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Greeks Costumes And Dress

( Originally Published 1926 )



"All ages must owe a debt to Greece for the simple beauty, the sanity, the healthfulness of the ideal element which she introduced into art, making it for the first time in history a true exponent of the human spirit.""A Grammar of Greek Art," Percy Gardner.

It is difficult to realize when looking at the dress pictured in this illustration that it is not a modern doll, but a statuette which was excavated at Knossus, on the Island of Crete, and represents a civilization much older than that of the Greeks. The flounced skirt and tight bodice might well have been worn by a belle of the ante-bellum period, or her prototype of 1923. The flare at the bottom of the skirt is probably the first appearance of the vertugadine, or hoop-skirt, and the high standing collar reminds one of Catherine de Medici. A wall-painting of the sixteenth century B.C. shows a group of women so modern in dress and figure that it might have Snake goddess from the island of been done in the present day. The Myceans had a greater knowledge of the art of garment construction than the Greeks or even the Asiatics.

The costume of the men is not as modern ; in most cases the upper part of the body is not covered, unless the mark at the wrists and neck indicate a tight garment. They wore a "waist-cloth rolled round a girdle with a loose end hanging down like an apron in front";' sometimes this took the form of a triangle with the point brought between the legs. The Mycean civilization was destroyed by the Dorians, a primitive people, and for many years after the Trojan War Greece was plunged into barbarism.

We have several sources of iformation as to the costume of the Greeks of the fourteenth to sixth centuries. The Homeric writings have many references to dress; the paintings on vases, the terra-cottas and statues also give an excellent idea of its construction.

The woman of the house and her handmaidens wove the garments worn by the family; these Costume of the Ancients, Hope. were stored in quantities and were considered treasures. They were often used for ransoms, and as offerings to propitiate the gods.

The white wool of which these garments was woven was rather coarse and heavy ; they were woven in one piece, each garment separate and complete in itself; if it had been cut from a long piece it would have been contrary to the Greek idea of simple fitness and completeness. Fringe was an integral part of the garment, not sewed on like that of the Asiatics , but made from the warp and woof ends. The veils, which are described as "bright and shining," were probably of linen. Flax was evidently not grown in Greece; we find no special record made of its working, which goes to prove that the linen thread or woven material was imported from the East.

Homeric dress differed entirely from that of the pre-Hellenic or Mycean; it was draped and fastened at the shoulders with fibula (sort of safety-pin) and held at the waist by a girdle. The classic or Ionic is a development of this, with the addition of some foreign elements; some of the details are changed, but it still preserves the main features.

Women's Dress. According to Lady Evans, Homeric dress divides itself into two classes: "Endymata, or that worn next or near the skin, and Epiblemata, mantles of various cuts, thrown over these in shawl or veil fashion, as a suitably modest out-of-doors dress and a protection against the weather."

The most perfect example of the Doric chiton is found on the maidens of the Parthenon frieze and the caryatids of the Erectheum. This garment was a rectangle, the width equal to the measurement from fingertip to fingertip, with the arms stretched out, and the height one foot more than the entire height of wearer.

The method of adjustment was very simple: the upper edge was turned over the depth from neck to waist, the material was folded in half and placed around the body under the arms, with the opening coming under the left arm; the upper fold was pinned together on the shoulders.

Both arms were uncovered. The fulness was held in place by means of a girdle, which was an important part of women's dress in Homeric times; the girdles were of leather enriched with gold or other metals, of wool, and sometimes of thongs. The extra length of the chiton was pulled up in front over the girdle, forming the "kalpos," or pouch, which emphasized the graceful curve of the hips. The distinguishing characteristic of the Homeric peplos or Doric chiton is the absence of sleeves.

Until the early years of the sixth century all Grecian women wore this style of dress, fastened with pins, which became of such size that they were often used as dangerous weapons when the women were excited by grief or passion. Herodotus in 468 B. C. mentions where Athenian women punish and kill the sole survivor of a disastrous expedition by striking him with their brooches. They were punished by being obliged to wear Ionic dress, a linen tunic which did not require brooches.

