Greek history and culture has long fascinated us, from its mythological stories and tales of epic wars to its philosophical ideals and art. Perhaps we are so far removed from it that it has become the stuff of legends. Or, perhaps, we are entranced at what life must have been like at the cradle of philosophical thought. From excavations of sculptures, frescoes (paintings applied onto walls) and everyday objects, we can see glimpses of life in the past. In particular, we can see how people dressed and the fashions of the time. Grecian fashion still influences us, as people sport Greek-inspired dresses and gladiator sandals.
The Grecian Lifestyle
In order to understand their fashion, we must also seek to understand their form of art and way of life. The climate of Greece is typical of the Mediterranean. Their winters are mild, with some rain, and summers are warm and dry. Greece has high amounts of sunlight throughout the year. Thus, we can see here that there was not much need for heavy, thick clothing to protect from cold winters. Instead, their clothing is more “airy”. Although, there were periods of coolness in Greece’s temperature that did require more layers when needed.
The clothing was lighter and thinner than what was typically found in the northern regions of Europe. The material was linen or wool and was generally draped over the body. As was typical in ancient times, people would make materials and clothes at home rather than purchasing from elsewhere. Grecian clothing could also be used as a blanket or for bedding.
If you have seen ancient Grecian architecture in structures such as the Parthenon, you can see the Grecian style of art reflected in its culture. The columns stand straight, with ridges in the columns as décor. Clothing of ancient Greek fashion is very much like this – the fabrics elongate the body and create folds.
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Grecian Clothing For Men and Women
Clothing for both men and women consisted of a peplos or chiton, and a cloak. The peplos was a tunic worn by women. Composed of wool, the peplos was a large rectangle that folded over so that the fold would reach to the waist. This fold was placed around the body and fastened with a brooch.
The chiton was a lighter linen worn by men, women and children. They differed in length according to gender: men’s were to the knees, while women’s chitons were to the ankles. The fabric would form a kolpos, in which excess length was folded over a zone, or narrow girdle, and the excess fabric would hang.
Sometimes women wore a strophion as a form of support for the breasts. Depending on the region, some would wear a loose veil when out in public.
Men commonly wore a chalmys, a cloak made of a woolen rectangle with a border design. This became popular military attire in the fifth and third centuries B.C.
In the winter, men and women would wear a himation, a larger cloak worn over other layers of clothing. To protect their feet throughout the year, Grecians wore sandals made of leather from animal hide. The hide was treated by soaking in water and urine to waterproof the material. At home, however, the ancient Greeks would go barefoot.
Ancient Greek Decor and Accessories
Grecians loved ornate jewelry and designs, particularly those who could afford it. The accessories we wear today were worn in ancient times as well: necklaces, pendants, pins, bracelets, armlets, pins, brooches, rings, wreaths and hair ornaments. Generally, accessories were made of gold or silver, with stones set into them. These stones could include emeralds, pearls, agates, or crystals. There were popular themes such as plants and animals, and winged figures such as Eros and Nike. The goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros were popular figures as well. In comparison to Grecian clothing, accessories could be quite ornate and intricate.
Often, jewelry was passed down the family as heirlooms. They were also used as offerings to the gods, and placed on the deceased upon burial.
Clothing Differences Amongst the Grecians
It is a common misconception that Greeks purely wore white robes based on the sculptures we see today. However, Greek clothing came in many colors. Historian experts have found that Grecian sculptures once had bright paint that has worn off over time.
The Grecian upper classes wore linen that was luxurious and strongly woven, along with ornate jewelry decorated with precious stones. A woman’s wealth and status could be seen by the type of jewelry she wore. The wealthy often wore purple clothing dyed from certain species of shellfish, or pure white linen. The material of the most expensive linen was soft to the touch and almost transparent.
Peasants dyed their clothing from more common materials, such as plants and earthly materials. As a result, they would wear green, brown or grey clothing. Their clothing would be made of coarser wool.
Greek solders wore clothing that provided greater protection. A Greek foot soldier, or hoplite, wore a linen shirt and metal armor shoulder plates. The hoplite would wear a bronze breastplate to protect the chest, and greaves on the legs, similar to shin guards. They would wear a bronze helmet with a crest running along the helmet. Hoplites also carried a circular shield. The primary weapon was a spear that had a leaf-shaped blade on one end and a small spike on the other. The secondary weapon used was an iron or bronze sword in case the spear broke or close combat. Most individuals provided their own equipment for battle, which meant diversity in armor. The poorest soldiers would typically have no armor or shield, but would have weapons such as daggers, bows, javelins or slings.
Different colors had different meanings. Women usually wore yellow clothing. To mourn a loved one’s death, the ancient Greeks would wear black. On special occasions, men sometimes wore petasos, which were broad brimmed hats.
Grecian society did not permit public nudity, save for certain occasions. These included bathing in public baths (separate ones for men and women) and exercising and participating in the athletics for men.
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