Page 6, 14th February 1936

14th February 1936
Page 6
Page 6, 14th February 1936 — MAN'S EARLIEST SUIT OF CLOTHES

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Organisations: Christian Church
Locations: Collegeville


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By Dom Raymund James, O.S.B.

" In officio Missae, celebrant sem per untie planeta super albam—A1 Mass, the celebrant must always wear the chasuble over the alb " (Missale Romarunt, Rubs, Gen. xix, 1).

I wonder how many there are who realise that • in laying down this basic principle, this minimum quid so to call it, the Church is voicing and preserving a tradition almost as old and as widespread as the human race itself. For from the very earliest times of which we have any record what I may call the standard clothing of mankind has consisted of this two-garment scheme: of an under and an upper garment, distinct yet complementary; in a word, of a tunic and a cloak. "If a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat (tunicam), let go thy cloak (pallium) also unto him "—that is, be prepared to keep nothing back.

Naturally I am far from suggesting that these two garments were the only ones ever contrived or used by man. Others have existed alongside them from the very beginning: some sort of cap or hat, for instance; likewise a primitive shoe, consisting of the skin of some small animal drawn up round the foot with thongs, the ends of which are bound crisscrosswise up the legs, just as one may still see in the Italian mountain villages to-day.

One article of clothing even preceded the tunic and cloak : the loincloth, first and most primitive of all garments, and progenitor of a long line of more or less developed forms, from the sartibala or thulakoi—the word means, literally, " bags "!----of the orientals and the braccae or breeks of the Gauls down to our own ugly and conventional trousers. Though the loincloth, in the form of what we should to-day call " shorts," reached, under the Old Dispensation,, the dignity of a liturgical vestment, it has never found a place among those of the Christian Church, for the Romans, from whose ordinary civil dress our vestments are in the main derived, never adopted it in any form.

The First Question

But all these garments, which might clothe this or that part of a man, we can in our present investigation leave aside, and focus our attention upon those which clothe the man himself, that is, as already stated, the 1 UNIC (with which I include the girdle) and the CLOAK.

The first question we ought to ask ourselves about this dual scheme of clothing—this primitive suit of clothes as it may with complete accuracy be called— is: did it ever have a real existence?

That it did, and that moreover it was regarded by the ancients as a scheme or suit is put beyond doubt by the numerous representations of it in ancient art (Figs. 1 to 4), and references to it as such throughout the works of antiquity. • A complete treatise could be written upon it from the pages of Homer or Herodotus alone; another from those of Holy Writ, Here I give but one or two examples from each.

Homer, describing the actions of one rising from his bed and dressing, says (Odyssey, xv, 60 if, cf. iv, 50, etc.): " the hero hastening put upon his body (literally, upon his flesh, that is, next his skin) a gleaming tunic, and cast a large mantle over his sturdy shoulders." Elsewhere the same author frequently mentions the " suit " or " outfit " as consisting of a tunic and a cloak—so much so, in fact, that sometimes his words give a little the impression of a cliche (Odyssey, xi, 214, x, 542, xiv, .320, xv, 338, etc.).

The Tunic and Cloak Herodotus, likewise, thus describes the dress of the Egyptians: " They wear linen tunics fringed along the bottom, and over these they throw white woollen mantles."

The Old Testament also furnishes us with examples of the " suit." When Michas was trying to persuade the young Levite of Bethlehem to go and live with him as his " private chaplain," one of the

inducements he held out was the yearly gift of a " double suit of apparel "—that is, a suit consisting of the two pieces before mentioned, tunic and cloak.

Coming to comparatively more modern times, we have the reference to the tunic and cloak already quoted from the gospel, and so many allusions in Augustan and post-Augustan writers to the Roman citizen in his tunic and toga that it would be wearisome to cite them. Finally, we have the statement of St. Benedict in his Rule (Ch. Lv): " We think that in temperate climates a cowl (a hooded cloak) and a tunic should suffice for each monk." In this legislation we have an interesting example of a return, in an age of cornpl icated dress and manners, to the standard of primitive simplicity.

Having established the existence of our two-garment scheme of clothing, we must next ask : what gave it rise? What made it desirable or necessary to have precisely

Do. 2. AGAMEMNON. From a Greek sculptured marble pow. (Rich.)—He is wearing the open tunic (which, however, more usually leaves the right shoulder uncovered, not the left as here shown), and the chlaina or mantle over his head

and hanging evenly down his back.

two chief garments, and those of these particular types?

His Earliest Suit

The answer to these questions may be summed-up in just two words: practical utility. The garments themselves, their number and their form, were suggested or even dictated, on the one hand, by the practical needs of the body they were destined to cover, its shape and its FIG. 3. A LIGHT-ARMED ROMAN AUXILIARY SotDIES. From Trajan's Colunztz. (Rich.)—He wears the short tunic and military cloak fastened with a brooch or buckle on the right shoulder. In the picture he is using it as an ammunition


requirements, whether of warmth, hygiene, movement or repose, and on the other, by the nature and exigencies of the actual materials used in their construction. The problem which faced primitive man was simply that of adapting certain limited materials to the service of a certain type of living, moving body.

Primitive man in devising his earliest " suit " showed at once a thorough grasp of the practical problems involved and a true craftsman's appreciation of both the limitations and the possibilities of his materials. The universality of the primitive " suit " and its persistence through so many centuries is a sufficient proof of its success.

" The Lacedaemonian dress," writes Arnold, " consisted principally of two

parts, the chiton and the chlaina. The first was a narrow kind of frock, without sleeves, coming down to the knees; the other was a sort of large square shawl, which wrapped round the left arm, then passed across the back and under the right arm, from whence it was crossed over the breast, and the end finally thrown over the left shoulder " (Fig. 4).

