upper classes wrapped themselves in a kind of shawl, but always left the right breast uncovered. Sandals and shoes, pointed and turned up at the toes, were worn by both men and women, and the men wore close-fitting caps, of the shape which resembled the turbans of later days. As time went on men began to wear long cloaks and capes, and sleeved garments were adopted by both men and women. Still later they wore a tunic or shirt next to the skin, and over this a second tunic with a belt, and a covering for the head and shoulders. The head-cloth worn by a woman was larger than that of a man, so that it might cover her face when she was in any public place or walking in the streets; both her head-cloth and her cloak were ornamented with decorated borders or fringes. The woman who went about unveiled was held in light esteem. In the temples and in their houses men went barefooted. The colour of the outer garments was of a somber character, black, blackish brown or blue-black being the commonest; the innermost garment, which in later times was made of linen, was undyed and was probably cream-coloured. The apparel worn on high days and holy days was white. The well-to-do Babylonian, like all Orientals, loved a change of apparel, and enjoyed sitting in a clean place. His religion demanded cleanliness of person, and no man would dare to make supplication to his god in a dirty state or wearing dirty garments. The climate necessitated frequent ablutions, and when a man went dirty or wore filthy garments by choice his neighbours knew that he was in trouble or suffering mentally and physically. The custom of appearing before the god naked shows how difficult it was for a man to keep himself ceremonially clean. Originally the Sumerians, like the Semites, wore beards and did not shave the head, but at the time when the monuments we have were made they shaved both head and face. The women kept their hair, which they either wore loose and falling down over the shoulders, or twisted up in a knot, which rested on the back of the neck and was held in position by a bandlet. The Akkadians (Semites) gloried in their hair and beards, which they regarded as symbols of free men; some of them wore pointed or "squared" beards, like the early Egyptians, and some wore side-whiskers with them. (Babylonian Life and History)

Next to ablutions and clean apparel for personal comfort and a feeling of wellbeing, the Babylonian required anointing with perfumed oils and unguents. The perfume of flowers or the odour of sweet incense was absolutely necessary for him, and a censer with incense to burn in it was found in most houses. The heat and glare compelled him to use eye-paint, and it is certain that his women employed both that and scented pomades and salves, not only to soften their skins and remove the ill-effects of sunburn and scorching winds, but to enhance their beauty. The house of every well-to-do man had a room set apart for ablutions--in fact, a sort of bathroom, containing a large flat vessel which served as the bath. A cleansing preparation made of oil and potash was used as soap, and it seems that in some parts of Mesopotamia the use of depilatories was not unknown. (Babylonian Life and History)



Indus Valley

Like other early agriculturalists around the world, the early farming peoples of southern Asia solved the problem of clothing by domesticating a plant for fiber, specifically, cotton. Just as linen and wool were the staple textiles in Egypt and Mesopotamia, respectively cotton became the primary source of cloth for South Asia—as it did in Peru and elsewhere. Textiles are by no means the invention only of agriculturalists, however: various hunter-foragers around the world wove natural plant fibers into clothing. The growing populations of early farming cultures, however, and the need for seasonally adaptable and cheap clothing seems to have resulted in the domestication of a plant that could be grown intensively and easily converted to textiles. Cotton was probably domesticated in several areas of southern Asia between about 7000 and 5000 BC, but the evidence of precisely when and where this occurred is unclear. (Patterns in Prehistory)





South America




North America

Between 9,000 and 2,500 years ago Desert West cultures worked out a marvelous array of subsistence technologies and strategies, and the aridity of the environment has preserved artifacts so well that we can reconstruct their way of life in considerable detail. Scraps of fur clothing have been found, as well as moccasins and woven sandals. (Patterns in Prehistory)