The wearing of folk costume is on the decline in many countries

The wearing of folk costume is on the decline in many countries, and this is effort to record, before too late, what remains of so charming a custom. A feeling of sentiment for the old and an appreciation of the artistic has prompted some educators to revise the usage and persuade some of their provincial groups not to discard regional costume.

The dress of the peasant has of necessity always differed from that worn by his betters because of his work and the need of strong fiber in his clothes to withstand hard wear. And even where he able to afford good cloth, he was prohibited from wearing it by sumptuary decrees which not only banned the use of fine fabric but the use of beautiful color as well. Too, he was limited in dyes and compelled to use earth colors which furnished the prevalent gray, brown and dull green. Of simplest design and fashioned of coarse homespun, dress proclaimed the peasant’s status in society.

Sumptuary laws against extravagant raiment date back to Bible times, were common in ancient Greece and Rome and so strictly enforced in the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe that penalties in fines were imposed upon those who disobeyed. This was the case even in the American Colonies later.

The 16th century witnessed the passing of the Medieval feudal order along with its moralists and reformers. Part of the religious zeal of these latter was directed against the extreme Italian fashions of the period, demanding instead neutral colors, plain cloth and a specific form dress for each class, nobility, the middle class and the peasantry. It was contended that an individual’s class should be apparent in his dress.

A study of regional dress reveals the tendency towards creating a national look which can be noted especially in Italian, German and Protestant Central Europe. Unique design was the result of living in a village hemmed in by mountains and far from a travelled road. Costumes were not always uniform in style and color, the maker and wear often adding a bit of her own creativeness to the work. In general, however, there was enough similarity in the dress of a given village to tell an outsider the wearer’s home and social status. One notes that the maiden was distinguishable from the matron and that a Protestant would be known from a Catholic.

Such is the story of folk dress in the western world but there is also the story of Eastern, Oriental and African dress, of beautifully woven lengths of cloth draped around body. Still the national dress of various countries with temperate weather, it is simple and artistic but impractical. Of cloth of grass, cotton, linen and wool, it is usually a handwoven, straight length of uncut fabric that must be arranged about the figure with each wearing. In this style of costume, the ancient Greeks and Romans perfected the art of drapery for all time.

Though regional dress is worn in many lands and islands, modern machinery is slowly pushing it to one side. In this 20th century the world is becoming politically, commercially and socially quite closely knit, with people adopting better ways of doing things from each other. Machine-made cloth is more durable and at the same time makes a better garb for working in the field. More suitable to farming, or in general for factory work, are the western machine-sewn denim jacket, breeches and overalls. But, as one sighs again, efficiency dispenses with artistry.

Africa, the second largest continent in the eastern hemisphere, forms the south-western extension of Asia to which it is attached by the Isthmus of Suez. Climate and soil have caused the various populations to be unevenly distributed. Native religions and the power of fetishism are followed by more than half of the inhabitants, the reminder being devotees of Mohammedanism, the most important faith of the continent. A beneficent effect upon the natives has been that of Islam upon heathendom. Christianity has taken a hold, a Christian state being Ethiopia. Africa of the 20th and early, 21st century has become the scene of nationalist aspirations with the Negroes of today demanding racial equality with the whites.

A woman of the Maasai in Tanzania is coiffed with shaved head and wire fillet. Her costume of brown goatskins is not unlike a modern Paris creation. All her “jewelry,” anklets, armlets, necklaces and fillets, some threaded with beads, are of copper or iron wire and her ears are slashed, not pierced, to hold her earrings.

Native of Zanzibar, Tanzania, a Mohammedan sheik in a striking Aba, White cloth with wider border, probably in variety of color. Under it, he wears the tobe, a white cotton shirt reaching to the ankles; a usually draped white cotton turban, white socks and western style leather shoes.

A young Wagogo in Tanzania wears his hair long while the young women crop theirs closely. The tiny pigtails are plastered with red ochre which, combined with the dark skin, gives a wig-like effect. Slashed ears hold the beaded wire earrings.

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