The earliest evidence of a potentially-formal choir robe is found in ancient Greece. The Greek Chorus seems to have been relatively common in that era, and can be seen depicted on a portion of pottery dating from around 425 BC. That Greek pottery displays members of a choir both singing and playing musical instruments. The members of that ancient choir are seen wearing lengthy loose gowns that reach up and across their left shoulders. The use of gowns likely developed from the ancient tunic. Indeed, clerical vestments such as an alb are directly related to the ancient tunic, with the word origin being a latin phrase meaning a tunic of white. Modern albs remain a plain, lightweight, ankle-length tunic with long sleeves, with a rope cincture about the waist. Ancient tunics were sleeveless, and were seen as a distinction from barbarians wore sleeved clothing (probably because those tribes lived in the colder regions). The tunic eventually did include a sleeve around the 3rd century, after military leaders returned from a campaign wearing them. This combination of tunic and choir evolved with time.
The Jewish Torah (bible) provides some possible indications that choirs held a role for the early Hebrews. For example, Nehemiah Chapter 12, section 31 has the leaders of Judah assigning two choirs to offer thanks in some translations of that section. Jewish law dictates vestments or robes for the high priest and for certain other roles at this time as well. However, I have yet to find evidence that these choirs wore robes.
A new style of pulpit wear took hold during the Reformation era, called the Geneva style. This style, still in use today, was based on Academic Regalia for doctoral graduates. Choirs of the reformation followed suit, adopting gowns based on the graduation robe style rather than the secular fashion of the day. It is at this time that the four basic types of gowns were established which remain today: clergy robes, choir gowns, academic robes, and judicial robes.
The baroque period of music, with instrumentals, opera, and chords, flourished at this time and influence choral music. New harmonic techniques such as the counterpoint were developed, resulting in accompaniment for choirs by different ensembles in addition to the traditional a cappella choirs. Verse anthems alternated choral sections with accompanied solos.
Music for choirs evolved in the 20th century, which has become a period of experimentation, formalization, and development. With this evolution came the mass marketing of the choir robe for both secular choirs in primarily schools, and religious choirs in churches and temples.
Choir robe sales started with a focus on just a few colors, styles, and fabrics. Originally, most choir gowns came in only one of three colors: black, white, and blue. With the advent of the popularity of gospel choirs the choir robe began to blossom into a multitude of choices. Now, choirs across the world can choose from over a hundred styles, with almost any color in the spectrum and numerous fabric choices and accessories.
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