Caveman couture

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Anne Reichert

During the Stone Age, clothes had to be durable enough for harsh climates, but that did not mean they had to be boring. Read on for some hunter-gatherer high fashion!

The Stone Age was one of the most challenging time periods to make clothing in, and not only because of the lack of industry. People lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle as opposed to an agricultural one, so the clothing they wore had to be sturdy and practical.

The loincloth would form the undergarment, on top of which they would layer trousers, tunics, coats, leg- and arm-wraps, and hats. There was not much difference between what men and women wore, although it seems women were more likely to wear skirts.

The average caveman wore far more than a simple loincloth.

People in the Stone Age had access to sewing techniques similar to the basic stitches we have today. Sewing needles made of bone have been found in the Denisova Caves in Siberia, and evidence from bodies like Ötzi the Iceman show that cavemen were skilled tailors, often making a single garment out of skins from various different animals.

This can be a challenging feat, as each skin has different resistances and thicknesses, and the most common ‘thread’ available for use was animal sinew.

Bears, aurochs, sheep and goats were common animals used in clothesmaking, and their skins and furs were used for tunics, trousers, leg wraps, shoes and cloaks. Shoes were stuffed with grass for insulation, and they even had shoelaces!

Belts were used to keep up trousers, and skirts were string-fastened. Capes were either made from animal furs or from long sheaves of grass tied together.

Although dyed flax has been found in prehistoric dig sites, along with crude weaving sticks, Stone Age people did not weave any complex fabrics, because agriculture was not invented at that stage. For proper cloth, humans would have to wait until 5,300 BC and the advent of flax farming.

Stone Age clothing was not all about utility. Some people liked to dress up for the sake of it. Beads and jewellery made out of shells have been found at numerous dig sites.

The Stone Age covered a huge range of time — 3.4 million years — so how early on did people actually start wearing clothes? To find the answer, we can turn to other species, namely, our most unwelcome symbiote: the louse. Biologists have identified that the human body louse first evolved 170,000 years ago, smack bang in the centre of the Stone Age. Since this form of louse cannot live on the human body without a layer of clothing, this is a clear indication that Stone Age man was more modest than we often portray.