The Byzantine Empire, located between Europe and Asia, existed between the 5th and 12th centuries ad. The capital of Byzantine, constantinople, was considered the richest and largest centre of commerce and fashion of the period which contributed to its influential role in the development of culture, fashion and history. The era witnessed an even higher level of taste and demand for luxury goods than the Roman Empire.
Emperor Justin I and his wife, Theodora, had a refined taste in luxury goods and can be considered as the precursors of the demand for celebrity-style high fashion goods. They emphasized the important role of clothes and appearance as a mark of distinction. Their enhanced taste for luxury and opulence was displayed through their dress style and the lavish nature of the several ceremonies they organized. Empress Theodora was exceptionally stylish and was the first woman to exploit fashion as a source of power. She had an impeccable style and a penchant for clothes made of the most expensive materials such as brocade and silk and adorned with embroideries made of gold and pearls. Her jewellery was also made by the best craftsmen using the rarest and finest gems.
Unlike during the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Emperor and Empress gave each individual the freedom to choose what to wear. This led to women imitating the dress patterns of Empress Theodora with cheaper materials. Dressing and appearance, however, continued to be used as an indicator of wealth and status. Since women's and men's clothes were made with similar materials such as silk and damask, individual style played an important role in differentiation and this encouraged women to be imaginative. Jewellery was also an important accessory and there are also indications of the use of toiletries for grooming in this era.
The Middle Ages between the 5th and 7th centuries, on the other hand, was not an influential period in the development of fashion. Although the fashion of the early period of this era was somewhat influenced by the Byzantine period, the style adopted was mostly hideous. The jewellery, for example, compared to the Byzantine period was pale. The events of the Middle Ages were focused more on the development of national monarchies and political systems than on fashion and society. Furthermore several conflicts between nations, notably between England and France, also distracted the society. This period witnessed the emergence of universities, the construction of cathedrals and churches and the formation of modern Europe which were viewed as sources of national pride.
As the European empires became more established, the distinctive dress styles of the national monarchies also emerged, leading to the creation of national fashion. Other notable developments of this era include the following:
1 England became known for its growing textiles industry.
2 The influence of professional tailoring in France soared to such an extent that by 1300, there were 700 active tailors in Paris.
3 Luxury materials such as silk were heavily imported from Asia whose textile industry was considered to be more advanced than Europe's.
4 The rise of the Italian influence in international fashion became more visible.
Although the fashion industry expanded in this era, the development of fashion style and sophistication remained static. For example, there was no distinction between summer and winter fashion unlike in the Roman Empire. Also men and women wore similar long and floating clothing, covering the whole body, all year round, until the fourteenth century. The social class, however, continued to determine the choice of materials for dressing.
On the other hand, better and meticulous personal hygiene emerged and more attention was paid to personal grooming. Sophisticated toilet and bathroom systems were built and the adoption of the bathing tradition of the Roman era was widespread. Public baths became available in most parts of Europe almost round the clock. The use of cosmetics and make-up also became important especially for women who had a strict code of honour but at the same time were expected to look beautiful for men's admiration. The English invented eye shadow in the 13th century and with it the fad for makeup. The mirror also emerged as an important accessory for both men and women.
National differences and attitudes to beauty and fashion were also visible during this period. For example, the Spanish use of red lipstick, the purple make-up preference of Germans, the adoption of white by the English, and the use of natural colours by Italians were all defined during this period.
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