I’m a textiles nerd.  I spin, I knit, I weave.  I love the feeling of being connected with thousands of ancestors.  I’ve read a few books on the subject of textile history, of course, but I doubt most of my readers care about the technical stuff.  So instead I’m going to tell you about the red string skirt.

Sexually available women wore a red string skirt for about 20,000 years.  The design was simple: a narrow band tied under the breasts or around the waist, with long red fringe hanging down to accentuate the pelvic region.

The fashion varied a little by culture.  Some of them, like the Danish one in the photo, were knotted at the bottom.  Some, after people discovered metalwork, had little tubes on the ends of the strings.  But the red string skirt was everywhere.  European Venus figures from the Paleolithic Era are wearing them.  Buried corpses from the Bronze Age have been found with them preserved.  Those little tubes turn up everywhere in women’s graves, all over the Mediterranean and Europe. They’re even in mythology. The Greek goddess Aphrodite had a “girdle” — a red string skirt — that could make the wearer sexually attractive to any man.

Fascinatingly, the red string skirt still persists in some places.  For example, folk costumes in a lot of Eastern Europe feature an apron with long red strings.

Women have been wearing red to look sexy for 20,000 years.  No wonder we still think of women in red dresses as seducers.  It’s our oldest cultural memory.

Pictures from the exhaustive Prehistoric Textiles by Elizabeth J.W. Barber, who is a goddess of ancient fabrics.  I love her books.  For a shorter, less technical book on prehistoric textiles, check out her Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years.

Categories: History


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