Article by: Coletta Daniel
This evening I was standing at my kitchen sink, washing dishes and mulling over "life in general". "Mulling" is something I often do when busy at a task so mesmerizing that it takes absolutely no thought what-so-ever. Let it be known that I havecome up with some of my most THRILLING ideas while involved in such meditative chores as washing the dinner dishes. I am certain that this process is just about the same for most of us of a "genius" mental caliber. But enough about my stature as an intellectual...let me share with you the thoughts that were mulling around in my extra-brilliant brain...once upon a dish-washing eve.
I was thinking about the topic of my website, "Costumes", and considering what a very OLD form of entertainment it is. From that thought, I somehow got to an idea that I should write an article about the "History of Costuming". It would be something that I could add to my web site...and it may even be an interesting read for anyone passing through.
That thought in mind, I headed from my kitchen sink to my computer....carrying with me the dumb-struck realization that I have not got a CLUE from where "Costumes" originated....or even WHEN in all actuality. THIS may not be as easy as I had first thought ...while standing at the sink in that mindlessly whimsical state when I am pretty sure that I AM, at LEAST, as smart as the average bear....and hopefully quite as capable. So now, as I began to research the topic a bit...I soon realized that it may not be a topic explainable "briefly" in an "article"...but that to cover the History of Costumes, and do it any justice at ALL, I would need to be willing to write a BOOK! A book WHICH, I might add, has already been written...and many more than ONE. NOT that writing a BOOK is something that I would ever even attempt. However I was NOT quite ready to abandon my original plan completely.
I continued to do some research on the Topic of Costume History and as far back as I could discover actual "Costuming" [COSTUMING as in.."Dressing as someone or something other than whom or what you are, either for the purpose of entertainment or for the purpose of fooling someone (or something) as being dressed in a "disguise" or "incognito".] documentation....was back to the days of the early Greeks and Romans. In Ancient Rome, Plays were put on during the time of the, more violent, Gladiator games. Male Slaves were the actors on the stage and they played all roles, even that of a female. This, as you may guess, was something requiring costuming. It was a time that a Slave was allowed to dress as a King. Bitter-sweet fun for the slaves no doubt, as they knew it was only "pretend" and only for a little while.
The part of the costumes that were most notable were the masks. They were made with cheek supports and had special chambers in them that acted as amplifiers to carry a voice. The wigs and clothing were, what we may refer to as, "color-coded" so that each player's character could be identified by gender as well as age. For instance, the actors portraying young men wore brightly colored costumes....while the actors playing older men wore only white. An actor in a red wig was playing a Slave..and of course an actor in "woman's" wig...was portraying a female.
I suppose I should say that Rome...or at least that TIMES of Ancient Rome, are the days in history that actually NOTE "Costumes" as an actual piece of Equipment, or Clothing, or Necessity to Entertainment. There was also the entertainment of Circus and Dance, all made popular and most enjoyable due to the brightly colored costumes of the Belly Dancers of old Egypt and the Jesters and/or Clowns up to the Medieval/Renaissance days. Now...I could go on sharing what I learned in my research about "costumes" worn by "players" for the purpose of entertainment and the times set forth in books when the apparel was actually NAMED "Costumes". However, being the "thinking" person that I am, I must, in all fairness, give equal time to all of the Costuming occasions that likely came into play since the BEGINNING of man.
