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Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome

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Ancient Greek dress was more voluminous than that of the Egyptians, and was most often made of fine woollens, although it is thought that the Greeks also had regular access to linen, hemp cloth and silk. The primary garment of Ancient Greek clothing was the chiton, an all-over body garment made from a large rectangle of cloth wrapped once around the body from right side to right side. This garment was then pinned at the shoulders and tied at the waist or hips, and draped in hanging folds about the body. Young men generally wore short chitons, and older men and women longer ones. Older men also often are depicted wearing long draped mantles either alone or over a chiton . A smaller rectangle worn over one shoulder by travellers and young men was called a chalmys.

Women's Chitons were draped in a variety of ways, and were also worn with mantles. Greek fabric was far more elaborate than the Egyptians, and included complex border designs both woven in and embroidered. Greek jewellery, although less prominent than Egyptian jewellery, was exceedingly complex and finely made.

Like Egyptian dress, Greek clothing was centred in an aesthetic that idealized the human body, rather than attempting to conceal its natural shape. The Greeks made many clothing decisions based on this aesthetic that were less than practical choices: Pinning garments closed instead of stitching, rarely wearing sandals or shoes despite a rocky landscape, draping garments around the body for warmth during cold instead of making garments with sleeves or trousers. The Greeks definitely knew how to make sleeves, for their theatrical costumes had them, but for normal wear sleeves were judged less aesthetic than bare arms and so were not worn.

Roman dress at first glance appears to be identical to Greek dress in its draperies and design. Closer inspection, however, reveals many important changes. First, the basic garments are sewn, not pinned, and close on both sides. Second, elaborate fabric decoration nearly disappears, and bold patterns on garments are nonexistent. Sandals, boots and shoes are common, virtually all men wear them, and many women. Romans were the kind of practical, upright, uptight folks who believed in civil service, interstate highways, and customs duties. Their clothing included the tunica, the stola (the female version of the same thing), the toga (an extra long half-circle wool mantle worn by male citizens) and the palla, a large, long (8 yard) drape or scarf worn by women outdoors.

Late Roman and "Byzantine" dress is more body covering than earlier Roman costume, usually including long sleeves and long hems. This is generally assumed to be a reaction to the growing Christian view that the body was not beautiful, but a pit of vice. When the tunica is shorter (only on men) the lower limbs are encased in trousers, a "barbarian" invention first adopted by the Roman army and lower classes, and eventually (after some aristocratic resistance) by all men. The toga remained for emperors and other high officials in this period, but in vestigial form as a long thin (about 6") strip wrapped round the torso in the traditional manner.

Long half circle capes were part of male court dress, worn in place of the old toga over the new long sleeved tunica. The most notable feature of the Eastern Empire's dress is it's surface decoration. Unlike the earlier period which left fabric largely undecorated, the people of the Byzantine/Romanian Empire used all manner of woven, embroidered and beaded surface embellishment, particularly on Church vestments and court dress. This style of decoration and many of the garment shapes have survived to this day in the priestly vestments of Orthodox churches in Greece, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Few records have survived of dress in the “Dark Ages” period, although there is some rather spectacular jewellery in the style commonly called Celtic which has mainly been found in archaeological sites in the British Isles and the Nordic countries. Like the Eastern Empire the dress of Western Europe seems to have consisted of the long sleeved tunic, half circle capes, & trousers. Western men are more often depicted in the short tunic and trouser combination than in long tunics. Shoes and boots were also worn in place of sandals.

It has been suggested that the reason that clothing became longer, heavier and more fitted in this era is that the world weather pattern shifted at that time to make Europe the much colder continent it is now. (In Roman times the weather was so warm in Northern Europe that they had successful vineyards in England, far north of where it is possible to grow them now).

Another clothing variation popular in Europe was the wearing of a short tunic over a longer fuller one. This was done by persons of both sexes. The over tunic was often heavily embroidered in a manner similar to the Byzantine style.

Women's dress was often similar to the style mentioned above, or simply consisted of a long tunic with a tighter fitting sleeved one beneath. Married women, with the exception of queens, generally veiled their hair, but this was not a hard and fast rule.

Fabric production also became much easier through the invention of two labour-saving devices: The spinning wheel and the horizontal loom which increased both fabric quality and production nearly tenfold.


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