THE ANCIENT GREEK HOPLITEhow to wear a greek chiton
Greek clothing was primarily wool, very finely woven. Linen is also acceptable, partly for comfort since most modern people are not acclimated to wearing wool in hot weather, and partly because the modern textile industry does not produce wool that resembles the ancient fabric. Modern wools are fine for clothing meant for cooler weather. Use only 100% linen and wool, no blends, no cotton, and certainly no synthetics. Internal seams may be done by machine, but all exposed stitching should be done by hand. Optimally, there shouldn't be much in the way of hems to sew, since fabric was woven to the size needed for the garment, but again, with today's choices we are often forced to cut the fabric to size. For linen especially, this means hemming is probably needed. Good wools are tightly woven enough that a cut edge can often be left raw and unhemmed without raveling. Burlap, vinyl, and fake fur are forbidden. Modern trims should be avoided since these are generally synthetic or cotton at best, so unfortunately that means not using the "Greek key" trim commonly found at fabric stores. (These guidelines are basically the "minimum standard" for practically any era of reenacting/living history.)
On the "up" side, Greek clothing was basically just made from large rectangles, so no patterns are needed.
| Since most public sites will frown on heroic nudity, clothing is recommended. The basic garment is a tunic called the chiton, or chitoniskos in its shorter version. It is simply two LARGE rectangles of wool or linen sewn together at the sides (top to bottom), or one piece folded at one side and sewn up the other, and connected at two or more points along the top edge to leave gaps for the head and arms. The key word is LARGE. When unbelted, the chiton should reach from elbow to elbow and should hang below your knees, though the chitoniskos will hang only to the thighs. Tie the chiton at the waist with a simple cord, or a tie belt made from a folded and sewn strip of fabric, and blouse the extra length up over the belt. It should be voluminous and poofy! Many reenactors have very short, narrow, skimpy tunics, and these completely miss the whole appearance of Greek clothing. For starters, use a plain solid color (or white/offwhite) without decoration. Some chitons had a narrow stripe near the bottom edge, but decoration beyond that seems to have been rare. |
It is clear from vase paintings and other artwork that there were several variations, though many of the details are unclear and debated. Usually the armholes are at the TOP edge, not at the sides--the top corners will droop down under your arms very stylishly. The top is typically pinned at two or more points, and although some modern authorities maintain that no sewing was done at all, the sides do not appear to be open. Pleating is common, the fabric being pleated or gathered at the pins, and in some cases it appears that the front panel is pleated at the top but the back is not. Sometimes the bottom edge of the chiton is straight, but sometimes it goes up and down in a zigzag which appears to be related to the pinning and pleating. There is much debate on how this was done! Several modern theories involve cutting the fabric to shape, but I am not convinced that any cutting was done.
There are at least a couple vase paintings that clearly show a chiton which is not sewn up the side. It was simply pinned at the top and belted in the middle. Not all of us are that adventurous, but it is an option.
A tie belt of wool tape is probably the best option, an inch wide or so. I don't think there is any evidence for patterned tie belts, but usually the belt is completely obscured by the chiton. A soft strip of leather would also work.
| || My first chiton is about 41" wide by 44" tall, simply a rectangle of linen folded and sewn up one side to form the body. (A piece of fabric 2-1/3 to 2-1/2 yards long by 45 inches wide will do.) There are no armholes at the sides; instead, the back is pulled forward and stitched to the front at two places, forming the neckhole in the middle and the armholes on either side. At first I ironed pleats into the bottom half, though they are long gone! My tie belt is made of a folded and stitched strip of linen. |
Strictly speaking, the chiton should most likely be pinned at the top rather than being stitched. See below.
I discovered that the bloused fabric of my longer chiton sticks out from under my muscled cuirass and looks like a tutu! So I simply belted it higher up on my torso, and the problem was solved. Then I made a shorter chitoniskos!
|My recent yellow linen chitoniskos--The back is about 41" wide, but the front is twice that. The opening for the neck, between the inner pair of pins, is 11" along the back but 18" across the front, the extra fabric drooping for comfort. Then at each pinning point I pleated the front with half a dozen pleats about 3/8" wide, and stitched them flat. I suspect such pleats would simply be pinned cleverly by the Greeks... Since I was using a big old linen tablecloth, there were no nice selvedges, so I did a normal folded hem at the bottom. At the top I used a small blanket stitch to avoid the bulk. The stripe at the bottom is red linen tape, though on the originals this would have been woven into the fabric.|
Another variation on the chiton has pleating around the neck opening that is apparently secured by a fabric tape folded around the edge and sewn down. This runs around the entire neck opening and helps secure front panel to back panel.
| While the classic Ionic chiton is LARGE and voluminous, the older Doric chiton appears to be a much narrower garment. A body width of 24 to 28 inches seems to be about right. It is also different from the Ionic chiton in having armholes at the sides, comparable to a Roman tunica. The neckhole is a straight slit. The Doric chiton is often shown as more lavishly decorated, probably with the patterns woven in, but for my own Archaic chiton I embroidered a Greek key design with purple wool yarn, and added wool fringe. |
Note that the Doric chiton almost disappears from artwork shortly before the Persian Wars--I've only seen one or two images of something similar being worn by a slave, etc. However, Macedonian chitons are often shown as narrower than the Ionic chiton, with armholes at the side, so it's conceivable that the Doric chiton did survive through the Classical era in certain fringe areas. Possibly in Sparta as well, if one assumes the Spartans to be very conservative in their dress.
