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Historical Background of Mesopotamian Clothing and Accessories

Historical Background of Mesopotamian Fashion Clothing and Accessories

Jahanara Akter
Lecturer, KCC Womens College,
Khulna, Bangladesh


Between 3000 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E. the civilizations thriving  in Mesopotamia, a large region centered between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern-day Iraq, laid the foundation for customs that would dominate later European culture. Though many different societies emerged and organized cities, states, and empires in Mesopotamia, historians study these cultures together becausethey lived near each other and had many similarities. The main civilizations were the Sumerians (3000–2000 B.C.E.), the Akkadians (2350–2218 B.C.E.), the Babylonians (1894–1595 B.C.E.), the Assyrians (1380–612 B.C.E.), and the Persians (550–330 B.C.E.).

Mesopotamian Clothing:

The civilizations that developed in Mesopotamia near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers between 3000 and 300 B.C.E. developed impressive skills for fashioning Mesopotamian clothing. The evidence of these civilizations’ clothing remains on sculptures, pottery, and in writings left on tablets and royal tombs.  Textiles were used for trade purposes and were also given as gifts to kings and queens.

Wool was the most common fabric used to make in Mesopotamian clothing and was used for practically every type of garment from cloaks to shoes. Looms for weaving fabric were in use as early as 3000 B.C.E. Some fragments of linen discovered in royal tombs are almost as finely woven as modern-day linen fabric. Linen was a more luxurious fabric and was woven for the clothing of the wealthy, priests, and to adorn statues of gods. Other finely woven fabrics also became available for the wealthiest in Mesopotamian clothing. Soft cotton was introduced in Assyria around 700 B.C.E., and silk became available later.

A detail showing Mesopotamian clothing.
A detail showing Mesopotamian clothing.

Archeologists, scientists who study past civilizations, have discovered letters that describe how dyes, appliqués, embroidery, and beads were used to beautify garments. Artifacts found in royal tombs provide evidence of fitted sewn garments, gold appliqués, and elaborately decorated clothes.

What they wore:

  • Loincloths: Early Sumerian men typically wore waist strings or small loincloths that provided barely any coverage.
  • Skirt: Which hung to the knee or lower and was held up by a thick, rounded belt that tied in the back. These skirts were typically decorated with fringe or pieces of fabric cut in a petal shape. All classes of men seem to have worn these skirts.
  • Shawl: For the men and women living in Mesopotamia (the region centered in present-day Iraq near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) from 3000 to 300 B.C.E., a fringed shawl was a typical garment. Unlike modern-day shawls that are worn over the shoulders and head, the shawls of Mesopotamia were wrapped around the hips like long skirts or wrapped around the torso with one end tossed over the left shoulder, covering the body to the feet like a dress. Whether worn as a skirt or a dress, shawls were held in place with belts tied in the back.
  • Fringe: Fringe was a popular and important decorative adornment for the clothing of both men and women. It is believed that fringe was worn by all classes of people. These garments were made out of woven wool or linen, and later, for the wealthiest people, cotton or silk. The hems, or edges, of skirts and shawls were decorated with fringe that either hung straight or was knotted into elaborate designs.
  • Veils: A veil was a rectangular piece of cloth woven of linen, wool, or cotton and worn by women to hide their faces from public view. While the veils worn by the wealthiest women could be beautiful, veils were not worn for fashionable reasons alone. Veils were one of the first legally enforced garments.

Mesopotamian Head Wear:

Men and women adorned their heads in very different ways in Mesopotamia.

  • In the early years of civilization there, most men shaved their heads bald while women braided their long hair into elaborate styles pinned to the top of their heads.
  • They also covered their hair with netting, scarves, or turbans.
  • The king began to wear a full beard and long braided hair tied in a large bun at the nape of his neck.
  • Women continued to wear their hair long, twisting it into large buns that covered the top of the head to the base of the neck and adorning it with ribbons and pins.
  •  The wealthiest people decorated their elaborate hairstyles with beautifully made jewelry of gold and silver.
  • A royal tomb from Sumeria dating from 2500 B.C.E.The gold of the helmet was expertly formed to resemble the hairstyle popular for men of the time: waves around the face with a bun tied in the back.
  • One of the most impressive pieces is a headdress made of a wreath of golden leaves and blue lapis lazuli flowers with a golden fan topped with similar flowers in the back.
  • Assyrian rule from 1380 to 612 B.C.E. altered hairstyles slightly. Men wore full beards and mustaches with longer curled hair.
  • Some people with certain occupations, such as priests, doctors, and slaves, had specific hairstyles and headdresses, especially for special ceremonies.
  •  The king, for example, wore a tall hat made of alternating rows of patterned and plain bands topped with a pointed cone.
  • Persians, who ruled Mesopotamia from 550 to 330 B.C.E., continued to curl their hair but began to wear rounded and pointed hats, probably made of leather.
  • A turban—or hat made of elaborately wrapped, finely woven fabric—adorned the heads of women as early as the Sumerian civilization.

Sculpture showing a man wearing typical Mesopotamian turban.

Sculpture showing a man wearing typical Mesopotamian turban.

Mesopotamian Body Decorations:

Among the most prominent were the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians.

Clothing historians have studied carved statues, the artifacts of royal tombs, and written tablets that show and describe the decorative accessories these people wore.

  • While slaves and the poorest people wore simple, functional clothes, the wealthiest could afford beautifully made jewelry. Men, women, and children all wore jewelry.
  • A royal tomb from Sumeria dating from around 2500 B.C.E. included an abundance of beaded necklaces, rings, bracelets for the wrist and ankles, stickpins, and other jewelry.
  • A pair of gold hoop earrings discovered in a queen’s tomb, for example, are so large that they must have been worn hooked over the ears because they would have been too heavy to hang from the earlobes.
  • Some texts indicate that women wore makeup. Shells filled with pigments of red, white, yellow, blue, green, and black with carved ivory applicators have been found in tombs. Perfume was also important for cosmetic, medicinal, and other uses.

Mesopotamian Footwear:

As civilizations developed in Mesopotamia between 3000 and 300 B.C.E., foot coverings became more important. The first depictions of people wearing foot coverings appear between 911 and 612 B.C.E. during the time of Assyrian rule. Men wearing sandals for some occasions, women in slippers with toe coverings, and warriors wearing boots with laces tied below the knee. Not until 550 to 330 B.C.E., when the Persians ruled, was footwear common. Regrettably, almost nothing is known about the details of how these shoes were made.

Working men often wore sandals to protect their feet against the elements.
Working men often wore sandals to protect their feet against the elements.



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