published on 18 January 2012
The Ancient Greeks were not fussy about their clothing. The garments they wore were made for function, and they were made simply. A single piece of fabric could be styled and restyled, to fit a particular occasion or a fashion. And with Greek summers being brutally hot, the less fabric and complicating seams to deal with, the better.
The fabrics that the Greeks used for their clothing was sometimes spun in the home (often into a heavy wool material), or made from linen fabric that was imported. For every member of the family, except for infants who often wore nothing at all, an outfit usually consisted of a square or rectangular piece of fabric, pins for fastening, and sometimes shoes and/or hats. The pieces of fabric were folded around the body, and pinned together at the side seams and shoulders, as well as being belted. Though it might sound as if the Greeks walked around wearing plain potato sacks, their clothing would have been dyed bright colors and would have been decorated with ornate patterns.
The style and type of the garment depended on who was wearing it, and the job or function required of the person. There were several types of garments, derived from a basic tunic. The tunic was worn by both men and women, and varied in length according to job and gender. It was often tied at the waist, and might also have been pinned at the seams, depending on the style of the garment.
A chiton was a type of tunic worn by Greek men, and was often made of a lighter linen material, as men were often outdoors more often, and would require the more comfortable clothing (especially in the summer). It could be draped over both shoulders, or over only one. When it was draped over one shoulder, usually the left, it was known as an exomie. This type of chiton was usually worn for horseback riding, work, or exercise.
A peplos (or peplum) was a type of tunic worn by women. Usually made from a heavier wool material, this garment was made from a large rectangular piece of fabric, and could be draped and fastened (with buttons, pins, or brooches) in different ways to reflect different styles. A peplos was worn as a full-length garment, because a proper Greek woman revealed nothing.
In colder weather, Greeks wore a cloak over their tunics for warmth, known as a himation. This garment was usually made of wool, and was fashioned from a rectangular piece of cloth that was draped over the person, sort of like a Roman toga. It served a dual purpose, especially for men. The himation came in handy for soldiers away from home, also serving as a warm blanket on a cold winter night. Other types of cloaks worn by the Greeks included the epiblema, a shawl worn by Greek women, and the chlamys, a short cloak worn by young Greek males.
The Greeks were not particularly fond of shoes, usually eschewing them, especially at home. But on special occasions or matters of business, Greeks would wear leather sandals or boots with their tunics. However, it wasn’t uncommon for a Greek to go barefoot for his entire life!
In addition to covering their feet, the Greeks sometimes covered their heads as well. A Greek man sometimes wore a petasos, a wide-brimmed hat that helped to protect them from the summer heat. Women occasionally could be seen wearing hats that featured high-peaked crowns. This was no doubt only for the most special of occasions, though.
While certainly not fancy, Greek clothing was functional, and built to last. In fact, in today’s haute couture we often see a bit of Ancient Greek fashion influence. The columnar style of the tunic, especially the women’s peplos, is not an uncommon style to be worn by women today.