If you believe there were "Ancient Tribes or Clans of Man" then you may agree to the possibility of a man attempting to cheer an unhappy child. The Tribesman moves to a darkened portion of his dwelling and when he again comes out into the light he has rubbed red berry juice on his face and has a half of a gourd on top of his head. He has removed his own hide clothing and is wearing the child's mothers reed skirt. In his beard and hair he has stuck feathers from the mornings breakfast bird. As he comes to pose in front of the now GRINNING child he thinks, "Wow! COOL COSTUME! Ü ". or...."Eeeek! Oooga Boooga! Ü" ...whichever the case may be. Ü Sticking with the same tribe, we know that the hunters of a clan often wrap themselves in the hides of their prey, and sometimes even put antlers atop their heads, all the better to slip close to the game that will soon be roasting upon their evening fire. They do this partly to mask the human smell, that much is true, but they do it also as a "disguise"...To blend in and be mistakenly recognized as one of the herd. Whether the "herd" believes it is questionable..But our Hunters DO put on a good show and give their BEST effort..We will wish their hunt a successful one as they are so deserving. And as the Tribesman is toting home the dinner deer...he is thinking, "THIS best way to hunt food. Incognito. COOL COSTUME! Ü" or "Oooga Boooga! Ü" which works for me also!. Ü
We know that some time early on Man began worshiping Gods and fearing (or some worshiping) Demons. Costumed, fierce dancing was often a part of a worshipping ceremony. Mean and ugly masks and wild costumes were worn to scare away unwanted devils and demons. By the same token scary costumes and fierce masks or Face Paint (later known as "War Paint"...then "Make-up" Ü) were worn to scare the enemy during War times amongst tribes also. It is a well known fact that Clans stole women from each other...Not only as a sign of power...but also to bring new bloodlines into the Clan. I have to think (as the thinking person that I am) that there were some times when a male or two posed/dressed as a female of their clan to dupe a male of the opposite clan into approaching "her" with the intention of carrying her off to join him in his cave. Once this poor fool approached the cross-dressed MAN..the trap was sprung and the proposed kidnapper soon became a prisoner or worse. The Kidnapper was caught due to good Costumry I'd say. Was Ancient man capable of such devious planning? I think they grew to be great problem solvers and to use what was at their disposal. Costumes certainly were a great tool for the times don't you think?
Just as it is today, I believe that in each Crowd, or Tribe or Clan, there had to be a funnyman (or woman)...a person who stood out and made us laugh. I'd just bet that there were occasions when this guy(or gal) would put on a mask and some strange form of clothing and go running through the camp, acting as crazy as could be...just begging for smiles or laughs..and likely succeeding very well. These ideas come to me NOT because I read about them, but simply because, in my humble opinion, they are things that HAD to have happened as a natural progression to get us to where we are today in our world...and for the sake of this article...the World of Costumes.
COSTUMING, it would seem, (and please remember that this is NOT absolute fact, but my personal and most humble opinion..) MUST have began with FIRST man.
Although first man was not, by any means, a brainiac, he WAS capable of "thought" on an ever-developing,onward and upward scale. Out of his need to survive, he developed "problem-solving" skills..which, as I illustrated above, could have involved "cos tumes" as a tool in many cases. With growing self-awareness comes "Imagination", a "Sense of Humor", AND, I think, a need for FUN. ...Maybe better described as "Happiness". I believe that Costuming played a part in all of these things....Just as it took all of these things to create the IDEA of Costuming.
It just occurred to me that I have an Idea for a Costume. We've all seen the typical "Caveman" costumes at our yearly Halloween Party or Mardi Gras Parade. I think that the next Caveman Costume should have some added flairs. Be that Caveman who's the funnyman of his Tribe. If you are a CaveMAN, for example, try doing a "cross-dressing" routine. Dress up as a Caveman pretending to be a CaveWOMAN. Or...If that idea has too many moral under or over-tones for you...Maybe you can dress-up as a Caveman who is also the "Witch Doctor", which I forgot to mention above, but who's costumes would have been pretty awesome too. Thank you for mulling this subject through with me. I think that we can safely say that "Costuming" is another one of those things that lived and was a very important, functional, part of our history well before it had a name. ... Kind of like "Rotisserie Chicken" and "Fur Coats".
I believe that I can also safely say that my kitchen sink "mulling" session is once more a success as I've managed to work a spark of a thought into a flame of an idea that YOU might understand and perhaps agree with even though these writings aren't, for the most part, based on any "factual" materials I have read. Most of this is, as stated above, My Humble Opinion, to which you may agree or not agree as is your choice. In either case though I hope this has been an enjoyable read for you, as it HAS been an enjoyable "write" for me. I wish you Happy Costuming wherever and whenever you roam.
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