Did you know?

It’s all a matter of etymology: the origin of names in fashion

Italiano (Italian)

Translation by Marina Dlacic 

We know the name of each item of clothing, the tailoring of each garment, the trends of the fashion houses, the merchandise peculiarities of the yarns etc … But have you ever wondered the origin of the meaning of the word attributed to a dress? such as “pants”, “headgear”, “tunic”?

Did you know that…

  1. The word indumenta was used in Roman times to indicate, precisely, the garments that were worn by slipping them over the head; otherwise amictus were those that enveloped the body, therefore: the tunic, the tunica interior, the bracae, the toga, the lucema or
  2. The belt, an element still used today in clothing as an accessory, was born in ancient times. The term derives from the Latin cingulum, ornament with a civil meaning made of leather or textile fiber depending on the uses and possibilities.
    In ancient cultures, those who did not wear a girdled tunic were the object of scandal or derision; being naked, in fact, was the prerogative of prostitutes or unfortunates. In the military field, the cingulum was specifically called  cingulum militare or more properly balteus due to the fact that it was used to support objects such as the gladius (literally “sword”) or the pugio (knife-dagger).
    As for women’s fashion, however, the presence of the belt worn over the tunic and stole and placed under the breast, indicated the status of married woman and was removed only during pregnancy to be given to the goddesses who consented to a good birth. “Pregnant” derives, in fact, from the Latin incincta, or non cincta allusion to the fact of not wearing a belt.
  3. Under their domestic clothes and during sports activities, the women of ancient Rome wore a band of rectangular fabric passing between the legs and stopped with laces on the hips. We are talking about “mutande ”(underwear), both women’s and men’s clothing, whose meaning derives from the Latin gerund, mutandae, or “to change”.

Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1702, Museo del Luovre, Paris. By Hyacinthe Rigaud – wartburg.edu [broken link], Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=482613

The pursuit of wearing clothes is among the activities that can be considered “universal” and distinctive of the human being. The term related to the way of dressing and therefore to the concept of fashion and costume arises only in part from the need to protect the body for survival. Generally, industry historians identify additional functions linked to this behavior, each defined by different criteria; the dress, in fact, also has a spiritual and aesthetic value.Hence the use of clothing as an index of status and social role, as well as personal prestige. In this context, temporary or permanent decorations of the body can also be included, such as, for example, accessories, jewelry and tattoos, the conceptualization of which leads to the need to appear and the need to stand out.

Originally the term “clothing” simply indicated the “way” to dress and wear; over time, the main meaning has evolved to indicate “the set of what you need to wear”.

Let us dwell on the cultural and social significance of some parts of clothing, starting from the beginnings, from the functions handed down and condensed within the shape of a garment.

The tie in history: on the right a detail of the film scene taken from the film “The Gospel according to Matthew” by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964)

Did you know that…

  1. The forerunner of today’s trousers, called calzabraca, was born in medieval times; it was an exclusively male garment, supported by laces to a kilt that hung from the belt, it was composed of two elements (one for each leg) divided in the middle. Calzebraghe could be worn with shoes or have a sole incorporated into the fabric.
  2. The tie, a characteristic accessory of men’s clothing and some variations of women’s clothing, was born in 1700 in France during the reign of Louis XIV, better known as the Sun King, thanks to the impetus it gave to the fashion economy. Specifically, the evolution of the shirt collar, imposed by the use of wearing long hair led to the definition of the tie which consisted of a strip of fabric knotted around the neck whose longer end hung over the chest. The word derives from the French cravate, adopted from the Croatian hrvat which means “Croatian”. In fact, the Croatian knights hired by Louis XIV wore around their neck a scarf initially called “Croatian scarf”. In 1661, the Sun King even established the office of tie maker of the king, a gentleman who was assigned the task of helping the sovereign to tie and embellish the knot of the tie.
  3. The jacket, initially called giustacuore (jerkin) and then marsina (tailcoat from the name of the Belgian count Jean de Marsin, commander of the Spanish troops in Flanders) was originally – in eighteenth-century France – the exclusive prerogative of men’s fashion. The tailcoat was characterized by large pockets with opening profiled by shaped flaps and decorated with buttons (first functional and later only decorative). The long sleeves but with cuffs of varying width were exaggeratedly large at the beginning of the century, later their size decreased, until they disappeared completely in the 1880s. The three buttons used to fasten the cuffs were transformed into a decorative element as evidenced by the shape of modern jackets.


S. Piccolo Paci, Let’s talk about fashion, vols. 3, Cappelli publisher, Bologna, 2004

A. Fukai, From the Kyoto Costume Institute Collection. Fashion. History from the 18th to the 20th century, Taschen, Cologne, 2003.

Great Encyclopedia De Agostini, vol. 1, Novara, 1992







We thank Dr. Barbara D’Attoma for the interesting insights provided during the History of Fashion and Costume Course at the Regional School for the Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, Enaip Lombardia Foundation in Botticino (Bs).

Elisa Monfasani

English version Fin dai primi anni mostra una certa propensione per il campo dell’arte, diplomandosi in Arti Figurative al Liceo Artistico “Bruno Cassinari” di Piacenza. La passione per l’arte tessile antica e contemporanea derivano dalla sua formazione come Restauratore di Materiali e Manufatti Tessili e in Pelle. In parallelo all’attività del restauro, da settembre 2020, è Amministratore ed Editor Social Media del profilo “Festina Lente Studio”, dove insieme alla collega Emanuela Fistos, si occupa di divulgare la conoscenza dell’arte tessile. Di recente, è entrata a far parte della redazione del sito web “Storie Parallele”, nato nel 2019 come strumento didattico e divulgativo della storia e dell’archeologia. La sua mission in ArteMorbida è quella di portare la “matericità” degli oggetti d’arte a contatto con il lettore; l’osservazione del “micro”, degli aspetti merceologici dei manufatti tessili, sono, infatti, fondamentali per accede al “macro”, alla comprensione dell’opera d’arte nella sua totalità.