Ancient Fashion: The Oldest Pieces of Clothing and Accessories Ever Found

Clothing has been an integral part of human history for centuries, with origins lost in the mists of time.

While the exact inception of clothing remains shrouded in mystery due to the perishable nature of early fabrics, genetic analysis suggests that humans began wearing clothing around 170,000 years ago.

Archaeological discoveries provide fascinating insights into this ancient practice.

For instance, sewing needles have been dated back to approximately 40,000 years ago, while evidence of dyed fibers dates back to 36,000 BC.

Below is a compilation of the most ancient clothing and accessories that have survived to this day.

Oldest Jewelry (130,000 years old)

Oldest Jewelry (130,000 years old)

In a 2015 announcement, scientists revealed a stunning archaeological find: the world’s oldest form of “bling” – eight eagle talons uncovered at a Neanderthal site in Croatia.

These talons, originating from at least three eagles, displayed intricate cut marks, designed for stringing, and showed signs of meticulous polishing, indicating their use as part of a necklace or bracelet.

This finding challenges the traditional view of Neanderthals as primitive beings, revealing instead a complex and intelligent society that engaged in practices such as religion and art.

Researchers speculate that the talons were chosen for their ceremonial significance, indicating a sophisticated understanding of symbolism among Neanderthals.

Furthermore, the dating of the jewelry to approximately 80,000 years before the arrival of modern humans makes it clear that Neanderthals could not have borrowed or imitated the design.

Oldest Pants (3,000 years old)

Oldest Pants (3,000 years old)

In 2014, the world’s oldest trousers were discovered in the Yanghai tombs in China. Surprisingly, despite their age, they are still in pretty good condition.

These trousers were likely custom-made by weaving three separate pieces of cloth – for the legs and crotch area – which were then sewn together using matching thread.

The fabric also features intricate geometric designs woven directly into it, creating a visually appealing and comfortable pair of pants.

Researchers suggest that pants likely evolved among equestrian tribes in the region around 4,000 years ago, providing both protection and comfort while riding horses.

The arid desert conditions surrounding the Yanghai tombs have played a crucial role in preserving a variety of delicate textiles and fabrics.

Other finds from the site include colorful sheepskin boots, feathered hats, a fringed skirt, and even a tiny loincloth.

Oldest Socks (1,600 years old)

Oldest Socks (1,600 years old)

Considerably younger than most items on this list, the world’s oldest socks still boast an impressive age, dating back to somewhere between 250 and 420 AD.

These socks, believed to be Romano-Egyptian in origin, were unearthed in a burial ground located in an ancient Greek colony in central Egypt during the late 1800s.

Described by some as “alien socks” or “lobster toes,” these knitted wool socks are strikingly bright red and feature a unique split toe design.

Researchers speculate that this split toe was intentional, allowing the wearer to comfortably wear the socks with sandals.

They are considered a rare example of a knitting technique known as “Nålbindning,” or single-needle knitting, which is a slow technique more akin to sewing than modern knitting.

These socks would have been started at the toe and gradually worked up to the ankle.

Oldest dress (5,000 years old)

Oldest dress (5,000 years old)

Often hailed as the world’s oldest known garment, the Tarkhan dress was unearthed in an ancient Egyptian cemetery located approximately 30 miles from Cairo.

Dating back to the First Dynasty or Old Kingdom period, this dress (or tunic) is a testament to early textile craftsmanship, being made entirely of linen. It boasts tightly pleated sleeves and a yoke sewn onto a skirt.

Researchers have noted distinct creasing at the elbows and armpits, indicating that the garment was indeed worn during the wearer’s lifetime.

Interestingly, the dress was discovered inside out, leading some to speculate that it was intentionally placed in the tomb in this manner, possibly as a symbolic or funerary gesture.

Discovered in 1913, the true significance of the find surrounding the tunic was not fully realized until 1977.

Initially, the tunic was part of a linen pile that had been excavated but was not cleaned or thoroughly examined for over 60 years.

It wasn’t until conservators at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London meticulously mounted the garment on a backing of fine silk that its full glory could be appreciated, allowing it to be displayed as it would have been worn in life.

Oldest Footwear (9,300 years old)

Oldest Footwear (9,300 years old)

In a discovery in Oregon’s Fort Rock Basin in 1938, archaeologists uncovered the world’s oldest known pair of shoes, still intact and together.

These ancient footwear marvels, known as the Fort Rock Sandals, were crafted from twined sagebrush bark, featuring a flat sole and a toe wrap design.

Multiple pairs of these sandals have been found, with the oldest believed to be between 9,300 and 10,000 years old.

Researchers speculate that the sandals were fastened by wrapping the thongs around the ankle and securing them on the opposite side.

Oldest Sweater (1,700 years old)

Oldest Sweater (1,700 years old)

Back in 2013, the world’s oldest sweater was discovered on a Norwegian glacier, which seems like the perfect spot for such a cool find.

This old-school garment was crafted from lamb and sheep wool, woven into a funky diamond twill fabric. It’s got this cool greenish-brown color and a boatneck style, tailored for a guy around 5-foot-9.

