This is definitely more of an aristocratic tradition than a lower class tradition, though I assume that well-to-do merchant class Byzantines may have had a tiered wardrobe.
While doing research, you may find annotations or information for clothing known as “undress”, or “court undress”. Before you think you need to get nekkid, look at the context. It’s somewhat antiquated, but the concept of “undress” is the lowest level of acceptable dress. Not really your pajamas, but something you could be comfortable being seen in, while out for a meal in the palace with friends, or maybe the emperor if the occasion is not a state one.
Basically, court undress is your business casual, while full court dress is your best of the best ceremonial-grade garments. In between could be half-dress, your “cocktail hour” attire, or something you would wear to a weekly liturgy at your local basilica, a gathering at the palace, or a less formal court. Coronation? Easter? Christmas? A marriage? Get your good stuff on, non-optional.
It’s no secret that I love garb. I sew a lot, and probably own way more than I actually need to. My reasoning, or at least, what I tell people, is that you really can only get better and learn to understand new patterns and shaping if actually get the needle out. Another reason, is that stratifying my Byzantine collection is important. I’m still working on it, and developing more “undress” for myself as an aristocratic woman.
For example, my 12th Century outfit? This is not for everyday wear. This only gets trotted out for special occasions, namely coronations, and fashion shows because it’s just so extra. This is court dress. The propoloma elevates it.
But then, you have my 11th Century set which I made for my thesis. Is this court dress? Well, the mantle certainly kicks it up. But it’s not the highest ceremonial dress. Why? I’m not wearing a propoloma, I’m in a fakiolion instead. Could I wear this to court? Yes. Probably not for a coronation, or for Easter/Pascha ceremonies. But this would be acceptable for an event where fine dress is required. It could even be undress if I lost the mantle. That is more or less adding an air of piety to cover my shoulders for the divine liturgy. If I added a propoloma to this, it would be court dress without question. This is a good example of half-dress.
True undress? Probably more along the lines of this look. I’m in a minimally decorated wool delmatikion, with a plain white veil. I still have jewelry on, as I am aristocratic and need to wear some wealth, but this was Festival of the Rose out in Caid in February of 2017, and not a major event like Coronation or Crown Tournament. I was comfortable and completely dressed, I just don’t have a full body picture.
A good source for a woman in aristocratic undress would probably be the Theodore Psalter, which Tim Dawson references for similar reasons in “By the Emperor’s Hand”. Here, the woman pictured in well dressed, but not weighed down by ceremonial accouterments. This is something more along the lines of what I should be wearing regularly (when it’s not as hot as the surface of the sun outdoors.)
I do have a couple older linen delmatikioi I should try wearing more beyond Pennsic when I’m not melting down here.
Another level, though I am unsure if this is truly an aristocratic woman or not, is from this miniature in the Menologion of Basil II. I like this because it doesn’t have the long angel sleeves, and clearly has a short-sleeved esoforion beneath it. However, I’m not sure, exactly, who she is. Is this the empress in her “casual” wear because of the red boots? Is this a middle class woman? Either way, it’s another form of undress. My guess if she is aristocratic, or the empress, it’s very much of a “It’s warm out, and I’m keeping to myself” type of clothing. It’s still pretty ornamented, and red is not a cheap color. Of note is the fact that it is clearly an emergency situation with the “bad omen” in the sky, and her head is uncovered outdoors. Lots of questions!
Anyways, I hope this post helps people think a bit more about building a tiered wardrobe. It’s definitely something I need to put more thought into working on for myself.
On our previous, “Why do I live where the sun melts my face” episode, I designed the Archaic Chiton and Archaic Himation for those that needed less fabric than Roman could provide, but still look glam. I’m pretty much kicking most of my Roman pieces to the curb for this. I feel more at home as an Archaic Greek for an alternate summer persona. Probably because it allows me to be more of a peacock in line with my Byzantine primary work when those heavy layers are unsuitable. This gives me time to work on my academic work with Byzantine dress, while keeping cool with simple sewing projects I can bling out extravagantly with trim and bezants.
