The history of clothing - a history of the fleece

What exactly is a pleat (plissé)? When was it invented and how did it develop? Why do you wear a fleece skirt and why is it called that? Since when has the technique existed and is it still relevant today?

The subject of pleating and its preparation technique fascinate many people around the world. Who thought of the idea? how to make? All this and more here in the article.

The process of making a cloth fan using the fleece technique, Duvelleroy, France

What is a fleece?

The meaning of the word Plissé is "folds " in French. The term originally referred to fabric that was woven or gathered into folds. Today, the fabric is lightweight with a creased and shrunk surface in the form of stripes. The term fleece can also describe a chemical finishing technique (so for example: fleece fabrics used for underwear).

The pleating technique is based on the idea of ​​placing the fabric between two folded cardboard templates, and applying hot steam to the fabric until the folding pattern from the cardboard is fixed on it.

Fleece fabric inside the folded paper pattern, just before separating from the pattern, from Atelier Gerard Lognon, Paris (image taken from here )

Before we delve into the technique itself and what really happens there, a few words about processes that fabrics go through and curing.

What is healing? Finishing is a process aimed at changing the properties of the fabric. The process is carried out on fabrics and/or threads. The treatment of fabrics is inevitably affected by the composition of the fibers in each fabric and is therefore adapted to each type of raw material.

In order to carry out curing, it is necessary to first know what each textile product is made of, since the curing process is a chemical process that the fabric goes through; And there are chemical substances that may harm the different types of fabrics (so, for example: cotton is a cellulosic raw material and cellulose is damaged by sulfuric acid. Wool is a proteinaceous raw material, and protein is damaged by salt solution, etc.). In the various curing processes, the chemical composition of the raw material must be taken into account in order to adapt the various chemicals to it.

Part of a machine to create fabrics and fabric treatment

Curing process of fabrics: part of a machine to create fabrics, Beit Fisher - the Municipal Museum of Kiryat Ata History, from the wikiwiki website

The pleating technique is a type of treatment aimed at improving the properties and appearance of the fabric. The process itself is called thermal stabilization , it is a process intended for synthetic fabrics only (because they are thermoplastic fabrics that change properties in heat). In the process, hot air fixation of fabrics is carried out in an aligned position to make them retain their shape over time. Fabrics that have undergone this treatment do not shrink or distort in the wash.

"Sun" fleece, from Rahman Pleaters, London

In the pleating process, the fabric is folded according to different origami patterns. This is how the process is carried out: fold cardboard paper according to the pattern you want, and copy the fold to another cardboard of exactly the same size. After that, open the pattern on the cardboard (so that it is not folded), spread the fabric between the two layers of cardboard, fasten all the layers together and start folding all three (cardboard paper, fabric in the middle, and cardboard paper again). When everything is ready, tie the pattern together so it won't open and put it in the oven with steam for a time that depends on the complexity of the pattern and the type of fabric.

The process of making the fleece, from the Gérard Lognon atelier, Chanel subsidiary, Paris

The most basic and popular pattern throughout history is the accordion pattern (in everyday language "folding a fan"). Within this example there are more and less complex examples, such as the sun accordion, straight accordion, etc. There are also very complex fleece samples that are made manually in the workshop (Atelier). Such exist, for example, in France and England. These are very complex examples of folds that are carefully made by hand.

Complex pleated folding examples made by hand, Maison du Pli, France

The pleating technique throughout history

Throughout the history of fashion, we witness that clothes and textiles were used not only to keep the body warm, but also as a means of visual communication that expresses the status or position of the wearer. In order to differentiate between different fabrics and make them stand out, different and diverse techniques were invented to create different textures, volumes and patterns. One of the earliest techniques is the pleating technique.

Fleece suit, Jay. JW Anderson, London Fashion Week, Spring 2014

It's hard to believe, but the fleece technique already existed in ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. The Egyptians made use of different patterns that created the folds on top of the cloth, and by means of a heavy object made of metal they fixed the pattern.

Cement Pleaters
The process of making the fleece involves the use of molds that create the folds on the fabric and using a heavy object to fix the pattern, from Cement Pleaters, England
Linen was the most common fabric at that time because it suited the dry desert climate. The ancient Egyptians called the white linen " Menkhet " which means "excellent" or "magnificent" and considered it a symbol of elegance and purity. It was also the clothing of the sun god Ra , who reflects his light and with it dazzles people with brilliance and shine . The more transparent and delicate the fabric, the higher the status of the people who wore it.
Photo by Merja Attia, from the Textile Gallery at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Cairo (NMEC The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization), taken from here
The ancient Egyptians created pleats in several ways , and in fact created the pleat in the cloth already during the weaving of the cloth on the loom. The weft threads were gathered in small groups woven together at the edges of the fabric. Sometimes the clothes were washed in a resinous substance, and then the folds were pressed firmly with a heavy metal object . The pleats were often made by hand by washing the linen cloth and then forcefully squeezing it so that the threads of the two were gathered in groups to form the pleats. The process was repeated after each re -washing. At a more advanced stage , the weavers invented special threads that twisted and changed together after washing to create the pleats.

