did Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan women wear? More
than jewels, and we have the artistic depictions to prove it. But the jewels
were surprisingly diverse in their design. Running through October (2007),
an exhibit at Palermo's Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, Moda
Costume Bellezza nel Mondo Antico, gives us a tangible idea of the trends
of ancient fashion. "Trends" may be an exaggeration; the items
in this exhibit span centuries, and historians can't agree on how much certain
styles of dress were influenced by those of other regions. Communication
and trade were slow in those days.
In a more general sense, however, there's no doubt that ideas were exchanged
between Egypt and Greece. Cleopatra's dynasty was Greek, and she visited
Rome. The eastern and central Mediterranean were by no means isolated culturally, even if fashions evolved slowly. The ring
shown here, though Phoenician, shows Egyptian artistic influences.
How did this work? A boutique in Alexandria starts selling a model of
pretty dress that's shipped across the Med for sale in Greece and Italy,
spawning a spate of designer knockoffs? This scenario would not be too far-fetched.
So much is known from artistic representations of these ancient fashions
that costume designers reproduce them faithfully two or three thousand years
after they were first popularised.
But were the fashions popular in various regions ever similar enough
to one another to constitute a genuine Mediterranean trend? Sometimes they
were. More often, since traditional craft industries evolved more slowly
than today's design process, local tastes usually prevailed. Roman fashion
became most popular when the Empire reached its greatest economic and geographic
extent. In effect, it was as Roman provinces (or occupied territories) that
individual regions became assimilated artistically, though a few resisted.
This means that local "fashion shows" did not always reflect the
styles popular in other cities.
Most interesting, perhaps, is the frequency with which neoclassical styles
re-emerge. That's one of the more current conclusions to be drawn from exhibits like this one. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
About the Author: Antonella Gallo, who teaches art in Rome, has written numerous articles on arts and artists for Best of Sicily.