The "kredemnon," or "kaluptre," was a veil-like piece of material, which may have been worn by ladies of rank only, as Penelope and other ladies of high degree are mentioned as wearing it, but the maidens of Nausicaa lay it aside.' Dark veils were used for mourning; the face was not covered except in great grief. They were probably of very fine linen or silk; they are spoken of as "bright" and "shining." The diplax was an oblong piece of material doubled and worn around the body twice, first under the arms, then over the shoulders; in rainy or cold weather it was drawn over the head. This developed into the himation, a piece of material seven or eight feet long and the breadth of the wearer's height, which was caught on the left shoulder, passed under the right arm and was brought over the left shoulder again. A great deal of originality was shown in the draping of this garment.

Materials and Color.—The painted Greek vases found in the tombs show that dark purple, red, blue, black, saffron, and possibly yellow were used for decoration, in embroidery, weaving, and stamping. The entire garment was often dyed. The men of the upper classes wore white, which was kept in spotless condition by being cleaned by the fullers. The laboring classes wore gray or brown.

Men's Dress. The chiton worn by the men was a garment not fastened with fibuke, but apparently cut and sewn; it had sleeves and fitted the upper part of the body.

The material is often described as "soft and shining," and is supposed to have been made of wool or linen, but there is no definite information on that point. In early times this garment fitted closely, like a jersey. The length varied, sometimes stopping at the knee, sometimes extending to the feet. A short double apron, not unlike trousers, was often added to this, and for ordinary pursuits, such as hunting and war, the middle-aged Greek of Homeric times wore for protection under his armor a short jerkin of felt or leather. For informal dress in the house the chiton alone was used, and for outdoor dress a cloak similar to the himation.

Hair-dressing.—The Greek coins furnish many examples of hair-dressing. The men had their beards and hair arranged in very formal curls—in fact, heated irons were used for this purpose. The women parted theirs in the centre and brought it down on each side of the face and over the ears, catching it up in a loose coil at the base of the neck by means of a skewer of gold, and bands of ribbon and metal were used to hold it in place on the forehead ; on some of the early statues we find two braids or curls hanging over the shoulders and formal curls over the forehead. Young maidens wore the hair flowing.

Footwear.—"Well-fitting shoes were a token of good breeding in Athens," and much attention was paid to footwear. Sandals laced over the instep were put on when leaving the house. High leather boots were worn by hunters and country folk. Theophrastus says that mended shoes were a sign of avarice, and overlarge or nailed shoes were boorish, except for military wear.

Ionic Dress. With the development of the Ionic capital in architecture we find a different type of dress from that of Doric simplicity, dress in Greece bearing close relation to the classification given to the Greek orders. During the early years of the sixth century all Greek women wore the Doric peplos, or chiton, but toward the later years a garment probably borrowed from the Carians and spoken of by Herodotus as the "linen Ionic chiton " was adopted.

The Doric peplos is often called the Ionic chiton, especially when there is an underdress, and the overfold is longer and reaches below the waist to the thighs. An example is the "peplos of Athena." In this type of dress the girdle is worn at the waistline on top of the overfold. The position of this girdle was gradually raised, until we find it immediately under the breasts in the "Athena" from the frieze of the altar at Pergamon.

The Ionic chiton differed from the Doric in length, material, and manner of fastening. It reached to the feet, was made of fine linen, and fastened without brooches. It shows a growing knowledge of construction, as it is always sewn on the shoulder and down the sides, sometimes fastened on the arm with a series of round brooches or buttons to form sleeves; it is this sleeve that distinguished it from the Doric.

In shape the chiton is cylindrical, longer than the height of the wearer, and is drawn up over the girdle in front to form the kalpos, which varies in length; it is much fuller than the woollen Doric, and, being made of fine, soft linen, its folds are more numerous and delicate. It is the greater width of the garment that necessitates the sleeves. They are made by joining the two top edges of the garment together or plaiting them at regular intervals, to dispose of the extra width. An opening is left for the neck and one at each end for the arms; openings were probably not made at the sides, for that would give a clumsy effect; in proof of this we find the border which runs along the neck and upper arm passing around the arm without continuing down the sides, showing that it was woven or embroidered along the top of the chiton.

