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.
I live in Trimaris. It is summer. This post is a little punchy.
I swear, when I lived here 15 years ago, it wasn’t as hot. Granted, I was younger, I had grown up here, and I endured the summers because we were thrown out of the house over school break lest my parents go insane. Jumping Jeebus, it’s hot out right now. I know the Jacksonville area, where I am, can get hotter than the Tampa Bay area, where I grew up, because of the way the breeze crosses the state, BUT STILL!
Don’t get me wrong, Caid was hot. But most events weren’t awful. You could catch a breeze in the shade, and, of course, Southern California is a dry heat. Not that a good Santa Ana Wind didn’t turn you into a raisin, or anything, but your sweat served its purpose and evaporated. There is no such thing as a dry anything ever in Florida. Be it a heat, or a cold. Swamp-ass is the state’s actual unofficial pastime, not to be confused with bad news stories being released on the internet because of the state’s freedom of information act. Moist. Moist is the vocabulary word of this Uncle, Lord Samuel’s Naval Tour Post, and there is no way in heaven or hell that any of my Sartor silks or full on Byzantine anything ever is going outdoors into that schweaty abyss.
So, I have Roman. Roman is good. I only have a full bulbous Roman linen outfits after a recent garb purge, and decided I wanted to be pretty, and converted a lot to the cotton sari trend, which was great in non-schweaty Caid. I wore an ultralight set, composed of two thin cotton saris, one day at Pennsic 2 weeks ago (we had an exceptionally…swamp-assy war) and it stuck to every…crevice…on…my…body…that…could…pool…moisture. YUCK!!! Oh cotton, no! The elegance of the drape was lost when it just adhered itself to my bits. That got pulled off of my body in a hurry and replaced with one of my linen “war tubes” as I call them. Literally, just a one seam tube that I made at war one year that I can pin once on each shoulder for a Bronze Age look. These are often called bog dresses.
Somehow, my brain knew it was going to be a hot war, and decided weeks in advance that I was going to sew up slimmer-fitting chitons in more of an Archaic Greek look, versus the draped fullness you see in later artwork. I kept the embellishment simple, and even sewed most of the tops closed for ease of wear. I don’t think I really want to wear my full Roman dresses ever again.
“Archaic Greek?” You may ask, unsure of what I mean.
So, true story, most of my formal education is in Ancient Greek and Roman History and the Classics, versus Medieval History. We didn’t have any real Byzantine History classes, so I had to sort of do my own independent work in that regard in connection to other courses. Understanding Greek and Roman history is vital to Byzantium anyway, and the Middle Ages for that matter, but yeah, there’s my big secret, I’m not much of a Medievalist at all, I’m a Classicist. You may now ring the shame bell.
So, back to Greece. There are multiple periods of Ancient History, just as we have multiple periods anywhere else. For Greece, it was the Bronze Age, Dark Age/Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods.
The Archaic Age (pretty much the 7th-6th-5th centuries BC) is basically when a lot of what we know of as “Ancient Greece” begins to take shape. This is when Homer composed the Iliad and the Odyssey, when Sappho lived, and when sculpture started to make an appearance.
And now, a crash course in art history!
The pivotal sculpture forms of the Archaic Age are the Kouros and Kore statues, or “young man” and “young woman” respectively. There is some speculation on who they represent, but the general idea seems to be Apollo or Dionysus for the Kouros, and Persephone for the Kore. Or, nobody in particular after all. Kouros is almost always stark nekkid, while Kore has been draped with a variety of garments. The style was pretty much lifted directly from Egypt, and predated the more common contraposto-style statues you see from the late Classical period.
Thanks to the miracles of modern science, we’ve been able to really get an idea of what colors the statues were painted, and boy oh boy, are they a treat to the eyes.
When I was still out in California, The Norman and I went to San Francisco for a weekend, and I was able to catch the “Gods in Color” exhibition at the Legion of Honor. The exhibition, which started in Germany, I think, is a collection of reproduction Greek and Roman statues that have been painted to match their original, or experimental, colors. I may have cried a little (out of joy, mind you, again, this is my area of study), and took pictures of every single object in the show, while poor Jeff followed me around with raised eyebrows and bewilderment at why the Persians were wearing what appeared to be Lularoe leggings. (All photos from the exhibition are my own.)
