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Clothing Of The Greek

( Originally Published 1928 )

THE Greeks first appear in history in the eighth century B.C.; the legendary date for the Trojan War is 1194-1184 B.C.

The Elgin marbles in the British Museum, the collection of Grecian vases made by Hope and the writings of Homer, are the standard authorities for the costume of the Greeks in the heroic age.

On the frieze of the Parthenon the following articles of men's attire and weapons are found: a short tunic; the chlamys, a knee-length military cloak fastened by a clasp on the right shoulder (this one appears on the statue of the Apollo Belvedere) ; a broad-brimmed hat known as the petasus, or Thessalonian, and a close skull cap of leather ; a buskin, a high shoe reaching well up the calf, known later as the cothurnus; a large circular shield; a sword which hung horizontally under the left armpit; a helmet topped by a crest; a cuirass; bows of goat's horns with arrowheads attached to feathered shafts; quivers lined with skins; spears with heads shaped like leaves ; others with a head made of three crescents, evidently in-tended for hunting. Various portions of the female dress can be seen on the statues of Thalia, Ceres and Diana : a long tunic, the upper arm covered by catching the material together at regular intervals with buttons, as on the statue of Thalia; the peplum, an oblong cloth hanging or wrapped about the bosom; a girdle, holding the tunic below the bust; sandals.

The vases show the Amazons in clothes suggestive of the Orient : trousers ; embroidered tunics with long set-in sleeves ; the chlamys ; the Phrygian cap, always made with the soft peak turned forward. They carried a small shield like a half moon known as the pelta. Furs also appeared. In later years the inhabitants of Thrace were clothed largely in furs brought from Russia.

Homer gives detailed descriptions of the arms carried by Achilles, Agamemnon, Ajax and the rest of the warriors. They were made of various metals such as gold, brass, tin and steel, the shields being decorated with dragons, Gorgon's heads, etc. Achilles must have been a resplendent figure in a corselet of gold with a helmet covered with gilded horsehair. Homer says the skins of animals were hung over the cuirass. This armor should always be placed over a short tunic. Greaves (leg armor) were fastened to the naked flesh, with the feet sandaled or bare.

The costumes of Troilus (who was the son of Priam) and Cressida are of the heroic age. The Greeks in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are sometimes Elizabethan.

Materials and Ornamentation.—Wool and flax were most in use. Herodotus describes Arabian sheep; from them was procured the Milesian wool, considered by the Greeks the finest of all. Later on flax was mixed with silk. Clothes made of pure silk were very costly, as this material was brought from the East. Homer speaks of elaborate embroidery as not uncommon ; a diplax (double mantle) belonging to Helen of Troy, portrayed the battles of the Greeks and Trojans. Aristotle speaks of the magnificent pallium of purple embroidered to represent cities, gods and men, which was made for Alcisthenes, 520 B.C.

Homer describes the armilla or bracelet of a Grecian woman as like a "twisted spiral."


This was the period when Greece was at the zenith of her glory; art flourished and magnificence prevailed. From 470-431 B.C. the plays of AEschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were given in the theatre of Dionysus at Athens. The costumes followed the usual lines, but were elaborately and richly decorated. "Timon of Athens" is dated a little later during the time of Alcibiades.

The Tunic (also called the Chiton).—This principal garment was always worn next to the skin. To its crinkled, clinging folds we owe much of the beauty of Grecian statuary. For stage use, two large squares of cheese-cloth or crepe de Chine, closed by seams on the sides to within twelve inches of the open top, wet, wrung out and left tightly rolled until dry will, when the body is wriggled through, give a good imitation of the impression one receives from the marbles. Such a costume can only be worn three or four times without rewetting. (It should always be kept rolled when not in use.) When worn by women, fibular or buttons held the loose edges of the tunic together over the upper arm, while the fullness was con-fined about the waist and under the bust by cords passed around the waist, over the shoulder, between the breasts, about the waist again—this time a little lower—then knotted. The folds of the material should be coaxed to fall gracefully by gently pulling the goods up between the cords. The tunic should always reach the floor. The tragic actresses of the Comedie Francaise, so used to donning these costumes, walk with a long, pushing glide which prevents tripping on the hem.

The Dorian tunic of the men was a short woolen one fastened by large clasps on the shoulders. One side was left open to insure greater freedom in athletic exercises. Spartan women are supposed to have worn it also. The Ionian tunic was long and ample, with wide elbow sleeves.