Owing to the extreme fulness a different arrangement of the girdle was necessary. Two narrow bands crossed either in front and back or only in the back and passed around the arms in front were attached to the girdle at the sides. These bands held the ample folds close to the figure and prevented the sleeves from slipping and flapping. They were of one piece with the girdle or attached to it. Their place was sometimes taken by a second girdle worn rather high over the kalpos. The Ionic chiton was pulled up in front at the waist-line, when it was necessary to have speed, as in running; this made the skirt hang in points and the kalpos also.

Diana and her maidens are preparing for a hunting-party or a running-match ; they form an artistic group with their long, flowing garments of many colors. They spring from the ground, and, grasping their skirts at the waistline, pull up the extra length in several places until the skirts reach to the knee, leaving them unhampered; at a signal they dart away, reminding one of a collection of gay butterflies.

The overfold of the Ionic chiton is not easy to understand ; "it is not a normal feature," and may have been added by the Athenian women when they were obliged to adopt the dress, they having been accustomed to wear it on the Doric peplos. When formed by the same method as the peplos, it was clumsy under the arms, but they probably attached the overfold across the front of the neck, or fastened sleeves at the sides, similar to those of the Japanese kimono. Where the overfolds are made in this way, the sleeves are smaller, and there is less fulness in the body of the garment. Under this garment the women wore a broad linen band, which held up the breasts and served as a corset.

For outer garments we find the himation, or shawl ; this shows a great variety in shape and adjustment. In some cases it covers both shoulders, in others only one, as is the case with the Doric. The "diplax," a garment similar to the "chalmys" of the men, is also seen ; this garment was doubled before it was put on, and was fastened on the right shoulder with a clasp and passed under the left arm. The feet were bare, or incased in sandals; Greek women never wore the closed shoe of the Asiatics.

Head-dresses.—The hair was dressed with great care, and more elaborately than during the Doric period, but the shape of the head was always carefully preserved. "Hair is beautiful, and Greek poetry is full of allusions to it and its value as a splendid possession; but it never will be found that the size of the head of a Greek statue is much enlarged by it; it is closely confined to the shape of the head, so as not materially to increase the size of it." Ceres was always pictured wearing the mitra, or bushel-shaped, crown. Juno and Venus wore the tiara, or crescent diadem. Ribbons, strings of beads, wreaths of flowers, nettings, fillets, and skewers were used for decoration.

Jewelry and Accessories. Beautiful jewelry—gold pins for holding the hair and various other trinkets, such as ear-rings, bracelets in hoops and snakes—was used in profusion and was kept in a box called a "pyxis." Parasols are also found on the Greek monuments, but they are only used by the people of importance and are held over their heads by the slaves in attendance.

Like their modern sisters, they were given to the use of powder, paint, and unguents. Ischomacus, in the OEconomicus of Xenophon, speaking of his girl wife of fifteen, says: "One day I saw her with a lot of powder on her face to make her look whiter, and a lot of rouge to make her look redder, and high-heel shoes to make her look .taller. I pointed out to her in the first place that she. was doing as dishonorable a thing in trying to deceive me about her looks as I should if I tried to deceive her about my property. And I remarked that though her arts might impose upon others, they could not upon me who saw her at all times. I was sure to catch her early in the morning before they had been applied, or tears would betray them, or perspiration, or the bath."

According to Thucydides, the elder men of the wealthy classes gave up the luxurious mode of dress common to them and their kinsfolk, the Ionians, and changed the long linen chiton and the fashion of fastening their hair with the cicala, or grasshopper, for a chiton with sleeves, similar to that of the women. "On vases, Zeus and Dionysus and other gods are almost invariably represented wearing this, and in sculpture kings, priests, and others are represented so dressed."

For active pursuits a short chiton was worn, and for outer coverings we find the himation and the "diplax," long, ample, and wound around the body twice, first under the arms and then over the shoulder; the "chalmys," or travelling cloak, was a rectangular piece of cloth fastened around the neck and under the chin with a clasp. The petatos, a felt hat with a round crown and a straight brim, was used with the chalmys. Apollo and Mercury are usually shown wearing this type of dress.

