Greece era: Greek draping and girdle

September 25, 2009

Greece:  500-336 B.C.

Figure 1.  Greece is a peninsula extending into the Mediterranean Sea.  It is full of many island, one of the largest being Crete.

As the first metal alloy, bronze, made from copper and tin, was found between 4500 and

3000 B.C.E (Before Common Era)  the term Bronze Age is used to identify the period.  The Assyrians used bronze technology early in the Bronze Age and was used at the height of their military power. However, Crete and Greece were late Bronze Age users, so the Bronze Age ended there about 1200 B.C. when iron technology became common.

Between approximately 1600 and 1100 B.C., the Greeks are farmers ruled by Minoan and Mycenaean kings.  The Mycenaeans were know as warriors and used bronze weapons.  Agamemnon is said to have been killed there.  This culture declined around 1200 BCE.  The Doric and Ionic invaders from the north arrived on horseback and with iron weapons.

This period is generally known as the Mycenaean Age for ancient Greece;  1100 to 750 B.C. is the Dark Ages of invasions including the Dorians; 750-500 B.C. the Archaic Period; 500 to 336 B.C.   the Classical Period; and  336 to 146  B.C. the Hellenistic Period.  While the costumes in this lecture might touch on other periods, we will mainly focus on Classical period.   There is a good article titled “The Age of Pericles:Athenas Metropolis” at

(I was unable to get the link to work on this page, but try to put in Pericles in a google search.)

Greece is not large but is a region of great variety for it has mountains, fertile plains, and sea coast.  The inland people who depended on agriculture were traditional and conservative.  While the coastal people were a community of fishermen and traders. The people were self-sufficient but each community specialized in the fruits of their environment, i.e., olives in Attica, marble in Melos, etc. This encouraged trade and constant communication between the city-states.  The country was poor in minerals (little cold, silver, copper) and had no coal.

The Greeks spent much time out of doors, and time in dialogue with the community.  This constant dialogue was very important.  It is interesting to note that Socrates, a philosopher who changed human thought, did not write anything and only left his community twice.  While the Greeks valued a kind of democracy (there was a little difference between the wealthy and poor, the educated and uneducated) they owned slaves who did most of the manual labor.


The Greeks mainly used finely woven woolen fabrics.  The women were known for their weaving and embroidery skills.

However, as they had more contact with other cultures, linen and silk were used as well.  The fabrics were brightly colored, except for the himation.  We generally think of the ancient Greeks in white only because so many of the statues lost color over the hundreds of years exposure to the elements.  Actually their garments were quite colorful as they had many natural dyes.

The Greeks also pleated some of their fabrics by wetting the fabric in a thin starch, twisting it carefully, and setting out to dry.   (See Figure 6) The fashion of pleating, however, tended to fade out with the Roman influence.

Women’s Costume

The information on garments comes from the writings of Homer, paintings on vases, pottery, terracottas, and statues.  During the Mycenaean period, the woman wore a garment called the peplos, (See Figure 5 and 7) that was a composite garment with a “bib” in the front and back and a tight waist.  The tight waist might have been a remnant of the Crete influence, but the bib in the front was carried on by the classical Greek women.

The Classical Greek women first wore a simple rectangular draped garment called the chiton.   There were two basic types of chitons.  The Doric and the Ionic.  These will parallel the Doric and Ionic columns seen in Greek architecture.  Figure 8 shows the basic Doric chiton.  (Note the nude woman on the right hand side.  She is putting a support around her breasts.  These were the only undergarments worn at that time.  It was not typical for women to be seen nude.)

In its simplest version, the doric chiton exceeds the height of the wearer by about one foot.  The width is two times the distance from elbow to elbow.  Thus each chiton was woven to fit the exact proportion of the wearer.  It is draped around the body and held together with fibulae (a kind of decorated pin that derived its name from its origins: a small animal bones used to fasten garments) at the shoulder, leaving room for the arms.  It may be belted or girdled at the waist or across the chest. The girdle could be made of cord, leather, or flat woven tape.  These were classical draped garments.  Although the Greeks knew tailoring skills from the Myceneans and Cretes, they only wore draped garments.

However, doric chiton could be worn in different configurations.  If the chiton was longer, the top edge could be folded down causing a peplos. The peplos might extend to the waist, but if it was longer it was called an apotygma.   Also, with a longer chiton the wearer could chose to secure deep folds (called kolpos) at the waistline that would be held in place by the girdle.

Look carefully at the different versions of the doric chiton. The hang of the fabric, the exact shape of the kolpos, the drape of the peplos are not accidental.   The Greek people were very concerned with the aesthetics of the way the clothing draped on the body and subtle revealing of the body.  The invested time in making sure the draping effect was just what they wanted through the use of the girdle. The beauty of the garment gave status to the wearer.  A special prestige was given to the skills of draping this garment.

Gradually the Doric chiton evolved into an ionic chiton.

An interesting, but not substantiated, story on the development of the ionic chiton is told at the following website:

The ionic chiton, again, was a rectangular piece the cloth, generally out of a much finer fabric, that was the same length as the Doric chiton.  The width, however, was twice the width of finger tip to fingertip of the wearer.  Instead of being pinned with one pin at each shoulder, a series of small pins were used forming a kind of sleeve.  It was often sewn up at part of the sides or at the top of the arm.  The difference between the ionic chiton and the doric chiton is that a finer fabric is used in the ionic chiton and a greater number of pins. This resulted in a more delicate look and greater number of folds. In addition, the ionic chiton did not have a peplos. At one time period, the ionic chiton was used as an indication of status.

