Across all the civilizations living in Mesopotamia (the region centered in present-day Iraq near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) from 3000 to 300 B.C.E. , fringe was a popular and important decorative adornment for the clothing of both men and women. It is believed that fringe was worn by all classes of people. The evidence for how fringe was used and what it looked like is found on sculptures, statues, and described in the writings left by these civilizations.

Fringe adorned the two most basic garments worn in Mesopotamia: the skirt and the shawl. These garments were made out of woven wool or linen, and later, for the wealthiest people, cotton or silk. The hems, or edges, of skirts and shawls were decorated with fringe that either hung straight or was knotted into elaborate designs. Fringe could be cut from the whole piece of cloth that made up the skirt or shawl or it could be a separate piece sewn onto the garment.

In later civilizations of Mesopotamia the fringe on garments became more and more decorative and elaborate. Fringe could be dyed many colors and layered in tiers to cover entire garments. Some men would use the fringe of their shawls as a type of signature for contracts. Instead of using a seal to impress their mark on a clay contract, men would use their unique fringe. Fringe has been used for decoration at other points in human history, notably as decoration on the leather clothes of cowboys in the American West and as a brief fashion trend in the 1970s.


Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

[ See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: American Cowboy box on p. 614 ; Volume 5, 1961–79: Fringe ]

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