The sumptuary laws of Solon were passed to curb extravagance; they show that the dress of the fifth and sixth centuries was very rich and elaborate. The number of garments worn at one time by women were limited to three; the amount of money spent for dresses and ornaments, and also the size of a bride's trousseau were included. In Sparta, by the laws of Lycurgus, it was forbidden to have houses made by any more elaborate implements than the saw or axe, and simplicity of food and clothing was enjoined upon the male members of the household. This was a reaction against the effeminacy, luxury, and excessive decoration in dress and architecture which had developed during this century. The style of dress was the most luxurious found in Greek art at any period, and chitons, scarfs, and cloaks were decorated elaborately with embroideries and woven figures. The limiting these garments to three shows that women had multi-plied them; there were probably tunics and supertunics, each more elaborate than the last.

Women's Dress. The undergarment which shows at the neck and on the left arm on the statues is represented by wavy lines. somewhat crinkled in appearance.' This seems to indicate that the material may have undergone some special treatment in making. On some this garment shows an ornamental border or finish at the neck and down the upper arm, originally painted in color but now almost effaced. The lower part of the figure is covered with an ample garment, which may have been made of the same material and a part of the upper garment; it is decorated with a broad pattern down the front and probably around the lower edge of the skirt.

Over this was worn an elaborately constructed piece of drapery—a development of the peplum or diplax.' It passes under the left arm and over the right shoulder, and hangs in vertical folds or plaits; these are held in place by a band which passes under the left arm and is fastened on the right shoulder. The folds start on the right shoulder with a box-plait, which hangs well down on the skirt, and continue around the body in a series of formal side-plaits which come nearly to the waistline. There is a small heading which falls over the band, and the garment is often fastened along the right arm with a series of buttons. Over this is worn an additional wrap or scarf, which hangs in long folds over the left shoulder and passes across the back to the right shoulder, where the end is thrown over the right arm; both of these garments are ornamented with a border. There is considerable argument as to whether the undergarment was the long chiton or whether there were two garments.

Materials. The linen for these garments was fine and was imported from Asia and the more easterly AEgean Islands. The most commonly mentioned was made from a yellowish flax which came from Egypt and India. A fine transparent material, not unlike the linen cambric of the present day, was considered a great luxury and worn only on festal occasions.

Silk culture was known in Greece at the time of Aristotle, as he gives the following description: "Some women undo the cocoons of this creature, winding off the silk, and then weave it, and Pamphile, daughter of Plateus, is said to have been the first to weave it." Whether the silkworms were raised in Greece is not known, but it is probable that only the cocoons were imported. Three kinds of silk materials are mentioned—vestes cooe, bombycinae, and serica. The vestes cooe was worn chiefly by the Hetarae it was transparent and was apparently dyed in different colors; one piece which was found among materials that were excavated at Kertch was a bronze-gold in color, and woven with a lozenge pattern; purple with gold thread interwoven was also used.

Decoration by means of embroidery and pattern-weaving took the form of borders running down the front and around the neck of the chitons, with deeper borders at the bottom. Small sprigs and stars formed all-over patterns. Some of the bands were worked on the garment itself, and others were applied after the garment was made up.

The Greek women were expert embroideresses ; being closely confined to the house, they had much time at their disposal. They directed the work of the many slaves who formed their households and were their only companions. They never dined with their husbands when other men were present, or left the house without their consent, and accompanied by a slave of his choosing. They were not even recognized as individuals with personal tastes and capacities.

Men's Dress. The dress of the men seems to have followed much the same lines as that of the women, with excessive decoration and ample fulness. Their long hair was bound with gold. Thucydides speaks of the "men adopting a more easy and luxurious way of life," probably due to the coming in of Oriental fashions.

The beginning of the fifth century brought about a great change. Both men and women gave up wearing linen and silk and returned to a rather modified Doric chiton, made of woollen material. The overfold was a trifle longer, and the girdle was worn at the waist. This was partly a reaction against the Orientalism of the East, after the Persian War, 480 B.C., and partly because wool was considered more healthful "at the period when the sound mind in a sound body was the aim of the Athenian state on behalf of her citizens."

In the foregoing pages an effort has been made to treat the subject of Greek dress in a simple and clear way. There being such a wealth of material from which to draw, it is an almost inexhaustible subject. There is probably no other epoch in history that has had the same influence on all others as this, not only in architecture and sculpture, but in dress also, and it is necessary to get a clear idea of the three distinct types in order to interpret the dress of the following centuries.



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