HOW PEOPLE STAYED COOL IN HISTORY

Emily Fromant explores how our clothing in the summer months has changed over time.

“People who don’t learn from history are deemed to repeat it.” But what if there was something we could learn from our ancestors? Maybe not their medical practices, but there is some great inspiration for warm weather fashion that we need to explore.

Women throughout history have taken on the sun in style. Whether it’s petticoats, floating sundresses, or the bohemian surge of the 1960s, there is some great fashion artistry throughout the decades that we simply can’t ignore.

VICTORIAN WOMEN WORE EIGHT LAYERS

We know from famous Victorian paintings that women’s fashion changed very little in the warmer months. Despite the scorching weather, Victorian ladies stayed in their complex outfits. This included various layers of petticoats, drawers, and bodices.

So how did these women manage to survive the blistering warmth of summer? It was the fabric of the clothing itself. A breathable, light material that helped these women to keep cool. The fabric used was natural – cotton and linen. Thin  fabrics breathe and keep you cool in the heat.

Outside of the breathable clothing, there was also a handy accessory to help women avoid the heat. Fans were popular during this time. They were made from lace, pearl, or bamboo. They allowed women to keep societal decorum, but also a small release from the warm weather.

There were also punkhas found in many Victorian kitchens and homes. A form of fans popularised in the sixth century, they were usually manned by a servant or slave.

THE RESORT WEAR

Moving forward to the 1920s, this was the first time a distinct summer fashion began to emerge. Inspired by wealthy socialites and actresses who began to travel to warmer climates, resort wear was born.

Holidaying in many exotic locations became popular during the 19th Century, and so did loose dresses, linen trousers, and swimsuits. Resort wear was breathable and easy to wear, keeping the wealthy socialites cool during the new exotic climate. The shorts and matching tops, coupled with the bright bikinis were a perfect way to avoid overheating in style.

This fashion became synonymous with luxury and freedom. Women were inspired by their favourite celebrities, and shorts and boaters became a part of many wardrobes.

THE SUNDRESS

Despite the new love for a looser, flowing clothing, the sundress wasn’t popular until the 1950s. There was a huge boom in fashion in the 50s, spurred by post-war emotion. This meant the more positive, bright sundress was a perfect choice.

The frivolous aspect of the dress was also welcomed. Many of these women has become more independent during World War II and felt they wanted to express themselves more freely.

Lilly Putlitzer was a designer that was incredibly popular during this 1950s boom. Her brightly coloured sundresses were a perfect fit for the post-war woman. The less constricting style allowed more cool air to reach the body, helping to avoid the hot temperatures of the summer. Furthermore, the lighter colours of the fabric assisted in absorbing less of the sun’s rays.

Putlitzer’s clothing was also helped by celebrity clients. Much like resort wear, many women were inspired by famous women sporting these new sundresses. Prominent women such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Caroline Kennedy wore Putlizer’s designs.

THE 1960S BOHEMIAN

The summer of 1967 caused a cultural shift throughout society. Deemed the Summer of Love, it marked the beginning of a cultural movement. Young people were inspired to reject more conservative opinions and views, wanting a more open and liberal future.

Inspired by this search for freedom, a lot of the clothing began to be looser and more experimental. To fit the less conservative look, women opted for relaxed fits and flowing dresses. This looser clothing style helped the youth stay cool during their many protests.

Due to the growing liberal attitudes, many women began to explore androgynous clothing. Many of these free-love women often wore men’s shirts, jeans, and jackets. This also meant women experimented more with more revealing clothing. A popular look at the time was the exposed midriff. Not only did the look showcase more liberal views, but it also kept women cooler in the summer sun.

Many people debate surrounding the political change of the 1960s free love movement. Whilst its ideological impact may have been small, there is no denying that its cultural change was immense. Not only did the clothing keep young people cool, but it was also a huge metaphor for the cultural revolution that was happening at the time.

Whilst it’s clear the way we have stayed cool has changed over the decades, women’s desire for experimentation has not. Throughout time clothing has constantly reflected our societies changing attitudes towards politics, war, and feminism. Our warmer clothes have become less conservative, changing from the layers and layers of petticoats to the androgynous style of the 60s. Whilst our warm weather fashion is important in a practical sense, it is also clear that as our society changes and adapts, our clothing won’t be far behind.

You can read more of Emily’s work on Instagram by following @emily._jf

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