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Fashion in ancient Greece

By Edited Aug 26, 2016 0 0

Through various visual historical evidences, archaeologists have been able to piece together a picture of how fashion was like in ancient Greece. From vases, pots, sculptures, statues and written records, we are now able to catch a glimpse into the fashion world of Greece more than two millenniums ago.

Hairstyles
Credit: http://karenswhimsy.com/ancient-greek-fashion.shtm

(1) Hair style

Men

In ancient Greece, men usually wore their hair short or at most had shoulder-length hair. The custom was for young boys to wear their hair until puberty when it would be cut in a ceremonial act, though it would be grown long again as an adolescent reached manhood. 

Although beards were initially popular, by the Hellenistic era, they had gone out of style so most men, with the exception of older ones, were clean-shaven. (Like today, fashion in Ancient Greece also evolved over time.) 

Blonde hair was also considered preferable to the more prevalent dark hair.  In ancient Greek texts, the gods and heroes are often described as having the idealized golden hair.

Women

As for women, they usually wore their hair down or tie them up in curls or knots with a variety of ribbons, pins and diadems. Alternatively, their hair could be tied back into a bun. While older women used gold, silver hair pins and tiaras, young ones used fresh flowers and ribbons to adorn their hair. Occasionally, a scarf would also be worn over the hair.

As fashionable hairstyles came and went, wigs were a popular option as they offered an easy change of hair color and allowed the wearer to keeping up with the latest trend.  

Reflecting their lowly status as workers and for practical purposes, only slave girls wore their hair short.

(2) Clothing

Clothing in ancient Greece was usually home-made. (They were usually made by the mother, daugther and female slaves of the household.) Initially, clothes were made of wool and linen. By the end of the Classical Period, silk and cotton, which were more available then, became common sources too. The clothing was worn in a loose manner. For the common people, the fabric was plain-coloured, while the wealthier ones would spend more to dye the fabrics such that they were brightly coloured with intricate designs like checks, wavy lines, stripes and flowered patterns. The commonly used colours were violet, green and grey.

Men

Men usually wore a ankle-length loose dress known as a chiton. It is a rectangular linen fabric, which is pinned at the shoulders and girded around the waist. Depending on the occasion, some men would wear longer chitons or ceremonial robes.

Another type of clothing was the chlamys (or short cloak), commonly worn by young men when riding horses.

Women

For women, they wore the chiton, usually in two main styles - the Doric (wool) and the Ionic (linen or silk). The Doric style was simpler and had no sleeves, and was simply pinned, sewn, or buttoned at the shoulder. The Ionic style was made of a much wider piece of fabric, and was pinned, sewn, or buttoned all the way from the neck to the wrists, with the excess fabric girdled at the waist. The Ionic style also had a longer overfold than the Doric's. The women could also wear a soft band around the waist. The chitons were usually ankle-length. 

The Ionic style became popular after the end of the Persian Wars around mid-5th century B.C. Not only were more materials available then, more advanced methods also allowed more creative options in fashion, such as the creation of sleeves. 

Besides the chiton, an alternative clothing for women was the pelops, which was a large rectangular-shaped woolen fabric, usually folded around the waist area and fastened at the shoulders with a pin or brooch.

At times, women would also wear a long scarf or shawl over the chiton or pelops.

(The commonly-used term "tunic" is a broad category which includes the chiton and the pelops.)

Common use

When travelling or during winter, both men and women would wrap themselves in a himation (or heavy woollen cloak). In addition, both would also wear petasos (or broad-brimmed hats) when travelling. These came with a chinstrap and served to protect the wearer from weather elements.

Female Fashion
Credit: http://www.fashion-era.com/ancient_costume/ancient-greek-fashion-hair.htm

(3) Footwear

In ancient Greece, people went barefoot or wore sandals or slippers outside the home. Inside the home, they went barefoot.

(4) Make-up

Pale skin was considered a sign of prestige and wealth in Ancient Greece, as the ability to stay indoors (not having to work) most of the day. Rich women applied white lead (which is toxic) to whiten their facial complexions. Another "make-up" used was chalk, which did not have the same lasting effects as lead.

Women also decorated their eyes and eyelashes with dark power (usually the soot from lamps), as well as applied red powder to their cheeks and lips to give themselves a youthful and vibrant look. 

The Ancient Greeks also invented perfume, by boiling flowers and herbs (e.g. roses, lilies, violets, sage, cumin, etc.) to create a variety of scents. The art of perfume-making originated in Crete before spreading to the rest of the Greek cities. Perfume was a key component in ancient Greece's daily life, as it revolved around wealth, status, hospitality and hygiene. Athletes used perfume after exercise. Babies were anointed with it for good health. It was also used in elaborate bathing rituals by both men and women. It was also a sign of good hospitality to ensure that his guests' feet were washed and anointed with perfume upon being seated.

(5) Jewellery

From archaeological evidence, historians have surmised that jewellery was popular in ancient Greece among both men and women, though it was less so for the former after the 4th century B.C. Women generally wore earrings, bracelets, brooches and necklaces, which conferred wealth and status on the wearer. Greek jewellers were well-known in the ancient world for their fine gold work and colourful designs.

Jewellery was often passed down from one generation to another. It was also dedicated at sanctuaries as offerings to the gods. (Archaeologists have found necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches among the temple ruins. These artefacts give us a good idea of the prevailing designs back then.) 

Jewellery
Credit: http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/jewelry_history_ancient_greek.html
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Bibliography

  1. "Ancient Greece." Ancient Greece. 29/11/2011 <Web >
  2. "The Greeks." The Greeks. 29/11/2011 <Web >
  3. Anne Millard Ancient Greece. London: Granada Guides, 1982.

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