Dressing and Standard of Costume in Ancient Greece

Greece is known throughout the world as a source of beauty, grace and culture. A majority of ideas that we have in politics, religion and philosophy actually came from ancient Greece. Greece has been a place whereby there are a lot of beautiful creations in clothing as well as in the arts since it has such a high value for beauty in form and in the idealizing of character. Greece’s climate is similar to that of Mediterranean countries. During summer, it is normally hot and dry with a clear, cloudless sky. During winter, it is cold and wet and may have some snowfall. It is much cooler in the mountainous region with rain occurring occasionally in the summer months. The rainfall varied greatly from region to region. As such, the dress that the Greeks wear will vary in thickness and also in the number of layers that were worn from season to season.

There is a common misconception among people that all Greek costumes were white in colour. However, that is not true. People might think that way because most of the time the Greek costumes that we see are statues which are usually made of marble, bronze or some other neutral-coloured material. Or even the ones which had colour to them, probably faded by the time they were discovered. In fact, Greek clothings were dyed in a variety of different colours. For instance, the wealthy aristocrats had purple clothes dyed from some species of shellfish.

Greek women made clothes themselves by dying the wool or linen threads and weaved them on a loom so that it becomes a piece of cloth. Besides dyeing their clothes, they also had decorative designs embroidered or woven to their clothes. Greek embroidered patterns (shown below) has been used as one of the most common decorative design for the border of their clothes. However, more complex embroidery involved different themes ranging from animals, fish, birds to complex battle scenes.  In a single garment, the coloured threads for those embroideries seem to be limitless. It can be yellow, violet, indigo, red and purple all in one garment, as mentioned in the book, Home Life in Ancient Greece (p. 17). The pictures below show some examples of embroidered Greek borders on clothing.

 

Have you ever looked at pictures of Ancient Greeks and wondered – isn’t that just a cloth draped over their body? Well, you are right! Clothes were weaved and sewn together by women into a large rectangular piece of fabric and secured together in place by pins (fibulae) and belting (girdling). That simple piece of fabric was styled in many different ways to suit different occasions and weather.

Regardless of gender, both men and women wore a garment known as a chiton. As stated in the book, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Costume (pp. 39-44, 47-50), the chiton was made up of thick linen or wool. It is worn loosely so that the chiton can drape well. There are two different types of chiton, Doric (also known as peplos) and Ionic. The Doric chiton is a thick woolen cloth more than twice the width of the wearer and has a much longer overpiece. The folded overpiece is a unique feature of the dress and it is fastened on each shoulder using large pins. To ensure that the skirt will have an even length, the wearer must have her arms outstretched horizontally while another person ties the girdle. For men, the chiton were either draped over the left shoulder or on both shoulders. The Ionic chiton on the other hand is fastened on the top edge by a series of small brooches and buttons, made to look like a T-shaped tunic, while the rest of the chiton is sewn up. The Ionic chiton also requires the use of a girdle for tying.

How a cloth is folded to become a Doric chiton

 

Ionic chiton

 

 

As seen in the artifact above, the length of the chiton varied, it was dependent on gender and job. Typically, the length of women's chiton reached their ankles while men had shorter, knee-length chiton. It was more comfortable for men to wear the shorter length chiton, as they were usually the ones outdoors – riding, exercising, hunting or working.  Women who played sports also wore the shorter length chiton.

During cold weather, the Greeks wore a cloak over themselves, an outer garment known as a himation, which was made out of thick wool.

 

Greek men usually wear the himation on its own (shown in the picture above) or over a chiton, while Greek women usually wore it over their Ionic chiton as the linen is thinner. The men will wrap their himation over their left shoulder, because to bare one’s left shoulder was a sign of being uncivilised. The himation was extremely useful for men as it could also be used as a blanket if they were fighting a war. For women, they would wrap the himation around their body.

The Greeks were usually barefooted. However, they would wear leather sandals or boots if their legs were not bare.