When it became clear that the weekend of Trimaris Memorial Tourney was going to be facing record breaking heat, I wondered how little I could wear, and still look put together. I feel like my Iron Age peploi/bog dresses/war tubes are just not okay enough outside of running around the field at Pennsic or working around camp. When my husband, who is known for his gingerness, is packing his Roman tunica and shorts and bottles of sunblock instead of his usual two layers of linen, you know what’s up.
Amenhotep Sa Amenemhat has been pretty inspiring with his work in the Bronze Age, predominately his impression of a New Kingdom Egyptian priest of Amun. He suggested I take a look at Egyptian, and I sort of sneered a bit. Really, the most common Egyptian look that women in the SCA attempt is the strappy sheath dress. I have no issue with it, because I’m a fan of supportive garments, I just have my own body image issues that are stopping me from tailoring my own. When Caid announced that their upcoming reign would be Egyptian, my friends from Calafia got in contact with me for sources, so I jumped onto the SCA Egypt group on Facebook and browsed through the files section, which I found out was pretty comprehensive on options outside of the strappy look.
I openly admit to not looking too deeply into Egyptian textiles. It’s not really my “thing”, though there’s quite a bit of overlap between that and some Bronze Age Greek I’ve been reading up on. When a book I have out on Interlibrary Loan, Ariadne’s Threads: The Construction and Significance of Clothes in the Aegean Bronze Age by Bernice R. Jones, cited images and contemporary extant pieces from Egypt that looked to be well-fitted tunic dresses of sorts versus the straps, or the oversized bag-tunic, I decided to look closer, and followed through to Pharaonic Egyptian Clothing by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, where a fast skim was able to make the idea of a bag tunic more doable for my personal tastes.
The bag tunic itself was worn by both men and women, and there were a variety of cuts and pleating styles done with it. Most artwork shows women wearing slim fitting clothing, in reality, this may not have been the case. The bag tunic could have been quite wide, and when belted under the bust, created the wide top. I’ve played this game with wide Roman chitons that required double belting. No thank you. I want part of the “less is more” idea, here. I had a remnant of 27″ wide natural colored linen and a free afternoon. Why the heck not?
The construction is exactly the same as a Roman man’s tunica, or at least, the way I make them. I folded the fabric in half the short way, and formed holes for the arms on the sides. The neckline is based on the bag tunic found at Tarkhan, where it is nothing more than a vertical slit, versus a Roman boatneck style. Other tunics show keyholes, so there was some good variation going on. This image from University College London gives a good diagram, and also shows the inclusion of fringe. I did not fringe my linen, though I was seriously tempted to do so.
I finished the hem of my garment with a slit for walking, and an inkle trim that has been sitting on my loom for the better part of two years. It reminds me of pieces found in Tutankhamen’s tomb, and was given the thumbs up by Amenhotep when I asked for advice.
When I initially tried it on, I was first a bit twitchy about the low cut of the neckline, but had to remind myself that this was far from a modest society. That wasn’t as much of the issue as it wanting to slide off of my shoulders, though. This was rectified by adding a tie to the back, which Vogelsang-Eastwood mentions in her book as a technique done on women’s clothing.
I also tossed together a necklace with some beads I had in my stash, mostly leftover from my previous Bronze Age foray into Mesopotamian garb. The turquoise is ceramic, but not real faience. The red is genuine carnelian, and the cowries are also real, and took a bit of finagling with jump rings to turn into viable pendants. I stacked this with a carnelian necklace I made for my Mesopotamian project and still have, because it’s all real stone and worth a pretty penny.
The finished look on my dressform:
Of course, I still needed to cover my hair. What better than the quintessential Egyptian kerchief? A wig was not going to happen in this heat, and I’m a fan of veiling and covering when out in the sun, because scalp sunburns are awful. This gives the added bonus of protecting the back of the neck as well. It’s basically a half-oval with trim used for ties. Based on ones found in Tut’s tomb. The blue is accurate to one of the finds.
And here I am all put together at Trimaris Memorial Tourney, Jeff takes bad pictures, so I found if I make terrible faces, they come out better. While I normally don’t put on makeup when it can melt off, I felt like the application of malachite-green eyeshadow and some black kohl eyeliner was necessary to complete the look. Both are non-toxic modern alternatives to the period cosmetics. Please, do not rub real malachite or lead galena on your eyes when we can fake it safely.
– One layer and you’re done.