Unlike other peoples who used a large piece of cloth wrapped around their body (the basis for the draping tradition), Egyptian clothing was made of several pieces of cloth sewn together into one item of clothing (the basis for the tailoring tradition). Their clothes were partly or entirely made with the fleece technique. In Khartoum paintings from ancient Egypt, kings and men of high status can be seen wearing a short fleece skirt made of linen, which was sometimes combined with a short shirt made of linen. Goddesses in Egyptian mythology were often seen wearing a fleece dress, which indicated their high status.

Photo by Merja Attia, from the Textile Gallery at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Cairo (NMEC The National Museum of Egyptian Civilization), taken from here

About two thousand years later, during the Iron Age in Europe (around 1000 BC), pleated folds could be seen in the clothes of the rich and royalty. Also in paintings from the ancient Greek period (800 BC) it was possible to see cloth caplons in the Ionian tunic: two sheets of cloth held along the upper part with buttons at intervals. The thin linen fabric was also used in the Ionian linen garment - they took the fabric when it was wet, folded it and then grabbed it. The field buttons that caught the fabric in the arms gathered the fabric at very clear intervals to each other, and holes remained around the buttons.

The Ionic Kithon History of Clothing Ancient Greece

The structure of the Ionic textbook

Then, in the Middle Ages, two techniques were used to create volume in fabric that were very popular. The first of which included the assimilation of the folds immediately after weaving the linen or wool. The second of which included a change in the traditional weaving pattern: creating a fabric that is stronger and more resistant to folds. The fabric was so strong that the folds were resistant to washing. From this period they began the process of pressing and smoking the fabric in an oven or alternatively by manual folding and fixing with an iron iron.

A fleece fan in motion, from the collection of Duvelleroy, France

Items of clothing in which there is a combination of fleece were the property of the upper class only. Throughout history it is possible to see members of the nobility, kings and queens whose clothes incorporate the pleating technique which symbolized volume, status and wealth. Cloth folds are also seen later in the Renaissance period mainly in the upper part of the garment: in the collar and in the sleeves. Along with the rich folds of the fabric, luxurious jewels made of gems and gold were also incorporated, which made the neck area very elegant and impressive.

For the first time in history - fleece as a fashion trend

So far we have seen examples of the use of the pleating technique as a symbol of social status. However, during the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, fleece began to be used not only by the high social class but also as a fashion trend: the fleece technique was incorporated into dresses and skirts, everyday clothes and evening wear. Later, fleece was also used in bags and hats. It was the "Art Deco" style that gained momentum in those years and which influenced the entry of the fleece into the trend. The style first appeared in France in the period before the outbreak of the First World War and it combined modern styles with fine art work and luxurious materials. It was characterized by meticulous attention to detail and represented prestige, glamour, abundance and faith in social and technological progress.

Art Deco in fashion, history of fashion, history of clothing
Art Deco style dress, 1920s of the 20th century

And how can we talk about fleece without mentioning Marilyn Monroe's iconic fleece dress? This dress was designed by the American costume designer William Travilla. Monroe wore it in one of the most famous scenes in cinema, in the movie "The Seven Year Itch", released in 1955.

Marilyn Monroe in her iconic fleece dress, designed by American costume designer William Troila, from the film The Seven Year Itch, 1955

Fleece today

Over 5000 years have passed since we first saw the use of fleece, and we continue to wear with great pleasure items made of fabrics folded using this technique even today. Today the technique has been perfected and has become industrial using fleece machines without heating the fabric. The technique can be applied to long meters in a short time (although the quality of items produced using this technique is lower than those produced with heating according to the classical method).

You can also see workshops with respectable licenses in all kinds of countries in the world, including France and England, which continue to this day to produce high-quality manual fleece. By heating the fabric in a high-pressure steam chamber, the folds are fixed in the fabrics and make them durable.

Kate Middleton wears a red fleece skirt by Christopher Kane (Christopher Kane), 2021

So, the fleece technique that used to be the domain of the upper class only has now become the domain of the general public and is part of today's fashion culture. The volume and glamor that fleece fabric brings with it and the aroma of aristocracy and nobility that the technique brings with it, remain to this day. So if you still don't have a fleece skirt, fleece dress, fleece collar or fleece shirt - now is the time :)

From the preparation of a collection for the Dior fashion house, a video by Visionaire | Refinery29

*The subject image of the post is taken from the spring-summer 2014 couture collection of AZZI& OSTA, the image is taken from here


Houston, Mary G., Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume and Decoration, London: A&C Black, 1977

Felisa , innovation and technology magazine, Meditech Holon

BOF website

Merja Attia 's flickr account

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