Oh--The Greeks just don't seem to have gone for underwear. What you wear or don't wear under your chiton is up to you, as long as any spectators (including myself) can't see what's there or not there. As it were. If anyone asks, well, just check to see if any kids are around before you respond. Please.
| || Pins or brooches of some sort must have been extremely common, and must be extremely common archeological finds these days, but none are shown in any books or readily available sources that I've seen. From one photo of an original pin, I made those at left plus several more from 1/16" brass rod, basically 16-ga wire. Start by making sure the end of the wire is filed smooth, and shine up the wire with fine steel wool if necessary. Bend over about 1/8" and squash it nice and flat with plyers (I have a pair with specially smoothed jaws). Then just below that, bend a sharp U-turn to make the hook for the pin. Go up about a quarter-inch and make a right angle bend, at right angles to the U-turn, to form the top "leg" of the pin. At about the length you want, wrap the wire one and a half times around a dowel or rod maybe 3/16" inch in diameter, clamped in a vise. (A big nail driven into a block of wood with the head cut off will work.) You will find that your coiled spring actually works like a spring! Cut the wire off just beyond the hook, and file a nice long pointy point into the end. (I left the ends about a quarter-inch long, which is a little too much.) Blunt just won't work on some fabrics! |
Soul of the Warrior's "Pin Style Fibulae" should be acceptable: http://legvi.tripod.com/armamentarium/id116.html
Naturally, Manning Imperial makes a good one, too, http://www.manningimperial.com/catalogue/accessories/jewellery/brass-fibula/487
All clothing sold by Windlass/Museum Replicas is forbidden! It is completely the opposite of anything worn by ancient Greeks. Steer clear.
Actually, I have yet to see a commercially-made chiton that looks decent. Hmmm... La Wren's Nest or Soul of the Warrior may be willing to whip one up, but the ones they show on their sites are not right.
Hollywood bracers/vambraces/armguards are also forbidden! If you are going for the Archaic era look and can make or buy muscled bronze guards for the upper and lower right arm (as seen in Connolly and Warry), terrific, otherwise leave your arms and wrists bare.
| The cloak or chlamys is even simpler, just a rectangle of wool. Mine is c. 90 inches wide (about 2-1/2 yards) by 42 inches tall. To wear, the fabric is folded in half, and pinned at the top edge about 14 or 15 inches from the fold. This allows the chlamys to be put on or taken off easily over the head without unpinning. The pin goes at the right shoulder so that the right arm can be left free. To expose the left arm, toss the fabric at front dramatically over the left shoulder (as shown above). A simple wool blanket from a thrift shop can suffice, just be sure to remove any modern trim or stitching on the ends. Often there was a narrow stripe near each end, or patterned trim, but plain is "safe" and quite common. The stripe would have been woven in, but mine is wool tape, sewn on. I didn't even bother hemming or finishing the cut edges of the red wool, since good wool does not unravel easily. |
| In artwork you can often see a little object at each of the two lower corners, apparently a small bronze weight shaped almost like a fishing weight. I have not seen any originals of these, but at right you can see what I ground out of brass barstock. About 1-1/2" tall by 1/2" wide. || |
| || Disc-shaped brooches seem pretty common in vase paintings, with a domed or bossed front sort of like a shield. So I made mine out of bronze sheet, with a pin of bronze spring-wire soldered (sloppily) to the back. || |
The "Superman cape" which is gathered and/or tied at the neck is forbidden! Such a thing never existed.
The issue of hoplites fighting barefoot is still hotly debated, but many folks like wearing something on their feet, and in many places these days it is simply sensible, or even required. And of course Greeks did wear sandals--krepides--when not in armor! So you can find many styles on vase paintings and other artwork. If your activities include parades or standing on pavement, sturdy soles and insoles of blanket wool or fleece are recommended! Iron hobnails have been found in a 5th century BC shop in Athens, so it's possible that some footwear was nailed together, similarly to how Roman caligae were made.
| My previous krepides were based on vase paintings and a pattern by Giannis Kadoglou, with a seam up the back. It is clear from foot-shaped vases that at least some sandals had no seam up the back, so my current pattern wraps around the back of the foot and the bottom edge is sewn or nailed between the sole layers. The pattern is shown on a 1-inch grid, and the bit along the bottom that gets sewn between the soles is a little narrow--best to widen it down to that bottom line. I used 5-oz leather for the uppers and 2 layers of 10-12 ounce for the soles. See my Iphikratids on the page of Others and Other Greeks for basic construction notes. |
It's possible that some sandals did have a back seam. On the other hand, judging by the artwork, it's possible the entire upper was essentially woven using one or two long thongs, strung back and forth to form the loops. I plan to experiment with this! Beats cutting...