– Throw your hair in braids, pin them up, cover, done.
– Totally non-gendered. Men could wear a shorter tunic if desired.
-The v-neck style can be adjusted a bit to allow for more to show in the back or front. This allowed me to control cleavage, and give my back more “venting”, this was nice and let the usual back sweat evaporate out and cool that spot nicely. It also allowed me to wear a normal t-shirt bra, instead of a bandeau which is what I opt to in my chitons so there are no visible straps.
– Excellent use of a remnant that was otherwise going to just become another Greek chiton. 27″ was plenty wide for me. But this won’t work for everyone.
-Kerchief can be re-configured on your head for a Norse look. I did that later in the day when I was cooking and eating dinner in our camp.
– It doesn’t feel much like, “me”. I got that vibe when I was making it more than wearing it. Though I got a ton of compliments for how put together it looked and the simplicity for dealing with the soaring temps.
-My Egyptian-ish sandals are in bad shape and made me gimpy.
– Not a lot of “peacocking” options outside of bling. The Egyptians didn’t really have dyes that worked on linen, so natural and bleached is the way to go.
Conclusion: Will I wear it again? Yes. I may even make another to add into my Pennsic/hot event rotation that has the waist seam. It will be good for waterbearing on the field, especially with the turban covering my head, and me avoiding the need for a floppy hat that usually just gets in the way. I also really want to try one of the super pleated long sleeved tunics with the waist seam. I figure I can easily sun-dry some pleats into wet linen on a hot enough day here in Trimaris, especially with how dry the summer is shaping up to be. Obviously, this technique would would better in Caid, but hey, we take what is given to us. Will I go for the full on crazy wrapped kalasiris look? Eh, that remains to be seen. I’m happy being Greek. 😉
I’ve already decided that my next stop on the Anna and Amenhotep’s Bronze Age Revue will be Hittite, but that will probably have to wait until after Pennsic once things cool down a smidge. Climate between Anatolia and Egypt were pretty different.
I’m using the generic term “himation” ( just “garment”) here for the overgarment shown in my source fresco. At the time, a delmatikion would have had the long exaggerated sleeves you see in my court garments. This appears to be a lesser gown. “Chiton” could also work, being a generic term for “tunic”, heck, it could also be “kamision”, but for the sake of ease, it’s himation for this one.
I basically copied what I saw, only using a different pattern than my usual to achieve the effects seen.
I mostly cut my garments simply, to allow for as much fabric as possible with minimal effort, basically, conspicuous consumption at its best. But for the common Byzantine folk, that would not have been cost effective. Fabric was woven narrowly, and garments were usually pieced much more than I do. So I went with that in mind, and cut narrow body panels, with sleeves and full side panel gores to allow for the width I needed for comfort. The connecting seam results in a nice guide for potamioi, should I be applying them. Tim Dawson has this pattern in his “By the Emperor’s Hand” book, and it’s also seen in contemporary Persian styles.
And to add to my misery (and authenticity), more Byzantine whipstitchings for all of the contrast work.
But the combo really looks sharp. And SOOOO much better belted because of the blockier shape from the seam placements. I really do not personally enjoy the aesthetic of the elongated sides because of the straight grain, but the fresco and other sources show this as a common feature, so I replicated that. This can be avoided by cutting gores on the bias. The seam placements look sharp, though, and it is so much easier than inserting a gusset, but definitely not as easy as a rounded underarm as I normally cut.
I belted it using my hand-tooled leather apprentice belt with my Syrian buckle. After hiking with it (forthcoming post), I think one of my normal cloth or woven belts would be more comfortable. Of course, I had to test the sleeves.
And voila, the clothing was done.
And here’s the source fresco again as a refresher.
Next week at a Trimarian event called “Corsair’s Heart”, Mistress Mayken van der Alst is coordinating a Medieval Hike! I decided that this sounded more in my wheelhouse than an entry into the Birka Garb Challenge, so I chose to go full bore and see what I could come up with.
The short answer: A middle/working class Byzantine ensemble that would be comfortable for hiking in. The hilarious thing is that I don’t own anything lower class, or uh, casual.
But for real, in period, in persona, I would have been carried to Jerusalem in a litter, or rode in the back of a carriage. If I was “roughing it”, I would be on my own horse. Walking? Bah!
