Dressing Up Your Dog – A Brief History

Have you noticed more and more people these days are going to various lengths to outfit their pets? Likely the largest group in this group are those of you that are dressing up your dog. While widespread today, was the clothing of dogs always done since their domestication? Let’s examine the history a bit…

Short history of the collar

The simplest accessory of course has always been the collar. Depending on the owner of the dog and their level of standing within ancient society, collars were made of such materials as velvet or silk or other materials that were difficult to find and only for the most wealthy in society. These collars were utilized by the ancient Egyptians.

Of all the dogs that were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians, what were considered the most treasured were the hunting dogs. As it was also a common practice for the Egyptians to have leather collars so that worthy scenes from the dogs life could be stamped on them. Likely the most common scenes were acts of bravery by the dog while out on the hunt.

The dog collar was developed as early as 3500 B.C. Tombs from that time have been found in which men are depicted walking their dogs on a leash.

In the same time period, the ancient Chinese were utilizing collars to adorn their dogs, although they differed slightly from those used by the Egyptians. The collars for the ‘highest ranking’ dogs in China were made of precious metals (such as gold and silver) and ornated with precious stones as accents such as turquoise. While deemed a collar, it truly was more like a necklace for the dog. 

In Rome, some of the most revered dogs were large dogs that were trained as war dogs. To protect the dogs in battle, the Romans were likely the first to utilize the ‘spiked collar’. As these collars were ‘functional’ and for a completely different purpose than today’s ‘spiked collars’, these war dogs’ collars were sharpened and deadly to help in the battle in which they were involved.

The royal courts of Europe also had ornate collars for their beloved pets. The collars for some of the royal canines were made of precious metals or ornate fabrics and were decorated with such things as pearls and rubies. As you can see, all very different than the average collar for Rover today. 

Beyond the collar

Of course the history of pet clothes for dogs goes beyond just the collar. People have also been outfitting their dogs for centuries with body clothing, although (as with the collars) the purpose and styles were quite different than today.

Along with the dangerous spiked collars described above, the Roman ‘dogs of war’ were also often outfitted with a suit of armor, some matching their owners’. These were not the only dogs sporting armor. The Samurais of ancient Japan would have their dogs clad in armor matching their own set of samurai armor.

In the Middle Ages it was also common to utilize dogs in battle, the most common of which were the Great Dane and the Mastiff. These dogs were also clad in armor to protect them on the battlefield and make them more useful to their owners.,

More common uses of the collar

During the Renaissance times in Europe, the owning of dogs became much more common as the middle class vs. just the upper class were able to own dogs. As the dog population grew, so did the outfitting of dogs with collars. Of course, as these were more common dogs, the collars were made for more practical purposes.

Similar to the collar of today with the tags to more easily identify the dog and the owner, the dog collars in the renaissance times were used primarily to deter theft, A lock was placed on the collar and only the owner had the key. These locks would be decorated and family specific, making them easy to identify in case someone stole the dog.

From collars to full dress for dogs

The first actual “dog clothes” appeared on a painting by Italian painter Rosalba Carriera in the middle of the 18th century. This depicted a woman with a fully dressed dog.

In the 19th century, dog fashion turned into a much more profitable industry. When photography was invented in the 1800s, some of the first subjects were well-dressed dogs. We start seeing dogs dressed as humans, and other more current day trends.

The functional accessories still existed, but in addition to armor, we start to see winter and rain coats. Dog clothing really took off with the industrialization of Europe. Along with the mass-produced, we start seeing the first dog boutiques in Paris.

Most recent trends of pet clothes for dogs.

In the late 19th and early 20th century dressing up your dog took on a much more exaggerated yet common form. In a popular book in the 1890s, it was written that ‘all classy dogs should have a complete wardrobe’. In a later publication in the 1920s, it was taken a step further with the author stating that ‘all chic dogs should have different outfits for the afternoon, evening, traveling, and even for the beach’.

While the average 21st century dog is not clad as the authors above described, there are still many practical dog accessories that are in use by the average dog owner. Rain gear, dog jackets, booties, etc. are all very practical ways of keeping dogs protected during cold or inclement weather.

Of course, another area of canine accessories that has grown tremendously is the costuming of dogs for special occasions. At Halloween, dogs dressed as ghosts, pumpkins, other animals, people, etc, etc. are a very common thing. Whether donning bells and a Santa coat at Christmas, or just a colorful bandanna to mark the season or root for their favorite sports team, the outfitting of dogs continues to be a very popular trend.

Dressing Up Your Dog Today

Hundreds of years after the first collars leashes and garments for dogs, we must give credit where credit is due as there was a huge burst in the dog fashion industry in the early 2000s. The internet and mass production made picking up a matching Christmas sweater for your canine incredibly affordable. Watching celebrities like Paris Hilton, Miriah Carey, and most of the Kardashians carry their decked out ‘arm dogs’ around either has made people love the idea or hate it. However, the practical dog clothing, as well as the costumes for dogs, is a multi-billion dollar industry.

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