Ancient Greek Clothing & Beauty
Symmetry, proportion and sensory allure were all significant aspects of the ancient Greek understanding of beauty. Although the beauty of the human body is commonly presented as expression of this ideal, ancient Greek literature and art also contain significant references to clothing and style. In addition to revealing how trends changed over time, descriptions and depictions of ancient Greek style also provide insight on changes in Greek society itself.
1 Beauty in Ancient Greece
Classical literature provides a number of illustrative examples of what the ancient Greeks considered to be attractive clothes, such as the epic poet Homer's references to noblewomen wearing "beautiful sashes." As the Metropolitan Museum of Art observes, paint left on sculptures and the depictions of clothing on vases reveal that the Greeks were clothing that was brightly colored and adorned with decorations. The works of classical commentators also offer important observations pertaining to fashion, such as the fact that women wore a range of cosmetics, including white calcium carbonate powder, moisturizing honey, olive oil, and rouge made from alkanet root.
Tastes in style changed over time. For example, in the seventh century B.C. the poet Sappho wrote an entire poem to her daughter based on changes in prevailing fashion trends. When Sappho's mother was a girl, dark-haired women wore their hair pulled back in a purple ribbon, while a garland of flowers was considered more attractive for a blonde. In Sappho's own day, however, the prevailing style was for girls to wear an elaborately embroidered headband.
3 From Peplos to Chiton
"Greek and Roman Dress from A to Z" notes that the use of draping was a defining trait of ancient Greek style, although styles of draping could also change over time. For instance, the fifth-century B.C.Greek historian Herodotus reports that women in Athens once favored wearing the sleeveless and fancifully embroidered woolen garment known as a peplos, which consisted of a single sheet worn lengthwise around the body, then draped and pinned over the left shoulder with a large brooch. Later, however, they shifted to a linen, belted chiton made of two sheets stitched or pinned together in such a way as to create sleeves.
4 From Luxury to Simplicity
Another change in aesthetic sensibility in ancient Greek fashion occurred in the fifth century B.C. Once again citing the Athenians as an example, the historian Thucydides notes that the city's early prevailing style was characterized by luxury and conspicuous display. The fashion among men had been to wear a long linen chiton and to bind their hair in a knot with a fastening of golden grasshoppers. Thucydides' generation, however, considered this style to be in poor taste and inconsistent with the city's democratic culture, and conspicuous opulence generally gave way to stylized simplicity and the shorter woolen chiton worn by less wealthy men.
- 1 Greek and Roman Dress from A to Z; Liza Cleland et al.
- 2 Metropolitan Museum of Art - Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Ancient Greek Dress
- 3 Metropolitan Museum of Art - Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Chiton, Peplos, and Himation in Modern Dress
- 4 Elpenor: Herodotus' History Book 5 (Terpsichore) Complete
- 5 The Internet Classics Archive: The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, The First Book
- 6 Shippensburg University - Ancient Greek Philosophy: Two Poems by Sappho
- 7 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy: Beauty