As we enter the new year of 2017, the fashion industry has grown substantially since the inception of fabrics and clothing ourselves in them. Today, we are surrounded by what seems like a countless amount of fabrics from natural to synthetic and an array of blends and combinations. However, one specific aspect that has stayed relevant to it’s origin is the hierarchy of fabrics. Thousands of years later, the cornerstone fabrics that birthed the concept of clothing still remain leading the pack. Let us take a look at the The History of The Most Luxurious Fabrics.
The best way to begin is to become familiar with the the five fabrics that started it all. You may be thinking, how can there only be five different types of fabrics? Think of the fabric industry as an umbrella and it is with these five fabrics that all other fabrics are created and morphed from. The five fabrics are silk, cotton, linen, wool and worsted. The fabrics we are going to shed light on today, as they stand as the most luxurious out of all the makes, are wool, linen and silk.
Wool immersed during the Stone Age about 10,000 years ago. Primitive man living in the Mesopotamian Plain used sheep for three basic human needs: food, clothing and shelter. It was in Babylon that wool began it’s journey to the top. It was when man learned to weave and sew that the fabric of wool became one of the riches of society. When the Persians, Romans and Greeks distributed both sheep and wool throughout Europe, between the time of 3000 and 1000 BC, they continued to strengthen the creation and improve breeds. One of the first wool plants was created by the Romans in approximately 50 AD in Winchester, England.
Wool’s rich aesthetic and status actually ended up financing the voyages of Columbus and the Conquistadores, as Spain dominated in the wool trade. In fact, Spain took the wealth of wool so seriously, the country levied the death penalty on anyone exporting sheep until 1786. Although King George III of England once made wool trading in the Colonies a punishable offense, the wool industry inevitably flourished in America. Famous presidents like Washington and Jefferson were actually inaugurated in woolen suits. America gave birth to new inventions like The Spinning Jenny. This contraption combined machines and water-powered looms to create a process that single-handedly propelled the wool industry.
What are the most popular ways society today still embraces the wool fabric? Besides blankets and throws, which wool is still the leading material used for these, the clothing industry embraces wool for pieces like sweaters, scarves and hats. Because wool offers such warmth, it is often related to articles of clothing used during the Winter and colder seasons.
In man’s earliest primitive state, he lived on surrounding animals’ for not only food, but their skin for clothing. As mentioned above, the driving of sheep across the lands of Eastern Europe during the great migrations made way for the wool from those flocks of sheep to be used for clothes. It was once a more civilized and settled down mankind came about that Linen emerged. Once man began to build permanent cities and begin to cultivate the land, they discovered flax. The soil of their lands housed flax plants which made their soil contain a specific fiber from flax in which linen is made from. In fact, linen is the earliest known vegetable fabric to be woven.
Linen was also in demand for other uses other than clothing, such as in Egypt the people made sails out of coarse linen. However, the very fine linen was used for expensive tunics. Linen also gained popularity because of it’s soft and comfortable wear. In fact, people were still wearing wool to keep warm, since linen was too thin to offer enough warmth, but people began to wear their linen underneath the wool which could sometimes be rough and itchy. This continued to be so common that “linen” gained a connotation like underwear. In fact, the word lingerie‘s origin is directly related to the word linen. Linen’s righteous and luxurious reputation remains even thousands of year later. One reason for the fabric’s longevity can be it’s closely knit history interwoven in Bible stories. Linen has always been held in reference as an emblem of purity and it is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament.
How does linen fit into today’s society? Linen is one of the most versatile fabrics in the world today. It leads the way in lifestyle uses such as home decor like draperies, bedding and upholstery. However, linen is still extremely prevalent in the fashion industry and can even be considered a representing fabric of warm seasons like Spring and Summer. Today, you can find linen being made into pants, suits and dresses. It is also the original fabric of the guayabera, a renown style of shirt made historically famous by the Cubans. This style of linen shirt dates back hundreds of years. Because linen is made from the flax plant, it needs attentive nurturing to produce the relatively long fibers. These long fibers make the yarn used to weave the linen and because of their extended length, the creation process is more difficult than, for example, a fabric like cotton. Therefore, making linen a luxurious and more expensive fabric.
The origin of silk is widely believed to date back to approximately 3000BC. Many believe a Chinese emperor’s wife named Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih was the one that discovered the rearing of silk worms and invented the loom. The legend goes that one day while the empress was sipping tea under a tree, a cocoon fell into her cup and began to unravel. The empress became so enamored with the shimmering threads, she discovered their source, the Bombyx mori silkworm found in the white mulberry tree. The rest is history…at least so the legend says.
Silk originated as a fabric offered exclusively by the emperor, his close relatives and important dignitaries and officials. Because the Chinese realized the unique beauty of silk, they knew they had found something novel and that the rest of the world had yet to discover. They closely guarded their secret of silk and the method of production, which is called sericulture, for over 30 centuries. It was not until about CE 300 that sericulture had spread into India, Japan, and Persia.
In the 19th century there was a rapid industrialization of European silk-producing countries, in particularly France. This fueled the transfer of agricultural labor to the cities and towns which opened the doors to diseases that affected the silkworm. The labor transfer made silk-rearing a less reliable source of income. And so the first man-made fibers were beginning to make their way into the markets that were traditionally reserved for silk. However, in the beginning of the 20th Century, although the European sericulture continued to decline, the silk industry preserved and maintained a strong position through its technical innovations which included the development of silk blends. Today, around 125,000 metric tons of silk are produced in the world. Almost two thirds of that production takes place in China.