But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to walk, and wear and carry something that I could walk in, comfortably.
Better start at the bottom. Layer that is.
In my searching for *sigh* casual Byzantine, which, by the way, not that easy, I found a Cappadocian fresco that is contemporary to my period. Here, a midwife and Salome bathe the infant Jesus and his rippling man-pecks of the Divine.
Everything here seemed perfect. You have women working, wearing clothing indicative of an arid climate that would have been passed through to continue to the Holy Land. The colors are great, and my favorite part? The Midwife’s SLEEVES:
I determined it was either one of two things: A guard that was slung over the shoulders to allow her to pull her clothing back and away for midwifery duties, or, slits in a tunic designed to do this, again, for her profession. Both are plausible, of course, but I decided to test the theory on a tunic, as it’s also supported by some of the work Dr. Timothy Dawson has done with kavadion/gambesons whereas the underarm is open, and the padded long sleeve can be pinned back for more movement.
This is what I came up with.
The base pattern for the esoforion (undershirt), is the Manazan Caves Tunic, which I’ve used before for some shirts for the hubby here. The reasons I decided to go forward with one of these for myself were: A; The high collar is good for protecting against the elements. B: The extant tunic is contemporary to Cappadocia, but not in the same location. The Manazan Caves are in present day Karaman, Turkey, and the Dark Church is in present day Goreme. This is a distance of about 270km. That doesn’t mean that these settlements weren’t in contact, and it’s still close enough for approximation of Cappadocian fashion. C: The long gore construction of the Manazan find would work well with allowing a ton of ease and slack on the arms for slits in the sleeves.
So, with my pile of 3.5oz natural linen, I set off on an adventure. I determined that the sleeves would have to be longer to pull this off, but since that was a Persian trend that had trickled into Byzantine fashion and stayed, I had no qualms with some potentially droopy sleeves. I also ended up hand-sewing the entire collar, and all openings/hems. There are only 6 machine sewn seams in the whole thing, not bad. I do want to do an entirely hand-sewn one of these, and I have the fabric to do it, so I figured this would be good practice. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous blog post about this tunic, hand sewing the collar construction is a must, anyway. It just won’t work right with a machine. Good thing too, because after the couple days it took me to complete the collar setup, I returned to the machine, and promptly sewed a full stitch through my left index finger, INCLUDING THE NAIL. Typing hurts right now, but it’s healing. I guess that’s a sign I should keep on my hand work practice.
So much whipstitching, man. The Byzantines loved them some whipstitch.
Tacking down the inside facing.
Seeing the hand stitching on the outside.
Putting the placket over the front.
Attaching the band collar.
Finished handsewn collar.
Whipstitching the whole darn hem! I usually use a blind hem stitch, but it’s really not accurate.
I decided on the arm slit placement after basting the side seams together, and looking at fit. Each slit is 8″ out of the front seam that connects the gore. I then cut the basting, turned in a hem, and it was done. Zero fuss, and zero fabric waste or odd cuts into the garment.
The pictures speak for themselves. It works. The placement of the uber-long gore makes for a full range of movement, and as you can see, I can still create more slack to go over an outer tunic.
This garment is more than practical for just midwifery. While on pilgrimage, it would be beneficial to cover your skin for sun protection, and the long sleeves still allow for this. But, if I get too hot, or need to cook/set camp/do dirty work, I can tie my sleeves back and be comfortable doing so. Genius.
I’m going to use a tie on the front of the collar this time, versus a button and loop as I did for Gieffrei, because I feel it will allow me to adjust fit and function better during the hike. I can inkle weave a small band easy enough in an hour on my little loom.
Of course, the outer garment is next after that. I’m following through with the color scheme of the fresco, especially the look that Salome is wearing on the right. I have a block printed cotton I will be using for the turban to match the Cappadocian look, as well.
My final touches will be a shoulder bag, and a relic bag for my belt. If I can find out more, I want to research into accurate ankle support as well, only because I’m a chronic sprainer and could use the, uh, help. These will all be completed over the course of the next week, and I’m looking forward to pulling it all together for the hike!
Probably the crappiest attempt at 17th C. Imperial Russian you’ll ever see, but it was coated in bling so it doesn’t matter.
