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  • What Shall I Say of Clothes? Theoretical and Methodological Approaches to the Study of Dress in Antiquity ed. by Megan Cifarelli and Laura Gawlinski
  • Carly Daniel-Hughes
Megan Cifarelli and Laura Gawlinski, eds. What Shall I Say of Clothes? Theoretical and Methodological Approaches to the Study of Dress in Antiquity. Boston, MA: Archaeological Institute of America, 2017. Pp. 223. CDN $24.95. ISBN 9781931909341.

There is now a considerable body of secondary literature on dress in the ancient Mediterranean context. Moving away from the reconstruction and description of ancient costume, scholars of Mediterranean antiquity have examined the embodied and material nature of dress more broadly [End Page 331] conceived. The path-breaking work of fashion historians, such as Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins and Joanne Eicher, has set the tone for these more recent studies, in which dress is understood as a form of social communication and refers to modifications or adjustments made to the body. Dress is at once social and subjective; it is about communication and identity. Yet, as contributors to What Shall I Say of Clothes? show, dress also implies interesting possibilities for conceptualizing agency and for thinking about the social as mediated by and embedded in the material. Scholars of Mediterranean antiquity, such as those featured in this volume, have demonstrated that ancient data, whether archaeological, artistic, or textual, present rich opportunities to explore the complexity and subtlety of dress precisely because ancient societies relied on dress (as a social activity, as a commodity, as a performance, and more) to do so much cultural work.

What Shall I Say of Clothes? grew out of presentations at the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Schools of Oriental Research. Volume editor Megan Cifarelli and Laura Gawlinski selected 11 papers that cover a geographically and culturally diverse range. The collection focuses largely on archaeological and artistic remains (gems, stones, pins, and other grave goods, friezes on build monuments, and commemorative portraiture) drawn from an impressive geographical and archaeological expanse, including ancient Mesopotamia, the Levant, Persia, Anatolia, and archaic and classical Greece, as well as eastern portions of the later Roman Empire. A distinguishing feature of this volume is its theoretical eclecticism, in which experiential archaeology, phenomenology, performance theory, and evolutionary biology combine with semiotic approaches to get a more nuanced and dynamic understanding not only of what dress meant, but of how it might have worked productively in ancient societies. This eclecticism is not, however, a distraction, but makes the collection a lively read and a suggestive one for further research on ancient dress.

Cifarelli and Gawlinski have divided the essays into three categories, "Getting Dressed," "Being Dressed," and "Dress and Identity." The opening essay by Neumann considers how the ceremonial dressing of divine images in ancient Assyria facilitated social ideologies, particularly propping up the status of the king through symmetry of dress. Verduci's contribution examines burial sites in the Levant to show how funerary practice, such as adorning and dressing the deceased body, constituted relationships with the living and the dead and facilitated grief and mourning. Roman phallic pendants are the subject of Whitmore's chapter, which opens the second section. Experiential archaeology helps her to suggest that the wearing of such pendants (how they moved with the folds of clothing) contributed to their apotropaic potential. Beckman's analysis of gemstones from the Hellenistic and Roman periods appeals to ancient literary sources to suggest how ancients might have understood the magical properties of tawny stones inscribed with scorpions, and, in addition, how wearing them indicated one's elevated status. Castor looks to how exquisite and elaborate Etruscan jewellery [End Page 332] appeared to onlookers. The intricate designs that they feature, she argues, served to advance the social status of their owners. Cifarelli tracks changes in the burial practices, particularly of women, located in modern Hasalnu, Iran from the first millennium bce. The sharp, long pins that feature in some women's tombs are not signs of militarized dress, she concludes, but are better understood in terms of "costly signaling theory." Such pins were complex and dangerous to their female wearers, but indicated these women's elite status, or "the unassailability of...