Canine Clothing a Brief History of Dog Clothes – Part I
For those of you that believe that pet adornment – or fashion – is a contemporary phenomenon Part I of this three part series will prove to be a bit of an eye opener. While dog clothes, accessories and pet fashion in general has certainly taken off in recent times, with designers of luxury brands getting on the canine couture bandwagon, dressing up doggies is nothing new.
For 12,000 years or longer canines have been companions to humans and it seems that for most of that time bipeds have been “decorating” us dogs. A closer look at archeological finds, art and the diaries of public figures throughout history has shown that contrarily to what today’s media would like to make you believe, canine fashion is not a recent fad or a passing trend. It has been around for a long time indeed.
The Dog Collar
The most obvious item is naturally the dog collar. Collars have been in use since before 3100 B.C. and is without a doubt the first item of adornment to have been used. You may argue that a collar is not a fashion item and merely a tool used for restraint but archaeologists unearthed a dog buried with (pre-dynastic – 323-309 BC China) King Cuo of Zhongshan wearing a collar of gold, silver, and turquoise. Hardly “just” a collar and definitely a fashion statement and a show of power and wealth.
At the height of ancient Egyptian civilization, collars and leashes were standard for dog training and dogs wearing them were commonly used as motifs on tomb walls, and pottery. The dog collars were beautiful works of art made of leather, with copper, bronze and gold added for embellishment.
Continuing our search for clues on canine fashion in the world of archeology, an interesting find dates to ancient Rome where canine devotion (as pets and hunting dogs) was so intense that Julius Caesar reportedly had to publicly reprimand citizens for paying more attention to their dogs than to their children. (60-44 BC). A remarkable example of this Roman devotion to canines is the “Pompeii Dog” preserved and frozen in time at the moment it was buried in ash from the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. The dog’s collar was examined with infrared, and was found to be inscribed with an account of the dog’s heroic rescue of his owner from a wolf attack (AD 79).
The Royal courts of Europe often set the trends of their time. Interestingly, thanks to often very detailed paintings, tapestries, early literature, letters and diaries we have a collection of well depicted beautiful collars, jewels and coats worn during this period; proving that fashion did not just favour a certain breed – but canine clothing as well. Why not? After all dogs are the most loyal of all subjects. No expense was spared for royal hounds and lap dogs alike when it came to providing for their comfort. Dogs slept in sumptuous beds (often the king’s or queen’s), ate delicacies from exquisite bowls and had their every need attended to by servants. Louis XI of France (1423-1483), a notorious miser, clad his favorite greyhound, named “Cher Ami” (Dear Friend) in a collar of scarlet velvet garnished with 20 pearls and 11 rubies.
Around the time of the Renaissance (1450-1600), the growing middle class could finally afford dogs as pets and they were no longer just a royal or noble luxury. Collars of more affordable materials such as leather then became the norm. The appearance of rings for leashes and nametags can also be found at this time as they began to dangle from dog collars. One assumes that because of the sudden explosion of widespread dog ownership a canine registration and licensing system was born.
In the 17th century, beautiful silver, gold, and brass collars could be fashioned, stamped or engraved, and leather collars were adorned with sparkling bells. Around this time one also finds the first appearance of dog hair clips. In contrast to today’s approach, tags typically bore the name of the owner, rather than the dog, making it easier to reunite a lost canine with its handler.
In the 18th Century, Louis XV (1710-1774) had a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named “Filou” (Rascal). The dog slept on a cushion of crimson velvet and wore a gold collar encrusted with diamonds. Louis XV said of his dog, “He’s the only thing in the world that likes me for myself.”
Apparition of Clothing Items
In 1833 in Britain, Princess Victoria wrote of her spaniel that she “dressed dear sweet little Dash in a scarlet jacket and blue trousers.” In fact, the taste for animal fashion in the 19th Century developed into a profitable manufacturing industry. The center for dog fashions and accessories could be found in perennially fashionable Paris with over a dozen shops catering to pooches! Yes pet boutiques are not a new development either.
Paul Mégnin wrote a book on the subject of dressing dogs in the 19th century. His book “Nos Chiens” (Our Dogs) goes into wonderful detail.
“Some think it criminal and grotesque to impose quasi-human practices in this way on these little cute doggies (mignons toutous),” Mégnin states, but seems resigned to the practice and claims that the place to shop for canine clothing was the Palais-Royal. He goes on to site that the fashionable dog had:
- a costume for afternoon visits
- a costume for the evening,
- a costume for travel (YES – for TRAVEL!)
- a costume for the beach
For the beach, Mégnin explains:
“Our chic dogs have a special bathing outfit—in blue cambric with a sailor’s collar hemmed in white with embroidered anchors in each of the corners; and on one of the sides, embroidered in gold, the name of the beach — Cabourg or Trouville.”
For travel? Mégnin recommended “a checked cloak of English cloth with a turned down collar, belted, with a small pocket for the train ticket.”
Another French author named Jean Robert wrote two dog-care books around the same period and defended the practice of clothing dogs, especially in winter. Clothing delicate dogs was, he thought, a matter of common sense. The maison Ledouble, 29 galerie d’Orléans at the Palais-Royal, advertised in Jean Robert’s dog-care book, offering:
- raincoats for little apartment dogs,
- collars of superior quality,
- special collars for Great Danes,
- Decorative hair clips,
- clippers for poodles,
- scented oils,
- Travel trousseau,
- Dog beds.
Alfred Barbou explained in careful detail in his 1883 book “Le Chien: Son histoire, ses exploits, ses aventures” (The Dog: Its history, its achievements, its adventure), that dogs wore “costumes of a certain richness, pretty embroidered coats, silk jackets, warm outfits for the winter, light ones for the summer.” The wardrobe, or complete trousseau of an elegant canine at the end of the century in Paris might include shirts, handkerchiefs, dressing gowns, traveling cloaks, tea gowns, and rubber boots – yes boots! Dog collars might be made of gold or silver; and were works of art, according to Alfred.
It seems that pet style has never been out of fashion, nor has quality. Meanwhile, the dog clothes and pet fashion industry continue to grow unabated. Interestingly, it is proving to be a recession-proof industry, as owners continue to spend on what many may consider unnecessary luxury items and others consider a symbol of their own faithfulness to their canine charge.