This story begins, as so many do, with the quintessential opening of, “So no sh*t, there I was…” It was February of 2016. I was at a tiny pop culture convention at UConn with some friends who I’ve known in the comic artist circuit for no less than googlety years.
…Yes, I draw, by the way. My first degree is in art, and I’ve been working on and off in the pop culture industry now since 2002. The latest thing I churned out was this Master Chief for my brother-in law. This is not relevant to my post. I just wanted to show it off because I slayed that bristol board.
Long story short, I had secured badges for San Diego Comic-Con International, yes, the big one, and I was chatting it up with a friend in our hotel room on a freezing cold night in Storrs, CT. She randomly suggested something along the lines of, “You should totally do a historically accurate Black Widow.” And I only half heard it. So while she was talking about art, I heard “costume for Comic-Con”, and the rest was history.
The kicker was getting in a position to make it before the con. Our move from New Hampshire to California had already been scheduled, and I was in the middle of writing and sewing my thesis. So what it came down to was waiting until I actually lived in San Diego to get started. This would not have been so bad, if we didn’t wait a month for our household goods to come in. When all was said and done, I had 3 weeks to pull it together. I began ordering supplies before I had a sewing machine in my house, and basically launched this project on a Hail Mary.
Since I made this for convention cosplay, versus SCA wear, I decided to focus on the look of the costumes from the 1903 Ball at the Winter Palace, in which the theme was to wear 17th Century court dress. So it was already going to be anachronistic in addition to costumey. I chose the look of the coat of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, sister of Czar Nicholas II, and the kokoshnik from another noblewoman.
I shorted the hem of the layers to make sure I wouldn’t trip and fall in a convention center. I used every machine trick I had to save time, and collected plastic beads, rhinestones, vintage beaded trims, buttons with black widow spiders on them, and embroidered patches churned out on a friend’s embroidery machine. In the end, most of the handwork involved was just on the kokoshnik. I threw lace on the forehead instead of beads, because I don’t know how to do that type of beading and there was like zero time to try to learn. The patterns are overly simplified to facilitate speed. I’m pretty sure Russian coats were not made like t-tunics.
I was sewing up to the night I wore it, but it paid off in the end: I was awarded a hall costume blue ribbon from the Hollywood Costumer’s Guild, and got to meet Terry Dresbach, the former costume designer from “Outlander”, who immediately recognized my attempt at a historical version of Black Widow. I didn’t get my picture with her, but I did with others from their group.
Here is a full gallery of the construction and wearing of the costume at SDCC. Note the crazy nuances like my makeup, and nose ring. This was never intended for SCA wear, it’s more like a Las Vegas Imperial Russian.
And then the costume got put away in my closet, and came out again for Costume College in 2017, but I didn’t wear it.
And then the 2019 Birka Garb Challenge was announced as “Marvel and DC Superheroes and Villains”, and I was like, “Well, okay. I’m skipping this one. Unfair.” And then I got talked back into it. Originally, I was going to enter as Thanos in full crazy 12th Century Byzantine complete with chased and repoussed “armor” as a loros, and then decided I didn’t want to do that much work. So, I backed out again, in prep of doing the medieval persona hike here in Trimaris in February at Corsair’s Heart, which I figured would give me a better avenue for re-wearable garb.
…And then I got asked to trot this haute mess back out. Since nobody back in the East Kingdom actually saw it in person, I had a few people who really wanted me to bring it. I had even more people who didn’t remember, or know, that I did this, so when I posted a few pics to social media that one was coming out of the vaults, I think it really intimidated a lot of other participants. For their benefit, and my own, I decided I wouldn’t enter the fashion show, and opted in to judging it instead, which, honestly, was so much fun, I would totally do it again. I loved sitting on the panel and admiring all of the entries with the other judges, TRM East, Her Highness East, and Her Highness Atlantia. We had an absolute blast.
So yeah, if you saw this, and wondered what the frack it was, this is what it was. The ribbon hangs in my studio, underneath a ribbon I won at Arisia 2009 for my first ever Byzantine ensemble. They’re a nice reminder to stay humble. 😉
I field more emails and more online questions about the Varangian Guard than I do actual Byzantine personae. I lifted most of the information below from my Byzantine Personal Basics page above, but I’ve included a bibliography to hopefully help those on the path find what they’re looking for.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I have nothing against Varangian personae, but I’m about to be very blunt: Varangians are not Byzantine.