Now the Lacedaemonians, or Spartans, were a people who consciously retained and enforced simple, primitive habits— indeed, they have passed into a proverb on this account. The above description, therefore, gives us a very fair idea of what the earliest forms of cloak and tunic must have been.

The simple child,' or tunic, short, straight-sided and sleeveless (Fig. 1), what was it but a straightforward covering for the trunk, sitting close to it (and often held closer still by a belt or girdle), and allowing unimpeded movement to the arms and legs?

Regarded, too, in itself, from the point of view of its material and construction, could it have been simpler or more satisfactory? Just two lengths of fabric, taken straight from the loom and joined together at the shoulders, or on the left shoulder only—the right shoulder and arms being left entirely uncovered (Fig. 2)—the edges sewn or clasped together at the sides from below the arms or just caught together and held close by the girdle, the raw edge along the bottom hemmed, or, more probably, fringed or knotted into tassels.

Cloak and Blanket If the tunic demanded at least a small amount of needlework on the shoulders and round the neck, the mantle needed nothing more than to he taken from the loom and have the loose ends of its warp-threads combed out and knotted up into a row of tassels, and it was ready for wear.

In shape and general appearance it must have been extremely like a modern travelling rug. In size, too, about the same, though this of course varied somewhat; but as it was intended to cover the whole man, as a cloak by day and a blanket by night, it can hardly as a rule have been smaller than a fair-sized rug.

In the daytime, when it was worn chiefly as a protection against cold and wet—and later, on formal occasions, as part of the full dress—it was draped around the body in some convenient and suitable manner, as is still done by certain African and Indian tribes. One of these ways has already been described for us by Arnold; other and simpler ones also existed (Figs. 1 to 3).

Origin of Vestments It was, in fact, from these different ways of wearing the one plain oblong garment—ways which gradually became more and more stereotyped—that the various later and more complex forms of cloak in time arose; one of these was the chasuble, another the cope, yet another— though in its modern form this seems hardly credible—the pallium.

As to the materials from which the component parts of our primitive suit of clothes were made, the first to be used were the skins of animals.

How early the art of weaving was discovered I cannot say. Surely very early indeed, for the most ancient documents, whether pictorial or written, that have come down to us, exhibit it as already ubiquitous and developed. Moreovd, the earliest tunics and cloaks seem to have owed their very forms in great measure, as already observed, to the exigencies of the loom and the fabrics produced upon it.

Of what actual materials did the ancients make their woven fabrics? The answer, so far as the ancient Mesopotamian and Mediterranean civilisations are concerned (and we need think only of these here), is that two principal ones were used: linen and wool, spun from a distaff and woven on an upright loom. Cotton was also used, chiefly in Egypt, where, then as now, it was a staple product, and silk was not unknown, though it was Flo. 4. AN ORATOR. From an Etruscan bronze statue. (Rich's Dictionary.)—The drawing shows an early form of toga, not so voluminous as it later became and more like the Greek pallium. It is worn draped around the body in the manner usual to those engaged in peaceful pursuits of a not too strenuous nature. All that can be seen of the tunic is a small portion covering the right shoulder and arm.

always regarded as a luxury and had to be imported from the East.

A Man's Linen Now these two fabrics, linen (or cotton) and wool, were not as a rule used promiscuously for tunic and cloak, but linen was regularly used for the tunic and wool for the cloak.

Herein may we again see the influence of practical common sense. Linen, cool and soothing to the skin, easily washed. and doubtless usually left in its natural

colour or bleached, but not dyed, would be the obvious thing from all points of view to use for the tunic, and that it was so used is put beyond doubt by the numerous allusions of ancient authors; so regular, in fact, was this use of linen for the tunic, that Latin writers often refer to the garment itself by the name of the stuff and call it simply the linea or linewn. To this day the custom still survives of referring to a man's " linen," though, apart from pocket-handkerchiefs, it is now probably composed entirely of wool or cotton!

The mantle, on the other hand, which was added to the tunic precisely for the purpose of giving additional warmth to one not actively engaged, or to afford protection from the elements even to one who was, was equally naturally made of wool, the warmest and most weatherproof material then known.

Refined Cruelty

In suhuner-timc, when a mantle was worn at all, it was still of wool, but thin and worn, in winter on the other hand men used thick, close-woven ones, with long or fleecy nap, sometimes even lined or doubled—garments admirably suited to their purpose, but at the same time easily thrown off as soon as they threatened to become an encumbrance to their wearer (Acts vii, 58. Homer, Odyssey, soy, 500; the whole of this passage (457-533) should be read: it strikingly illustrates much of what I have been saying). Indeed, we can readily understand the refined cruelty of the crazy Emperor Caligula who forced elderly and distinguished (and quite possibly portly) senators to nut for miles beside his litter in their togas (Suetonius, Vita Calig., xxv1), the toga of that period being perhaps the most voluminous and cumbersome form of the ancient mantle eve;' devised.

Here, then, we have the picture of a man in the dawn of history. He may or may not have shoes or sandals on his feet; he may or may not have a hat upon his head; but unless he is of a very wild or low condition, he will certainly have upon him a short and probably sleeveless linen tunic, usually drawn in with a belt or girdle at the waist. And over this, unless engaged in active or strenuous work, he will have a brightly-coloured woollen blanket draped about his person in some way at once convenient and graceful.

So attired he is fully dressed, and so attired he is the direct forerunner of the Christian priest who to-day and for all time stands at the altar clad " in the chasuble over the alb."

[The above article somewhat abridged is reprinted by kind permission from Orate Fratres (St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, U.S.A.), wherein it is the first of a series on the dress of the liturgy which began in the November 30 issue.l.

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