The Greeks used a series of large rectangular pieces of cloth that they draped around themselves for warmth, much in the same manner as we use a shawl.  The most common of these was the himation. This was a large oblong piece of material about 7 or 8 feet in length and in breadth about equal to the wearer’s height.  It was almost always white and women generally did not go outside without it.  While the himation was used by both men and women,  the women always wore a chiton under it.  Women also used the diplax, which was a smaller version of the himation.

There were many different shawls and veils worn by the Greek women.  Each is based on a rectangle shape but they differ in size, fabric weight and purpose.  The Greeks were masters of layering and would just build up layers of fabric for utilitarian purposes.

As the society had more communication with other cultures (Rome, Persia) the costumes tended to become more elaborate and parts were sewn into the draped garment.  One example is the false apotygma which is an extended piece sewn to the front neck edge of the chiton, generally extends below the waist, and is often shaped.  Note the small oval shaped objects at the tips of the apotygma extension.  These are weights.  The Greeks often put weights (in the form of clay or metal) at strategic places in the garments to weight them and give a better drape.

Women did not typically wear undergarments.  The girdle served a double purpose of holding the chiton in place while supporting the breasts.  After influence of the Romans the women might use a strophion (see figure 8), a band for the bust, waist, and hips using shoulder straps to hold the band in place.  It was used to emphasize the hips rather than to decrease the waist as small waists were not popular.

Men’s Clothing

As the Greek climate was mild, it was not uncommon for Greek men to be seen with little clothing.  In fact, prior to the 7th century B.C. most of the depictions of men are in the nude.  After this they are seen with a short chiton or  a chlamys, which was a rectangular piece of fabric fastened only at one shoulder.  In many of the illustrations, nothing is worn under this garment.   Since the chlamys is worn for activity such as riding horses, working outdoors, sports, etc., often men wore a petasus, a broad rimmed hat, with this garment to protect them from the sun.  For further information about adjusting the chlamys see:

Men, too, wore the white himation, which was much larger in size and a finer fabric than the chlamys so that the draping was evident. Often a man’s culture and character were judged by the folds and draping in their garments.  Bits of clay might be used as weights to enhance the draping characteristics. Again, this was often worn with nothing under it.  It was used for inactive occasions while the chlamys was worn for active occasions.

A version of the shorter chiton is called exomis and this is a short Doric chiton fastened only on one shoulder.  See Figure 35.  Although it is mainly a male garment, it was worn by women as well.


The warriors wore breastplates of leather which were often metal studded or with metal plates sewn into the cloth.  They also had crested helmets of leather or bronze.  Leaders carried round iron shields and iron swords, while the soldiers had bronze or iron spears. Iron was a valued commodity. Protection for the hips was provided by extending the bodice vest-like garment.  You will note on Figure 37 that there is no protection for the lower portion of the torso.

Hair Style

The Greeks had a very natural hairstyle for both men and women.  Generally the men were clean shaven and wore their hair short sometimes with a fillet band around the head.  Some philosophers may have beards and longer hair, but it was not common.

The women had long hair but wore it up in a bunch in the back following the natural curves of the head.  The resulting bunch was called a Psyche Knot.   It was often held in place by a caul, a piece of fabric covering the bunch. The female in Figure 39 wears her hair in a psyche knot with an ampex, or diadem, of leaves.

A Phrygian Bonnet was sometimes used.  The Phrygian kingdom in Asia Minor was in its glory between 1000-700 B.C.  The hat they used was copied or adapted many times:  in the French Revolution, in the Goddess of Liberty in the U.S., in the old dime.


Sandals were commonly worn  both men and women.  The Greeks were the first culture to have both a right and left shaped soles.  This concept disappears during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages.  Buskin boots were worn for warriors.

Movies associated with this period:      Troy


By using a flat piece of cloth, 2 safety pins, a fibulae, draping, and a girdle, I think I was able to obtain some kind of aesthetic effect. Probably not in the same way as the Greeks were able to achieve. I used a sequin fabric which was a light weight material, and I pinned 2 safety pins on each side of my shoulders. I used a leather belt as a girdle and i draped it like a Chiton. Obviously, I was not able to achieve such a look like the Greeks costume because of the type of fabric I used. The fabricwas itchy and Sequin did not exist in the Greek times. I did not have any woven flat fabrics, nor did I have any wool or linen that was heavy weight enough to make a good draping like the Doric Chiton. Draping of the garmetns was very important to the Greeks and I feel that I could not achieve that look with my cloth. There was however some draping on the sides but the draping did not compare to that of the Greeks draping.

Today in fashion, the waist belt is somewhat of a modern day representation of the Greek’s Girdle. It is still being used in a sense that women wear belts around the waist for the cinched look making the waist more slim. The belt can be for accessorizing a shirt, dress, or skirt to make an outfit look more fashionable.

One Response to “Greece era: Greek draping and girdle”

  1. i am a certified Gleek and i really love the TV Show GLEE. Diana is very pretty .”:

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