Skip to main content Skip to main content

Art Through Time: A Global View

Ceremony and Society Compare: Why Do We “Dress Up” for Ceremonial Occasions?

Court Dress

Court Dress
Artist / Origin: British artist
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1750
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Blue silk taffeta brocaded with silver thread
Medium: Textiles and Fiber Arts
Dimensions: Length at CB (a): 49 in. (124.5 cm) Length at CB (b): 37 in. (94 cm) Length (c): 11 in. (27.9 cm)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Irene Lewisohn Bequest

Woman’s Mantle (chyrpy)

Woman’s Mantle (chyrpy)
Artist / Origin: Tekke artist, Turkmen, Turkmenistan
Region: Russia, Central and North Asia
Date: 19th or 20th century
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Embroidered silk
Medium: Textiles and Fiber Arts
Dimensions: L: approx. 47 in. (120 cm.)
Location: de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
Credit: Courtesy of the San Francisco Museums of Fine Arts, de Young Museum

Why do we “dress up” for ceremonial occasions?

Most of us distinguish between our “everyday” clothing and the clothing that we put on for special or formal occasions, such as religious services, weddings, proms, or award ceremonies. We might “dress up” in order to show the honor and respect demanded of a particular activity or because these are community affairs and we want to appear at our best when seen by others. Whatever the case, by donning attire that is more beautiful, more expensive, more extraordinary, we step out of our daily routines, facilitating our own participation in out-of-the-ordinary events. As this British court dress and Turkmen chyrpy demonstrate, the concept of “ceremonial” garb translates across both cultures and historical eras.

Questions to Consider

  • Is it immediately apparent to you that these items of clothing are ceremonial in nature? Do their forms and materials offer hints to their function?
  • Do you think that ceremonial garb is universally recognizable? What factors do you think influence the shape, form, and materials of ceremonial dress?
  • When worn, what did each of these items communicate about its wearer’s status? How did it communicate that information? Why do you think that ceremonial clothing is used to make statements about social status in so many cultures? Does it play that role in your own culture?

Series Directory

Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2