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Modern sandals of any sort are forbidden!
|There are many vase paintings showing Greek men with some sort of legging under their sandals. It comes up to about mid-calf and is shown with several horizontal lines or bands. Often the end of the sandal lace can be seen rising from the top of the sandal to the top of the legging at a steep angle. This legging might be as simple as a wool strip (c. 3 to 4 inches wide) wrapped spirally from calf to toe. Or it could be a tubular legging or even a tall sock tied at intervals, though no bows or knots are visible.|| |
Soul of the Warrior has a nice-looking pair of Greek sandals: http://legvi.tripod.com/armamentarium/id451.html This page also has 2 Deepeeka styles, not as good-looking: http://legvi.tripod.com/armamentarium/id116.html
Daniyal makes sandals as well, should be available through Soul of the Warrior or other vendors. http://daniyalgreekcollection.blogspot.com/2010/08/greek-sandals.html
Historical Shoes NP, http://www.np-historicalshoes.com/vyrobky.php?ktg=1&lang=de
| The pilos was a common felt cap, later copied in bronze as a helmet. The felt version not only keeps the noggin warm, but can serve as helmet padding. This is my first attempt at making felt, using raw fleece that I got from the local "freecycle" list. I learned a lot about felt! And I had to reinforce a few gaps and thin spots with wool yarn, though it hardly shows. On my next attempt I should be able to define the "step" better. |
| For felt, you need a form. I used layers of blue insulation foam, glued together, and shaped with a wood rasp. To find the diameter of the layers, I drew a full-size cross-section and drew lines across it, the same way an aspis is planned! I actually trimmed the sides a little after this last photo, to avoid quite as much "undercut". I also found that I should have added one more layer to the bottom, basically to accommodate extra length or whatever "slumped" down, which would be cut off at the end. |
| I started with raw fleece which had only been washed, in the green bag. I had to pick open the denser bits and remove as much debris as I could, making it much fluffier (white bag). I strongly recommend buying wool "rovings" produced for spinning (into thread or yarn), as the fibers will be combed out neatly into long loose ropes, and you simply pull off the pieces you need as you go. Also, Google up some felt-making videos! Extremely helpful. In this case, after layering up some fleece, spraying with soapy water as I went, the black nylon netting held it all in place for the felting process, an hour of rubbing in circles with water and soap. I didn't do enough at first, leading to the rather alarming result at far right, but another concentrated session led to the final result above. |
| The petasos is a sunhat commonly seen on depictions hunters and cavalrymen, and was most likely felt. It perches on the head and the crown is very small. I used a circular wool felt hat blank used for 17th and 18th century hats. The crown was a good 5" tall to start, but I cut off the top 2" to use, and cut off an additional 2-1/2", leaving half to 3/4" sticking up from the brim. This I soaked and ironed flat to reduce the diameter of the hole, which worked amazingly well. I pinned the top of the crown over the new hole, trimming as needed to make them match, then used fine linen thread with a small whip stitch to sew the sections together. Originally, of course, this would all be one piece. Then I wet the center of the crown and poked the felt into a hole with a rounded dowel to raise the little point on top. The chinstrap is always shown as 2 parts, one under the chin and the other at the back of the head, necessary to keep the hat in place. Mine is narrow linen tape, with a simple leather slider for adjustment. It works very well! Plus it's extremely stylish and attractive, yes? |
I got the felt blank for my hat at Blockade Runner, in gray because white was out of stock. http://www.blockaderunner.com/Catalog/catpg16.htm Only months later does it occur to me that LADIES' 18th century hats already have very low crowns! http://gggodwin-com.3dcartstores.com/Ladies-Felt-Hat-GLFH1_p_949.html Just add a string and wear it!
I tend to think that the petasos was felt and not straw, but if you want the perfect straw petasos, an 18th century lady's straw hat is the easy way to go:
M.J. Cahn Co., Inc., 510 West 27th St., New York, NY 10001, 212-563-7292, http://www.wovenfabrics.com/. Excellent linens, very inexpensive (as low as per yard!), including white and heavy natural Belgian. Also wools. Ten yard minimum. Ask for samples of what you are interested in.
Wooded Hamlet Designs, 4044 Coseytown Rd., Greencastle, PA 17225. 717-597-1782. http://www.woodedhamlet.com. All sorts of linen and wool tapes and trims, and more. Dutch Linen Tape, 3/4" wide,.50 per yard.
Najecki Reproductions, http://www.najecki.com/repro/Lace.html. Wool and linen tape, HEMP webbing and cord! Good for tie belts, hat strings, sword baldrics, shield carrying cords and handgrips, etc.
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