The Strophion.—A forerunner of the corset worn by women consisted of three bands; the lowest confined the hips, the highest passed under and supported the bust, while the remaining one defined the normal waist line.

The Super-Tunic.—This reached to the waist and was worn for extra protection. Either the tunic was folded over on itself and allowed to hang loose, or a separate garment was cut in points at each side, which, when weighted with lead, caused the material to hang in zigzag folds that swayed with every movement of the body.

The Peplum.—An oblong piece of goods, about four yards long by two wide, formed a mantle worn by both men and women ; the material passed twice around the body under the arms, was brought up over the shoulders and secured by closely winding it about the figure. For extra protection this wrap could be pulled over the head and was so adjusted in times of mourning.

The Peplos.—This was a veil of thin material large enough to envelop the entire figure when thrown over the head.

The Pallium.—An ample cloak worn by philosophers, as also was the tribon, a coarse black or brown mantle. The Himation.—A cloak capacious enough to drape about the body in folds. These mantles were all without fastening and required much skill in graceful draping.

The Chlamys.—This garment was a distinctly military cloak falling to the knees and fastened by a clasp on the right shoulder.

Footgear.—Sandals, worn chiefly by women, consisted of a thick leather sole with an ornamental piece on the instep, held by straps about the ankle. Another variety resembled the Japanese tabi, with a strap of leather separating the big toe from the others. The cothurnus or buskin was a laced shoe of ornamental leather reaching to the middle of the calf, sometimes lined with the skin of a small animal, the head or paws hanging out at the top. We of today might adopt this idea and vary the sameness of our goloshes. The buskin was used by actors when playing tragedy, its high raised sole making the player more conspicuous. Socks were worn by comedians. Hence the _expression, "socks and buskin."

Materials.—Those most in use were of wool and flax. All the silk was brought from the Orient and therefore a luxury. Linen was imported from Egypt. Ornamentation took the form of borders and small or large patterns, repeated over the entire goods. Thus we find frets, such as the well-known "wall of Troy," edging the tunics while unrelated spots, stars and the like, covered the center space. Large designs, for example, birds embroidered in gold, silver and colored threads, appeared with striking effect. No cotton goods were used by the Greeks for clothing. Silk was manufactured after A.D. 551,

The Hair.—The men wore it curled across the fore-head and falling in ringlets to the nape of the neck or shoulders. The busts of Sophocles, Pericles, Homer, Diogenes, Epicurus, Demosthenes and many others represent them with beards. This fashion lasted until 336 B.C. when Alexander the Great, so the story goes, commanded the Greeks to be shaved, fearing that in the intimate war-fare of those days the beards might be clutched by the enemy. Every result attainable by the use of a curling iron is to be found on the marbles. Beauty parlors were not needed because everybody of any standing at all had six slaves. All married women parted the hair in the middle and wound it into a classic, or Psyche, knot at the back of the head. A string drawn from the nose back-ward should run into the center of its base; from its extremity curls often dangled. A simpler form consisting of a coil on the nape of the neck also is seen. Fillets and ribbons bound the hair.

Only the courtesans affected mitres (this class also carried hand mirrors).

Jewelry and Ornamentation.—Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, armlets and anklets were popular among women, who also carried fans and parasols. The men wore finger rings and carried walking sticks, but had no armlets or anklets like the Romans. This difference frequently leads to error in stage productions.

Respectable women rarely appeared in public, and then always covered by the peplos. Like the Chinese, the Greeks used flame-colored wedding veils held to the brow by gold fillets in the open key design. A bride wore rose color (again the Chinese color for joy) and a golden girdle, on her face a patch of gold leaf. A ring was presented at betrothal, though it was not the custom to wear a wedding ring.

Slaves.—Their hair was cropped close to the head. A short tunic of rough material was worn under a leather coat called a diphthera, barefooted or sandaled.

The Dance.—The costume varied with the occasion; garlands and wreaths for festivals, white at funerals and full armor (the Greeks still wore the cuirass, crested helmet, and greaves of the heroic age) in the military dances. The Greeks were compelled to dance till the age of thirty.

The Mask.—As the actor had to appear in huge amphitheatres, it was necessary to make him as conspicuous as possible. Not only were the soles of his buskins thickened to increase his stature, but his garments were heavily padded and a large mask was set on his shoulders with features enlarged and vividly painted. Each mask was made to represent a certain character. A device was placed in the mouth opening by which the voice was projected to a great distance. What a relief it would be if some of our Broadway Thespians were so equipped !

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