The Romans viewed them as barbarians and outsiders, and despite the fun tales from the Norse Sagas, chances are, they weren’t well liked in the City. The truth of the matter is that there are currently more Varangians in the SCA than there ever was serving an emperor at one point in time due to the fact that it gives Norse personae an excuse to wear lamellar when it’s hot (which is fine, we don’t need anybody dropping dead at war, please). Not everybody could show up at the Blachernae Palace steps from somewhere up North and demand they be admitted into service to the Purple. It was a bit more complicated than that, and each emperor had different requirements. Not to mention, Varangians were only predominantly Norse for a short period of time in the mid 11th Century if we assume what the Sagas say is true.
The first Varangian Guard was not established until the late 10th Century (around 980) when Basil II was given thousands of Kievan soldiers in exchange for marriage of a Byzantine princess to the Prince of Kiev in order to defeat the Bulgarians. The Kievan Rus were not Norse, they were Slavic, potentially with Norse ancestry, but the term “Viking” itself is a particular Norse occupation. The “Viking Age” was pretty much over at this time. We do have record of plenty of Norse travelers coming to Constantinople prior to this, but the “Viking raid” in 860 was actually Rus that had come down into the Black Sea from what is now Ukraine.
To further screw things up, the term “Varangian” itself was used by both the Romans and the Rus to refer to Norse Vikings prior to the 10th Century. So, if this is the route you desire to go, determining if you’re just a Norse traveler from early period, or an actual member of the Emperor’s elite guard is important.
If you do decide to go Varangian GUARD, here is a list of “waves” of ethnicities that served at specific times. This is by no means set in stone, but it provides a guide for those that want to pinpoint a specific time period that suits their goals:
988 – 1020ish: Kievan Rus
1020-1070ish: Scandinavian (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish) Bolli Bollason and Harald Hardrada served at this time.
1070-1204ish: Danish and English (Anglo-Saxon). The term “Danes” comes up in Byzantine literature often to describe the Varangians, and the English were escaping Norman rule in England at this time. This is documented in the saga of Edward the Confessor. Siward Barn served at this time. Normans were NOT permitted to be apart of the Varangian Guard, but some may have served as mercenaries in other capacities.
The Fourth Crusade has probably some of the best documented accounts of the Varangian Guard in action protecting Constantinople. After the retaking of Constantinople and re-establishing the empire, however, there didn’t appear to be as formal of a guard unit, and those that were a part of it, had fully assimilated into the Roman culture. It is unclear if the Varangian Guard really remained a thing until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
There are a lot of myths surrounded what they actually wore, especially in the SCA. The “red is for the Emperor’s service” and “green is for the Empress’s service” is totally a SCAdianism as far as I’ve found. It looks like the on-duty color for the guard was blue or red, while off-duty, you see them in nothing more than plain tunics and slim-fitting trousers or hose, which was typical for men’s casual wear throughout the empire. Earlier travelers would have continued to wear the clothing of their culture, versus picking up stuff along the way. Clothing was expensive and difficult to carry and launder, so the other SCAdianism of having a diverse wardrobe boasting the latest fashions of every exotic port of call you visited is also inaccurate. They would, however, assimilate over time if they decided to stay put in an area. This does not include trade goods, but items that were exchanged in business were not necessarily the same as the clothes you wore on your back.
As far as religion goes, during the period of the active guard, most serving were already Christian, or converted to Orthodoxy from a later, heavily modified and somewhat hodgepodged version of Arian Christianity which was more common in Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries very early before the Western Church started coming in with missions. Please, remember that Arianism IS NOT THE SAME THING as Aryanism. Mind your i’s and y’s! Either way, the idea of your persona dripping in lovely Asatru regalia would be incorrect as a guardsman, but as a very early Norse traveler to Constantinople, still possible.
This is both an abridged version of my Master’s Thesis and an expansion of sorts. It focuses solely on Kale’s garments and her inventory as such demonstrating her changing identity from noblewoman to nun. The Powerpoint has photos of my attempt at ecclesiastical dress and some dramatic poses for fun.