This workshop is part of the University of Leicester’s contribution to the international research group: Ancient Textiles from the Orient to the Mediterranean (ATOM), in collaboration with CNRS, Paris, and CTR (Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen).

Textiles, Dress and Gender in the Ancient World

24-25 April 2017, University of Leicester

ATOM 2016

Dress and gender are intimately linked in the visual and textual records of antiquity; it is common practice in both art and literature to use particular garments to characterise one sex or the other, and to undermine literary characterisations by suggesting that they display features usually associated with the opposite gender. Cross-dressing was, indeed, often used for comic purpose in drama and for character assassination in forensic court speeches. The clear message, across the cultures of antiquity, was that men should dress like men, and women like women.

Less consideration has been given to the notion that certain textiles and colours were considered more suitable for either men or women. Discussions of textile type and quality tend to focus on role of luxury and social status (or the assumption/usurpation of status) rather than gender, although gender is often implicit in any discussion.

Textile production in antiquity has often been considered to follow a linear trajectory from a domestic (female) activity to more ‘commercial’ or ‘industrial’ male-centred mode of production. In reality, many modes of production probably existed side-by-side and the making of textiles not so easily grafted on the labour of one sex of another. At times and in some places weaving was women’s work, but in other times and places it was the prerogative of men.

The workshop will examine attitudes to textiles, dress and gender across the Near East and Mediterranean culture in antiquity (c. 3000 BCE-300CE), tracing cross-cultural and culturally specific associations, addressing questions such as:

  • How is the relationship between dress and gender expressed in different societies? Can shared attitudes be observed across times and cultures?
  • Is the language and terminology of textiles and dress unconsciously gendered?
  • Are some colours/textiles considered more masculine/feminine than others at certain times/places?
  • The history of purple and its gendered associations
  • The role of gender in textile production

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