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Oldest Still Used Clothes November 21, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

Strange History announces a search for the oldest clothes in the world. Or rather the oldest still worn clothes. This is the best we’ve come up with so far. A British soldier has escaped from an Italian prisoner of War camp, 1943, and he has run to the mountains where he has fallen ill. Luckily for him an Italian shepherd takes him in, plies him with hard alcohol and then pushes him into ‘an immensely thick shirt’. Said Brit quickly descends into a dangerous illness. There is a sense that he is lucky to come out of it three days later. When he is better the shepherd opines that it was the shirt that saved his guest, and the Brit, actually Eric Newby, a superlative travel writer in the postwar period, falls to ‘admiring the great, thick shirt of cream-coloured flannel with red stitches which looked as if it had come out of a folk museum and which I was wearing.’ The shepherd explains:

They belonged to my great grand-father. The wool came from the backs of his own sheep and my great great-grandmother spun it and wove it and then she made the shirts. I’m fifty, my father was eighty-seven when he died and my grandfather was over ninety. I don’t know how old my great grandfather was when he died, all I know is these shirts are very, very old, perhaps they’re the oldest shirts in the world that anyone is still wearing, and they’ve been worn by all the men in our family, but not every day you understand. We used them when we came home cold, and when we were in fever. I always put one on and have a sweat when I’m feeling bad. You have to sweat when you’re ill, that’s the way.

The British soldier makes his calculations and concludes that the shirts had been made before the French revolution! ‘Yet the quality of the material was so extraordinary that they were in good enough condition to be not more than five years old and to last another hundred.’ Perhaps they are still being used on the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Or perhaps they were thrown in a dumpster in 1945. Can anyone else add some still used old or medieval clothes: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Continual use is necessary. A bandage pulled off a mummy and placed on a cut by an archaeologist would not count…

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31 Nov 2012: Chris from Haunted Ohio writes: ‘What an intriguing post today! (I really enjoyed Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Apennines.) I suspect that you will find the oldest garment still in use in a collection of royal regalia, like the 11th century Mantle of St Stephen: Here it is being worn by Emperor Karl von Habsburg. It might also be a vestment found in a Coptic monastery or in the sacristies of the Vatican, which has one of the largest collections of lace in the world. But one possible candidate may be found in the theatre of Japan. The oldest Noh drama costume still in use belongs to the Kanze school (Japanese theatre has different “schools” or traditions of performance) in Kyoto. It is believed to have been donated by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490), who wore it while performing in a play called Futari Shizuka, so it is over 500 years old. The gift was such a great honor that the costume cannot be retired. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a photo of it online, but this is the type of fabric. It is a kinran or gold brocade. In the meantime, I have posted your blog post at the Costume Society of America and perhaps some of its members will take up the challenge.’ Thanks Chris!

31 Dec 2012: KR writes: In thinking of oldest still used clothes, bridal dresses came to mind. I found this article where a bride wears a 127 year old bridal dress at her wedding. Perhaps it will still be worn in future as well. Not exactly medieval, but about as old as the wool shirt worn in 1943 but made by the great-grandmother of the man who loaned it to the soldier, perhaps?’ Thanks KR !