Or why this Kouros had some circa 1999 nipple tats going on. It’s like he listened to Godsmack in high school and made a bad life choice. (I swear, I am actually an adult, and not 12. It’s probably an interpretation of Apollo. Really. Now you know archaic nipple tats are a thing. In actuality, it has to do with the concept of ephebeia, or the adolescent male, in Greek society, but I’m keeping that off of my blog for my own sanity. Anybody interested in it as a scholarly discussion is welcome to contact me by email.)
But what I was really there for were the interpretations of Peplos Kore, and the colored version of Chios Kore. Happy nerd girl tears, again. I threw in images of the Phrasikleia Kore in here for added dweebery and inspiration.
The colors! The trim! Sure, most of it is allegorical to the goddess or person they are portraying and not actually indicative of patterns worn by actual people, but, the options for fun for hot weather garb! I would avoid wearing all of the lotuses that Phrasikleia Kore has on her, only because it’s a funeral stele and they’re symbolic of the afterlife, but the fit of her chiton got me thinking that there is no need to be swimming in fabric. Contrast her to the draped layers on the Chios Kore, means that there were possibly options, and not just limited to the skill of the sculptor, noted by the folds at the bottom of Phrasikleia Kore’s chiton.
Inspired by this fit, and bored with a stack of fabric at my parents’ house when house-sitting back in June. I decided to make a slimmer fitting chiton by taking 2 yards of 58″ wide linen, folded the short way. I determined that I could do this with less than 2 yards for my figure at this width. I know that not all women are created equal, so I apologize if this particular hack doesn’t work for you, but the style is still doable. For me, I found that I could go about 32″ per front and back panel and still have plenty of ease with my 42″ bust and even wider hips. This is a heck of a lot cheaper and less cumbersome than one of my 4-yard Roman style chitoi/tunicae interior.
I threw some trim on the top and bottom, and added a slit to one side seam for walking ease, and thus, my “archaic” chiton was born. Half the fabric as a Roman one, and still a flattering fit.
I sewed the top of the first one, instead of adding buttons or pins, and this allowed me to wear a real bra at Pennsic, instead of a tube bra, which relieved some of the uncomfortable under-the-boob sweat that women are subjected to. I lived in this thing at war.
So I made more! The black was inspired by some Romano-Egypt fayum portraits with the addition of the clavii (note that Romano-Egyptian garments were MUCH wider), and the yellow was straight out of the yellow Peplos Kore above. The trim is vintage sari trim I got from Ebay. Perfect! (The black has alligators. Because!)
The yellow I had some fit issues with. The trim made it stiff, and it wasn’t as flattering, even with my parents’ cat Mary Jane lending her assistance. So when I got back to my house, I added heavy brass buttons to the sleeves, and BOOM! A completed look and a smoother fit. I wore this one with a red himation/palla to the Courtesan Bacchanal at Pennsic.
For the finale, I ended up making one out of wool I had just laying around. Check out this draping! It looks SO PERIOD in contrast to linen! (I don’t have a full length mirror in my current apartment. So you get the Soviet selection of my propaganda collection instead and some curing silk banners.) I did try wearing it at Pennsic. Once. While it breathed well, and totally wicked the moisture off of my skin, the sun hitting it was too much for my modern sensibilities, so I went back to the linen. I do need to wear linen against my skin UNDER the wool next time (this is a nice basketweave that doesn’t itch or scratch) for a more accurate interpretation and perhaps less of a chance of being baked alive.
So, before you all run off to try this, I want to make a disclaimer, while I called this my Archaic Chiton, I’m only doing so because of the slimmer fit. In Greece, they sewed no seams. Everything was wrapped, pinned, and belted. I do not, and never will, have the huevos to pull that off.
Here is a drawing of my measurements, and basically how I did it, for those that want to try the slimmer look, as well.
For my next trick, I may actually attempt a full archaic look with those crazy colors and embellishment. Let’s see if I actually get around to it.