In the last post we talked about varieties of Roman toga and the stola. In this one we’re going to explore the cool robes the Greeks wore.
The Chiton (no, I didn’t just sneeze)
The chiton was a dress made of fabric longer than the height of its wearer and folded into a tube around the body. The excess fabric was pulled above and a belt worn to make the top like a blouse called a kolpos. It was often worn with a himation over it. Without it was called a monochiton.
There were a couple of basic lengths: the chiton pederes which reached the heels and a longer one that trailed behind called the chiton syrtos (elkekhitones). In any case, they were always at least ankle length except for the elderly or for those such as priests and charioteers. Men and Spartan women usually wore them knee length. Spartan girls would wear a single-shouldered knee-length chiton.
In case that wasn’t confusing enough, there were also a couple of different arm lengths. In longer sleeves the length of the arm was sewed together and a small hole for was left at the top for the head. The short sleeve variety was held with a fibulae (brooch).
To make a simple tube-style dress even more complicated, there were options for those who wanted to get a little creative or show off their latest sparkly things. A large belt called a zoster could be worn usually under the breast (high-girdled) or sometimes around the waist (low-girdled). Another option was to wear a narrower “zone” or girdle, or have a double girdle. Colour and pattern was usually for showing status but later on things relaxed a bit and everyone got to enjoy mixing up the colours.
The whole rainbow of customizations came under two basic styles, the Doric and Ionic styles. The Doric was rectangular piece of cloth that was a little more than the wearers height and twice the measurement between the fingertips. It was usually linen or sometimes silk or wool. It was worn plain or with an overfold called an apoptygma (more common). Sometimes they were draped and held at the shoulder through sewing or buttons and sometimes, if they wanted to dress up or show off how wealthy they were, the ladies would attach them with fibulae.
The Ionic chiton was usually linen but sometimes wool or silk if she could afford it. The cloth height was the length of the wearers measurement from shoulder to ankle and up to about 3 yards wide. They were longer and fuller and draped without a fold and held in place from the neck to wrist by small pins and stitched closed along the side. According to historian Herodotus, the Ionic style quite possibly came about because of what a bunch of Athenian wives did to the sole survivor of a bunch of men who went off to attack Aegina. Let’s just say that after the wives got at him with their chitons’ fibulae, he wasn’t the sole survivor. (Herodotus, Histories 5.87.3)
The Perky Peplos
The peplos was made from rectangular heavier wool fastened at shoulder by fibulae. It was generally sleeveless and worn folded into a cylinder and folded again at top to form an overfall or “apoptygma”. The open peplos was left open to show the leg on one side. The closed peplos was sewn on both edges to hide the sides of the body. In the 5th century BC the peplos changed a bit and was made from a less substantial wooen cloth and had a long overfall with one open side and was brightly coloured and patterned.
The Elegantly Functional Himation
A himation was a cloak or mantle that was worn over a chiton or peplos to help stay warm. It was worn over both shoulders (symmetrical) or diagonally (transverse). The symmetrical himation was a large rectangle draped over the shoulders like shawl with the center sometimes pulled over the head. The transverse himation was most commonly wrapped around the entire body with the end of the cloth draped forward over left shoulder, wrapped across the back and either covering the right arm or under the right arm then held over left arm or slung across the chest to the left shoulder. It was then secured by tucking a fold into the girdle, with a string around the waist, or tied around the hips. The Ionic chiton was most commonly worn with the transverse himation.
The women loved to get colourful with their himations and would dye them bright colours and border them with intricate woven or painted designs.
The men normally wore the himation alone but some wore it over a short chiton. They were careful not to let the edges drag on the ground though as it was a social no-no (VERY undignified and uncool to get your himation dirty). The men also wrapped their himation over their left shoulder as baring the left shoulder was…uncivilized. For men, the himation was popular until around the end of 500BC then it was used more by women.
So, what did you think of the himation? Do you know anything else about it or any stories you would like to share? Are their any other clothing items from this time you’d like to know more about? Please share and comment below. I’d love to learn what you can share because classical history rocks.