The evolution of traditional Greek dress spans numerous epochs, from the classical to the Byzantine and Ottoman and finally to the modern.
True, ancient Greeks wore garments like togas, chlamys, and chitons, but today we don’t carry on that practice. The Byzantine era introduced vivid hues and elaborate patterns to Greek clothing. Clothing was severely restricted throughout the Ottoman era based on a person’s profession and religious membership. Ancient Greek men’s clothing evolved to include vraka (breeches) and fustanella (skirt) throughout this time.
In the current era, Greek national dress has become more relaxed while yet retaining many Ottoman influences. Embroidered vests and jackets are now commonly paired with loose-fitting white cotton or silk shirts. Long chemises and skirts are worn by women, but males typically stick to traditional vraka and fustanella. Both sexes choose bulky, brightly colored outfits with minimal embellishment.
In this article, we will be discussing the revolution of Greek clothing over the years and more about their traditional clothes.
Traditional Clothes of Greece
The Art of Dress in Ancient Greece
A common stereotype about the ancient Greeks is that they wore white, loose clothing that hung over one shoulder and reached down to their sandaled feet. To some, that may sound very familiar, but it is not a toga. The toga, a dress of semicircular white fabric, was created by the Romans considerably later. The ancient Greeks layered their clothing, yet the final product looks very much like what we would wear today.
Most people wore a combination of a tunic and a cloak during the time between the Archaic and Hellenistic periods (the two periods of Greek history that everyone learns about in school). To start, the foundation. This was the khitn for the fellas (chiton). The peplos is the preferred form of clothing for females.
The first type of garment is an open-shouldered tunic that extends down to the bottom of the legs and fastens in the back. The latter is of a greater length and is reminiscent of a contemporary maxi dress, only held in place by a bronze pin.
That’s what the hima will be placed atop. It’s an all-in-one cloak and overlay that covers the wearer’s entire body. Smaller than its Roman counterpart, the toga, it was worn by both sexes. Veils are worn by men often over the left shoulder, allowing for full arm movement, whereas ladies wear them open.
The way a man wore his himation was considered so significant that even ancient Greek philosophers remarked on how much insight into his or her personality could be gained from the way the fabric was folded and fastened. Watch what you put on your body, eh?
Art of Dress in the Byzantine Era
The Byzantine period saw some of the most dramatic shifts in history. Expect a wide variety of fashion customs in this region of Europe because that lasted from 330 A.D. to the 1400s.
The arrival of luxurious fabrics from the Far East, most notably silk, was, however, the defining factor in the fashion of the time. Modern fabric processing techniques also allowed for the incorporation of stylish new geometric patterns and resist-dyed styles into garments. The glistening gold-leafed mosaics found in monasteries across the region, from Hydra to Corfu, highlight that people started to look snazzy sometime about the 700s AD.
The introduction of color also played a significant role in Byzantine-era Greek fashion. As a result of advances in dye technology, garments could now be dyed in vivid hues like cobalt blue and crimson red. In the same way that in Roman times the color purple was associated with the adherents of the imperial cult, the imperial dynasty made sure that only they could wear it.
The Art of Dress in the Ottoman Empire
After the Ottoman conquest of Greece in the 15th century, the locals were severely restricted in their clothing options. In locations like Attica and the more fertile Aegean Islands, simple yet hardwearing and functional clothing like long black cloaks worn by Greek traveling merchants and robust linen shirts and trousers were the norm.
Not only clothing, but also other aspects of Greek culture such as art, language, tradition, and even architecture, were all highly diverse during this time period. The Cyclades are only a couple of hours away by contemporary ferry from Hydra, yet the inhabitants there speak a different language and dress differently. All of this is consistent with Ottoman efforts to eradicate regional distinctions within the idealized nation-state.
The Art of Dress in the Modern Era
The Greeks declared their freedom on March 25th, 1821. This is one of the most iconic moments in the history of traditional dress, as it signifies the reemergence of clothing to express national identity. That’s plain to discern given that the original royalty’s definition of “Greek” dress is still considered the standard dress code for the country.
At this time, we must pay our respects to Queen Amalia. As Otto’s wife and Greece’s queen from 1836 to 1867, she understood the significance of designing a wardrobe that would set Greeks apart from their eastern (Ottoman) foes and the expanding middle classes of central Europe (most notably those in Austria and Hungary).
The famous Amalia dress is the end product. That’s a kavadi, a long, center dress that forms part of a multi-piece garment. The kontogouni, an intricate outer garment, is worn on top of the other layers, which begin with a second waistcoat. All of these were elaborately embellished with gilded threads, flower designs, hanging gems, and other trinkets.
While this was happening, Otto wore a traditional Balkan fustanella when he landed in Greece to accept the crown. It’s a heavy-fabric kilt with a plaited bottom and basic structure, not unlike the chiton undergarments of ancient Greece.
That became the standard bearer for the male form of the national dress, which is still worn on important holidays and celebrations. Curiously, no one seems to know where the fustanella came from originally. Some historians attribute it to a byzantine predecessor of the garment. However, many believe it was first used in the Ottoman-era cities of Albania’s mountainous interior.
The clothing of the Ancient Greeks was quite basic, often only draping over the body. One-piece rectangles of fabric with openings for the head were the basis for both the chiton and the peplos.
In contrast to the sleeveless peplos, the chiton covered at least some of the wearer’s arms. The ancient Greek himation style of pleating was adopted during the renaissance in Europe for the capes and cloaks of the nobility, in which the cloth was gathered, folded, and pressed to make straight lines down the back to emphasize the height.
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