The history of canine couture – or dog clothing – goes back about as far as we have reliable records, if you include the basic collar. And if that’s all you have, then it’s couture.
Ancient Egypt is one of the earliest civilizations with evidence of the use of dog collars. The ancient Egyptians are well known for their reverence of cats, but dogs are believed to have been just as popular. Dogs were hunting companions, protectors, even did a little military duty, and were considered family members. They were given names, unlike other animals, including cats (too independent and god-like, I suppose, we all know how cats are). And like cats and prized material possessions, dogs were sometimes mummified and buried with their owners. That may not sound terribly nice to us, but it was indicative of the value placed on canine companions. These days a nice photo, with or without fancy dress, would probably suffice.
Two Egyptian palettes, which were generally used for mixing cosmetics but also for ceremonial or commemorative purposes, dating back to about 3500-3000 BC, depict dogs wearing collars. By the height of the Egyptian civilization, dog collars were getting more common and pretty darn spiffy, relatively speaking. Two were found in the tomb of an ancient Egyptian nobleman by the name of Maiherpri, dating to around 1440 BC, one collar depicting a hunting scene and the dog’s name, Tantanuit. Dog collars had become works of art, made of leather and embellished with copper, bronze, and even gold.
In ancient China’s Forbidden City, the royal canines lived as lavish a life as the emperors and empresses. They were reportedly dressed in specially commissioned luxurious outfits, tailored to their size and breed, and lived in pavilions with marble floors. There was even a royal “Dog Raising Office.” A dog was found buried with King Cuo of Zhonshan (323-309 BC) wearing a collar made out of gold, silver, and turquoise.
According to The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors “Court ladies in particular entertained themselves by walking, playing with, and dressing up their dogs. Every year, dozens of luxurious dog outfits were commissioned, the pet’s name carefully recorded on the lining.”
In Europe, prior to the Renaissance era, it was only the royal dogs who got the special treatment and they had it pretty easy – plush beds, jeweled collars, coats, sumptuous bowls, and carefully prepared delicacies. Smaller dogs, or lap dogs, were not only companions but often status symbols.
It wasn’t until the Renaissance (1450-1600), when the middle class began to emerge, that dogs were more commonly kept as pets as opposed to protectors, guards, workers, or status symbols and for the most part they wore collars of leather which was affordable. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, dog collars began to get a little ritzier and were made not only of leather but also incorporated silver, brass, and gold, decorated not only with the owner’s name but sometimes witty sayings.
But the rich are different than you and me, right? By the end of the 19th century, wealthy and aristocratic ladies of Paris were doting on their dogs like nobody’s business. Actually, somebody’s business as the royal pastime filtered down from royalty to the upper crust and the popularity and profitability of pampering posh pooches proliferated. (I do love me some good alliteration.)
By the end of the 19th century, Paris had emerged as not only the hub of fashion for ladies and gents of the two-legged variety, but had become the go-to destination for canine couture as well. In the 1890s as many as a dozen dog clothing & pampering shops were doing a booming business providing luxurious apparel and services to the petit chiens of the ladies of society.
According to Alfred Barbou in his book, Le Chien: Son histoire, ses exploits, ses aventures, (published 1883) (“The Dog: Its history, its achievements, its adventures”) dogs wore “costumes of a certain richness, pretty embroidered coats, silk jackets, warm outfits for the winter, light ones for the summer.”
A Madame Ledouble operated the maison Ledouble, 29 galerie d’Orléans at the Palais-Royal. Years later, canine tailor Monsieur Vivier operated out of the same shop. M. Vivier in an 1898 interview in Pearson’s Magazine said “We follow the ladies’ fashions. Thus, this winter what will be mainly worn is pearly grey and a peculiar shade of green known as ‘gros vert,’ and our clothes for dogs will be made in these colours, as well as in the materials which may ultimately be fixed upon by the great dressmakers as ‘the correct thing.’” A peculiar shade of green…hmmm…I guess fashion is fashion, right? Today, we still love to coordinate with our pups whatever the color.
Around the same time another French author, Jean Robert, wrote two dog-care books. The maison Ledouble advertised in Robert’s book such items as special collars, shirts, housecoats, hair clips, brushes, and combs, scented oils, underwear, and dog beds.
In Paul Megnin’s book “Nos Chiens,” published in 1914, he states that “Our chic dogs have a special bathing outfit—in blue cambric with a sailor’s collar hemmed in white with embroidered anchors in each of the corners; and on one of the sides, embroidered in gold, the name of the beach — Cabourg or Trouville” and that the fashionable dog had an outfit for afternoon visits, evening, and travel as well as the beach. For travel, he suggested that a “checked cloak of English cloth with a turned down collar, belted, with a small pocket for the train ticket” would be appropriate. Well la de da.
And much earlier in Britain in 1833, Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) said about her King Charles Spaniel, Dash, that she “dressed dear sweet little Dash in a scarlet jacket and blue trousers.”
In 1896 a Mrs. Nugent opened the Dogs’ Toilet Club in London which offered, among other pampering services, a dogs’ tailoress, as well as grooming, vet, and dentistry services. Also for sale were canine mourning clothes and wedding dresses.
“The fact is, mere ordinary folk have not the remotest notion of the extravagant extent to which canine pets are pampered nowadays by their highly-placed mistresses” said The Strand Magazine in1896. And how much truer this is today!
In the last 125 years or so, the dog apparel industry has exploded and grown by leaps and bounds from what it was, and I doubt Mme. Ledouble or M. Vivier or Mrs. Nugent would believe it if they could see it. But you can bet they would love it!