Model Your Greek Costumes for Women on Ancient Greek Clothing

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Greek Costumes for Women - Dorian Chiton

Chiton Diagram
Chiton Diagram. British Museum's "Guide to the Exhibition Illustrating Greek and Roman Life," (1908).

Ancient Greek (and Roman) clothing was fairly simple so making Greek costumes shouldn't be too hard. Most of the work of making clothing was done by the carders/spinners/dyers/weavers and the people who cleaned the garments. Sometimes and in some garments, folding the garment into elaborate pleats made it less than simple, but as far as sewing goes, it was non-existent or minimal. A large part of women's work was making the clothing, but that meant spinning and weaving, not taking measurements and wastefully cutting fabric.

If you want to make authentic archaic age (early) Greek costumes, the hardest part will be getting the rectangles of wool (all white is a good choice) to make the Dorian Chiton or tunic. The accompanying diagram from the British Museum shows how and provides directions. You take a rectangle of cloth about twice the span of your arms and a bit taller than you, fold it down at the top so the flap will fall somewhere around your waist when the fold is at your shoulders and the bottom at the ankles. Then you fold it in half so there is a vertical "seam" (really the fold) on one side and an open edge on the other, Before going further, the top front and back need to be attached with long straight pins (preferably gold) facing front, at either side of your neck.

My own experiments -- albeit with considerably lighter weight fabric -- show that, if you're doing it alone, it is best to make a guess as to where the pin on the closed side should go while the fabric is off your body and pin it, even if temporarily; then stick your arm through the arm hole so generated. This arm hole should be on the side of your dominant arm, so you can reach over to pin the other side. This will result in the reverse of what is shown in the picture if you, like me, are right-dominant, but you can pull the chiton off just far enough to turn it back to back after you've finished pinning if (1) you leave enough neck/head room, and (2) you use safety pins rather than forward-facing straight pins.

Now the rectangle will stay on your body, but you will be exposed, because one side of you has fabric that gapes. In the diagram, the gape is on the figure's right side. The solution is to wear a "girdle" or belt of some sort along your waist.

Pins facing your cheeks are an accident waiting to happen, so they should be replaced with safety pins or brooches*. Today's notion of modesty probably requires sewing rather than simply belting the open side, but don't worry: it's not anachronistic. Sewing the side was an option.

* Buttons are a possibility although you should do further research into their construction and the mechanism for using them. See: "Buttons and Their Use on Greek Garments," by Kate McK. Elderkin; American Journal of Archaeology (Jul. - Sep., 1928), pp. 333-345.

Also note this article on specialized clothing for Greek women: Heraia Costume

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Greek Costumes for Women - Ionian Chiton

Ionian Chiton Illustration
Ionian Chiton Illustration. British Museum's "Guide to the Exhibition Illustrating Greek and Roman Life," (1908).

If you want to make Greek costumes for women that are lighter weight and probably less expensive than the Dorian chiton, try the Ionian chiton -- especially if you can sew a seam. Do it authentically by hand or cheat and use a sewing machine.

The Ionian Chiton was similar to the Dorian, but it was lighter, thinner, and designed to be worn with outer garments. While the Dorian Chiton was wool, the Ionian was linen. The extra flap at the top was unnecessary since there were other layers to put on top, so the piece of linen didn't have to be so wide. The open vertical side was sewn shut and stitches or brooches along the shoulders and top of the arms replaced the pins and formed sleeves.

The accompanying picture shows the chiton worn alone. This is unusual, but the scene shows a woman attaching the girdle (belt that looks like a length of rope), so she hasn't finished getting dressed.

She might have worn a Dorian Chiton on top of this Ionian Chiton or she might have worn the cloth of a Dorian Chiton as a mantle -- or both. How the mantle was worn varied with the fashions. It served as a protective outer garment and was usually preferred as head covering to a hat, although clearly women had hats.