The wearing of clothing is specifically human characteristic and most human societies wear some form of clothing. There is no information about when we started using clothes but there are ideas why. Anthropologists think that animal skins and vegetation were adapted as protection from weather conditions.
Other idea is that clothing may have been invented first for other purposes, such as magic, decoration, cult or prestige, and then later found to be practical as means of protection. There are archeological findings as well as representation of clothing in art which can help to determine when particular clothing appeared in history. There is a problem of preservation of archeological evidences because some place preserve findings better than other and from some places we don’t have evidence at all.
Textiles appeared in the Middle East during the late Stone Age. There is evidence that suggests that humans may have begun wearing clothing somewhere from 100,000 to 500,000 years ago. Primitive sewing needles have been found and are dated to around 40,000 years ago. Dyed flax fibers which have been found in a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia are old some 36,000 years. Some 25,000 years ago the Venus figurines started appearing in Europe, that were depicted with clothing. They had basket hats or caps, belts at the waist and a strap of cloth above the breast.
First material used for clothing that was not leather but textile was probably felt. Nålebinding, which is another early textile method - a type of precursor of knitting, appeared somewhere in 6500 BC as some evidence tells. At a Neolithic site at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia were found oldest known woven textiles of the Near East. They were used for wrapping the dead. Flax was cultivated from c. 8000 BC in the Near East but sheep are bred much later in 3000BC. Cotton was used for clothing in Ancient India from 5th millennium BC. Linen cloth was made in Ancient Egypt from the Neolithic period. Flax was grown even earlier. Ancient Egypt also knew about different spinning techniques like the drop spindle, hand-to-hand spinning, and rolling on the thigh as well as about horizontal ground loom and vertical two-beam loom which came from Asia. Ancient Egyptians also used linen for bandages for mummification and for kilts and dresses. The earliest proof of silk production in China dates from between 5000 and 3000 BC and is in the form of cocoon of the domesticated silkworm which was cut in half by a sharp knife. Japan started with weaving in Jōmon period which lasted from 12,000 BC to 300BC. There is evidence of pottery figurines that were depicted with clothing and a piece of cloth made from bark fibers dating from 5500BC. Some primitive needles weer also found as well as hemp fibers and pattern imprints on pottery which proves existence of weaving techniques in Japan at that time. Silk Road was very important for exchange of luxury textiles between East and West. It helped in the development of the great civilizations of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Indian subcontinent and Rome that traded along the route.
Different cultures approached to the clothing in different ways under the influence of climate, fashion, religion, and ecosystem. Under the same influences those cultures changed clothing throughout the history. Read about clothing history here.
Textiles were invented when humans needed them and some of them were invented by different cultures that never had any mutual contacts. Some were invented with one intent only to be later used for completely different one. History of textile is wide and colorful.
Knitting and weaving are two very interesting achievements of human race. Nobody knows who was the first who got the idea to make fabrics in that way but we know that the idea was brilliant.
Ancient civilizations like Greece and Rome favored wide, unsewn lengths of fabric from which they constructed their clothing (fabric was expensive and they didn’t want to cut it). Ancient Greek clothing was made of lengths of rectangular wool or linen cloth which was secured at the shoulders with ornamented pins and belted with a sash. Women wore loose robe called peplos, men cloak called chlamys while both men and women wore chiton - a type of tunic which was short to the knees for men and longer for women.
The toga of ancient Rome which was worn by free Roman men citizens was also an unsewn length of wool cloth. Under the toga they wore a simple tunic which was made from two simple rectangles joined at the shoulders and sides. Roman women wore the draped stola or a tunic that had length to the ground.
During the Iron Age that lasted from 1200 BC to 500 AD women of northwestern Europe wore wool dresses, tunics and skirts which were held in place with leather belts and metal brooches or pins. Men wore breeches with leg wrappers for protections and long trousers. They also wore caps and shawls made from animal skin and soft laced shoes made from leather.
During Medieval times the Byzantines made and exported very richly patterned cloth. Expensive variant was woven and embroidered while cheaper, intended for lower classes was resist-dyed and printed. They wore tunics, or long chitons over which they wore dalmatica, which is a heavier and shorter type of tunica or long cloaks.
At the same time look of European clothing depended on whether people who wore it identified with the old Romanized population or the new invaders such are Franks, Anglo-Saxons or Visigoths. Men of the invading peoples wore short tunics with belts and visible trousers, hose or leggings. In 12th and 13th century Europe clothing remained simple. In 13th century dyeing and working of wool improves and Crusaders bring with them craft of silk. Fashion begins in Europe in 14th century.
In Renaissance Europe wool remained the most popular fabric for all classes but the linen and hemp were also used. More complex clothes were made and urban middle class joins the fashion that was set by higher class and royalties. Early Modern Europe from 16th century sees even more complex fashion with ruffs, passementerie and needlelace. Enlightenment introduces two types of clothing: “full dress” worn at Court and for formal occasions, and “undress” which are everyday, daytime clothes. Full dress almost disappeared by the end of the 18th century.
Industrial revolution brings machines that spin, weave and sew and with that produce fabric that is of better quality, faster made and has lower price. Production moves from small cottage production to fabrics with assembly lines.
20th century invents synthetic fibers that is cheaper than natural and which is mixed with many natural fibers.