Last week, I briefly mentioned that the underdress or kamiz for my Persian outfit is only glimpsed in the close up shown at left. The kamiz is sheer and has a front slit. That’s pretty much all we can tell about it.
At this point, I usually go looking for period porn — the inevitable titillating pictures of women undressing to bathe or otherwise in a state of undress that will show me their skivvies — in order to determine the shape of the shift. But in Persian art, the only undressed lady we have is Shirin bathing while observed by Khosrow in the 1540 version of the Khamsa of Nizami (detail shown in the featured image of this post). Her robes, boots, and crown sit nearby, but she is naked to the waist, clad only in a lower-body garment that looks like a skirt. It is possible that this is her kamiz pushed off her torso and allowed to fall around her hips. But with its blue waistband and hem, the garment more closely resembles the wraps worn by men in bathhouses than a shrugged-off kamiz.
An extant Persian kamiz survives that has been carbon-dated to AD 1291-1402, but I reject this as a good example for a 16th century kamiz. When so much of Safavid costume differs from that of the Il-Khanid period, it is unlikely that the undergarments did not also change. It is as big a mistake to use this garment as an example of what women wore in Persia over two hundred years later as it is to assume that modern women still wear stays and panniers under their daily garments.
When we don’t have any evidence of that was worn in a particular time and place, going with something simple and generic that is worn by similar cultures in the area is a better idea than inventing something. So I followed basic shift construction as seen all over Europe and Asia to produce an approximation of a kamiz.
Here’s a video that I made while constructing my kamiz. It will show you how to make a basic women’s underdress (or a man’s shirt) appropriate for many time periods and locations.
I used 3.5 mm (momme) silk gauze from Dharma Trading, Kinkame #50 silk thread, and John James #10 Betweens needles. I sewed all the seams with french seams and roll hemmed the ends of the sleeves, neckline, and bottom edge. This produced a sheer garment with a slit front not unlike the one in the picture of my princess from 1541.
Here’s a photo of my finished kamiz:
I am never alone in the atelier:
The jame or inner robe.
Get Reconstructing History’s best info on Safavid clothing for yourself:
Ackerman, P., ‘The Gold Brocades of Isfahan’ in Apollo, XIII, 1931, ‘Ghiyath, Persian Master Weaver’ in Apollo XVIII, 1933
______, ”Persian Textiles’ in CIBA Review, No. 98, 1953
Bier, C (ed), Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart: Textile Arts of Safavid and Qajar Iran, Textile Museum, Washington DC, 1987
Canby, Shiela. Persian Painting. 1993: Interlink Books, Northampton, MA.
Ferrier, R.W., ed. The Arts of Persia. 1989: Yale Universeity Press, New Haven & London.
Gervers, V. “Construction of Turkmen Coats.” In Textile History, 14 (1), 3-37, 1983.
Housego, J., ‘Honour is according to Habit: Persian dress in the 16th and 17th centuries’ in Apollo, XCIII, 1971
Kendrick, A.F., ‘The Persian Exhbition: Textiles: A General Survey’ in Burlington Magazine, LVIII, 1931, pp. 15-27
Pope, A.U. (ed), A Survey of Persian Art, London 1938-9, Vol. III text, Vol. VI plates
Reath, N.A. and E B Sachs, Persian Textiles and their Techniques from the 6th to the 18th centuries, New Haven, 1937
Scarce, Jennifer. Women’s Costume of the Near and Middle East. Unwin Hyman, London, 1987.
Shirazi-Mahajan, Faegheh. Costumes and Textiles Designs of the Il-Khanid, Timurid and Safavid Dynasties in Iran from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Century. 1985: The Ohio State University.
Upton, J.M., ‘Notes on Persian Costumes of the 16th and 17th centuries’ in Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol. III,Pt. 2, 1930
Wace, A.J.B., ‘Some Safavid Silks at Burlington House’ in Burlington Magazine as above pp. 67-73
Welsh, Stuart Cary. Persian Painting: Five Royal Safavid Manuscripts of the Sixteenth Century. 1976: George Braziller, New York.
© 2018 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.