episode #96 fashion of the Middle East and Byzantine

The style of costume worn throughout the Middle East has been remarkably constant for centuries. This is partly because it has evolved according to the dictate of the climate, serving as a protection against heat, dust, and sunshine. A number of the traditional garments were originally derived from ancient cultures in the region, particularly from Persia (Iran) and farther east in India, Mongolia, and Asian Russia. The chief garments worn at that time were a loose shirt, chemise, or robe; a draped cloak; wide, baggy trousers; and a head cloth or turban. Similar versions of these may still be seen on the streets of Cairo, Istanbul, or Damascus. The loose, baggy trousers traditional to the Middle East, as well as to the Balkans and Anatolia, are still widely worn by both sexes. The garment is believed to have originated in Persia, and it is presumed that the Arabs saw it there when they invaded that country in the 7th century. The trousers, called chalvar, chalwar, or ṣalvar according to the country where they were worn, measured about 3 yards (2.75 metres) across at the waist and were drawn tight by cords. The tradition for women to cover themselves from head to toe and veil their faces when they go out in public is an old one, predating Islam in Persia, Syria, and Anatolia. The Qurʾān provides instructions giving guidance on this matter but not a strict ruling. However, some modern regimes have insisted on the strict veiling of women in public.

The Byzantine costume tradition took its form from the Roman Empire (27 BCE – 476 CE) and its colour and decorative tradition from the Orient and the Middle East. The Roman roots are easy to understand. After all, the Byzantine Empire began in the fourth century CE as the Eastern Roman Empire; its capital, Constantinople, was for a short time the capital of the entire Roman Empire. From the Romans the Byzantines inherited their basic clothing forms, the tunic and toga for men, and the stola, a type of long dress, for women, as well as their shoes and their hairstyles. Unlike the Romans, the Byzantines tended to be very modest about any display of flesh. Their garments were worn close about the neck, sleeves extended all the way to the wrist, and the hemline, or bottom edge, of their outer garments extended all the way to the ground.

During Justinian’s reign, Byzantine textile manufacturers produced beautiful, glamorous fabrics, mainly of silk interwoven with gold and silver metallic threads and interspersed with pearls and jewelled embroideries.

For both men and women a more fitted, sewn tunic, cinched at the waist by a richly decorated wide belt and hanging straight to knee or ankle, replaced the Roman draped tunica. A rich, deep decorative collar, like the preceding Egyptian and Etruscan versions, covered the shoulders. The influence of the Christian church could be seen in the fact that the limbs were generally covered by long, usually fitted sleeves and cloth or silken hose.

Byzantine dress strongly influenced that of eastern Europe, especially the Balkans and Russia. Some of the be jewelled silk formal garments were gradually adopted by the church to become vestments in the Middle Ages.


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A community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight (the night between Saturday and Sunday) on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.