Saris, Kimonos, Togas & Smocks: Exploring Clothing Across Cultures

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 11, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Fashion Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One or two fifty-minute class periods


The way that people dress is an important means of expressing identity, status and cultural values. In this activity, students will conduct collaborative Internet research on the social purposes of clothing. They will learn about ancient Roman clothing, Japanese kimonos, Indian saris and Elizabethan garments. They will create a presentation to share what they learned with classmates.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience's background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)
Standard 7. Level IV. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps) Standard 4. Level IV. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level IV. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 3. Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., focuses attention on message, monitors message for clarity and understanding, asks relevant questions, provides verbal and nonverbal feedback, notes cues such as change of pace or particular words that indicate a new point is about to be made; uses abbreviation system to record information quickly; selects and organizes essential information) 4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade) 5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources) 8. Responds to questions and feedback about own presentations (e.g., clarifies and defends ideas, expands on a topic, uses logical arguments, modifies organization, evaluates effectiveness, sets goals for future presentations)
Standard 6. Level IV. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions 3. Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems, language and tradition; perceptions of "beautiful" or "valuable")
Arts Connections
Standard 1. Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines 
Visual Arts: Artistic Expression & Communication
Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and culture
 Working With Others
Standard 1.Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Students will do the following:
  • conduct Internet research
  • brainstorm ideas
  • complete a group survey
  • analyze and evaluate information
  • create a presentation highlighting what they have learned
  • respond to writing prompts


  • "Clothes: What Do They Mean?" handout
  • Internet websites


  • computer with Internet access


Building Background Observations & Speculation

The purpose of this activity is to help students begin to think about the social and cultural meaning of clothes. 1. Read the following paragraph aloud to your class: "Many people believe clothing is not only a necessity; their clothing represents their cultures and beliefs. Many factors affect the clothing worn by different civilizations. Some factors include region, beliefs, climate, and gender. Time also serves as a constant in which the fashion of clothing evolves. Though fashion changes at a constant speed, some pieces of clothing are more than just warmth and protection, some pieces of clothing remain almost synonymous with the cultures which crafted them. For instance, a billowing white toga is usually associated with the Roman Empire. A brilliantly colored, ornate kimono is most often associated with Japan. Altogether, fashion is a symbol for certain time periods and regions." 2. Divide the class into small groups and provide each group with a copy of the handout entitled "Clothes: What Do They Mean?" Ask the students to brainstorm answers to the questions on the handout. When the class is finished, encourage each group to share its thoughts with the entire class.

Steps for Learning Culture, Identity, Status & Clothes

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to explore different cultural expressions of identity through clothing. 1. Tell the students that they are going to research clothing from varied cultures. Divide the class into small groups and tell the students to use the websites provided to complete their assignment. Group One: Elizabethan Clothing Images: us&q=elizabethan+clothing&btnG=Search Group Two: Ancient Rome Group Three: Kimonos Images:, Group Four: Saris Images: Give the students the following assignment: Create a class presentation containing the following elements based on what you have learned in your research:
  • a description of the clothing
  • how the clothing relates to the culture
  • how the clothing is related to social status, wealth, or rank
  • two examples of the clothing. These can be photographs, drawings from your sources or drawings that you create based on your research
  • five interesting facts about the clothing
  2. Provide time for each small group to present its work to the class. 3. Ask students to respond to the following reflective journal prompts:
  • What connections can you make about clothing across varied cultures?
  • Do you see evidence of social class distinctions in the way that people dress today? If so, provide examples.
  • Have you changed your opinion on the meaning of clothing?
  • Do you think that there is a typical "American" style of clothing?
  • What do the clothes you wear suggest about your identity?
Lead a class discussion based on students' responses to the writing prompts.


You may use the following two elements to assess students' learning in this activity:

Group Presentations

Rate the quality of each element of your presentation on a scale of 1-4 with 4 being excellent and 1 being poor:
  • Describe the clothing.
  • Describe how the clothing relates to the culture.
  • Describe how the clothing is related to social status, wealth, or rank.
  • Present two examples of the clothing. These can be photographs, drawings from your sources, or drawings that you create based on your research.
  • Include five interesting facts about the clothing.

Journal Prompts

The goal of this activity is to help students understand how clothing reflects culture, identity, and social class. Review individual students' written responses and their participation in group discussion to assess their understanding of these concepts.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Fashion & Media
Ask your students to compile a collection of photographs and images that highlight how saris and kimonos are portrayed in current fashion media.
Activity Two: Virtual Kimono
Have your students visit the following website to design a virtual kimono at

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