What’s really neat is that this sweater’s style was probably all the rage back in Iron Age Europe. It’s pretty similar to another old piece found in a bog more than 150 years ago.

The sweater seems to have been well-loved and well-maintained, as it shows signs of having been patched twice.

It may also be one of the oldest surviving examples of upcycling – some researchers believe it may have originally been a sleeveless tunic, with the sleeves added around the time of the second repair.

Oldest Bra (600 years old)

Oldest Bra (600 years old)

Four linen brassieres adorned with lace were discovered among more than 2,700 textile fragments in the floor joists of Austria’s Lemberg castle in 2008.

Researchers estimate that these bras date back to sometime between 1390 and 1485 when they were quaintly referred to as “breast bags.”

Each bra features distinct cups and shoulder straps, with two of them resembling a blend of a bra and a short shirt.

These hybrid pieces include a row of eyelets on the left side for lacing.

Oldest Purse (4,500 years old)

Oldest Purse (4,500 years old)

In 2012, archaeologists uncovered the world’s oldest purse in a grave near Leipzig, Germany.

The purse, crafted from leather or fabric that has long disintegrated, was adorned with more than a hundred dog teeth from various animals.

The arrangement of the teeth resembles a modern handbag flap, suggesting a level of sophistication in its design.

Interestingly, similar dog teeth adornments were also found in hair ornaments and necklaces, indicating a fashionable trend of the time.

The excavation site has yielded a variety of artifacts from Stone and Bronze Age settlements, including stone tools, bone buttons, and an amber necklace.

Researchers also unearthed the grave of a woman buried around 50 BC, adorned with approximately a pound of gold jewelry.

Oldest Sunglasses (2,000 years old)

Oldest Sunglasses (2,000 years old)

The oldest snow goggles ever found, made of bone, leather, or wood, date back 2,000 years to the Old Bering Sea culture, ancestors of the modern Inuit, who lived along Alaska’s west coast.

These particular snow goggles, pictured above, were discovered some 800 years ago on Canada’s Baffin Island.

They were specifically crafted to shield the eyes from snow blindness caused by the intense spring sunlight.

Oldest Leather Shoe (5,500 years old)

Oldest Leather Shoe (5,500 years old)

The world’s oldest leather shoe was found in southeastern Armenia’s Areni-1 cave in 2010.

This shoe, estimated to be around 5,500 years old, is a brown leather lace-up designed for a small right foot, roughly equivalent to a US size 7, indicating it was likely worn by a woman.

Crafted from a single piece of leather, the shoe was tanned using vegetable oil and carefully shaped to fit its wearer’s foot.

It was also filled with grass, possibly for insulation or to maintain its shape when not in use.

Oldest Condom (370 years old)

Oldest Condom (370 years old)

This reusable condom, crafted from pig’s intestine, was utilized in Lund, Sweden, in 1640.

It was accompanied by instructions (in Latin) advising users to clean it with warm milk to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Oldest Skirt (5,900 years old)

Oldest Skirt (5,900 years old)

The skirt fragment was unearthed in the Areni-1 cave in southeastern Armenia.

Though only a fragment remains, it provides enough evidence to suggest that the fabric was crafted from woven reeds, featuring a counter-weave band along the edge.

It is impossible to reconstruct the full appearance of the original skirt or determine whether it was worn by a woman or a man.

Nevertheless, researchers consider this discovery to be the oldest known example of reed clothing in the world.

Oldest Crown (6,000 years old)

Oldest Crown (6,000 years old)

The crown was unearthed as part of the “Nahal Mishar Hoard,” a collection of over 400 objects discovered in a cave in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea in 1961.

Dating back to the Copper Age (4000-3300 BC), this remarkable crown is crafted from blackened copper and measures approximately seven inches in diameter.

The crown’s upper rim is adorned with five figures, including two long-necked birds (thought to be vultures), two stylized gates or doors, and a T-shaped object that resembles the hilt of a sword.

It was discovered alongside a scepter featuring horned animals, a copper woven basket, and numerous clay bowls and goblets.

Researchers aren’t convinced the crown was worn by an actual king in the area though – instead, they believe the crown was used in public ceremonies, and during burial rites for important people.

Oldest Known Human-Made Fibers (34,000 years old)
Oldest Known Human-Made Fibers. (34,000 years old)

During excavations in a cave in the Republic of Georgia, a team of archaeologists made a remarkable discovery: the oldest fibers ever found, dating back more than 34,000 years.

These fibers, believed to be from wild flax, were likely not cultivated but gathered from the surrounding environment.

Early humans ingeniously used these fibers to create garments for warmth, stitching leather pieces together with the thread.

They also used the thread to tie packs, aiding in the transport of essentials and facilitating mobility between camps.

Ofer Bar-Yosef, the leader of the archaeology team from Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, stated, “We know that this is wild flax that grew in the vicinity of the cave and was intensively or extensively exploited by modern humans.”

Some of the fibers were twisted, indicating that early humans used them to make ropes or strings. Moreover, evidence suggests that they dyed the fibers using plants native to the area.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons  / / Britannica / Google Books).