Greek Headwear

Lncient Greek culture is divided among three general societies: Minoan, Mycenaean, and Greek. Each of these societies developed sophisticated civilizations, and the earlier societies influenced those that followed. In all, a variety of different ways of adorning the head were created.

In Minoan society, which developed on the Greek island of Crete about 3000 b.c.e., long hair was prized for both men and

A gold Mycenaean diadem. Diadems as well as wreaths and caps were often used to adorn the heads of both Greek men and women. of©

ermission Kaehler/CORBIS.

Ancient Greece Headwear

women. Frescoes, a form of paint applied directly to a wall's wet plaster, on palace walls and pictures on pottery show men and women with long, wavy black hair that reaches anywhere from the shoulders to below the buttocks. Men wore their long hair simply hanging down their backs and sometimes grew beards or mustaches. Some had short hair. Women wore elaborately styled long hairstyles. Paintings and pottery show women with sections of their hair waved or tied in an assortment of knots. Both men and women wore hats. Depictions of religious figures show women wearing three-tiered cone-like hats or flat hats with elaborate decorations on top, including statues of animals and feathers such as peacock plumes.

Mycenaean society, which developed on what is now the mainland of Greece, was greatly influenced by the Minoans who had developed on the island of Crete. Although the Minoan culture had waned at the time the Mycenaeans came to Crete, the Mycenaeans adopted much of the Minoan culture into their own. In the early years their hairstyles were similar to the Minoans but much more carefully styled in long curls held in place by richly decorated diadems, or crowns, and ribbons. Later, perhaps for convenience as they entered into a number of wars, Mycenaean men cut their hair short or bound it closely to their head and grew beards.

After the fall of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations in about 1200 b.c.e., Greek society developed. To the Greeks hair was a beautiful, important fashion accessory, and they created many hair accessories and styles. In the early years of Greek society both men and women wore their hair long, usually tied with a headband. Greeks living in the area called Sparta, in the central part of Greece, regarded their long hair as bestowing them with special powers and strength. To achieve the most beautiful styles, wigs and other hairpieces were worn by both men and women. Greeks also found it fashionable to darken their gray hair or dye their hair blond. To lighten their hair, Greeks washed their hair in potash, made from wood ashes, soaked it in yellow flowers, and dried it in the sun. Oils were also applied to the hair to make it shine.

As the society developed over hundreds of years, Greek hairstyles became more restrained. Men and women would twist and tie up their hair with bands. For special occasions, women adorned their heads with decorative metal bands called stephane, which looked much like modern-day tiaras. By the early fourth century b.c.e., women often covered their bound-up hair with scarves called

sphendone or caps such as the sakkos, a soft woven cap with a tassel hanging from the center or a piece of material wrapped around the head.

Starting in the sixth century b.c.e. men more and more commonly wore their hair short until the Greek ruler Alexander the Great (356-323 b.c.e.) returned the fashion of longer hair in the fourth century b.c.e. Men again began cutting their hair short in the third century and continued to wear short hair until the end of Greek rule in 146 b.c.e. Popular styles included short curls and curls combed away from the face.

For most of early Greek life Greek men could decide whether or not they wished to wear beards or mustaches as a matter of personal taste. Beards could be worn full, pointed, or closely cropped, with a mustache or without. However, Alexander the Great popularized the look of clean-shaven skin, and fewer and fewer men wore beards after his reign.

Greek men wore hats for functional purposes, not fashionable ones. The pilos, petasos, and Phrygian caps were worn for work or travel by farmers, soldiers, and travelers. Decorative headgear included wreaths made of natural branches or golden ornaments that were worn for special occasions and to signify great honors.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1982.

Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.

Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Greece. New York: Chelsea House,

Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.

A hood-like hat with a pointed top, the Phrygian cap was introduced to ancient Greece around 500 b.c.e. from the nearby


White Phrygian Caps
A Greek man wearing a Phrygian cap. Reproduced by permission of © Araldo de Luca/CORBIS.

land of Phrygia, in what is now Turkey. The Phrygian people of the sixth and seventh centuries b.c.e. had many influences on ancient Greek culture, among them a tight-fitting cap with a pointed top which angled to the front. The Phrygian cap is brimless, but may have flaps over or in front of the ears, and also sometimes has a long flap in the back to protect the neck. The caps were sometimes made of stiffened fabric or leather, which made it sit up on the head like a helmet, with the pointed top curving towards the front of the head. Other Phrygian caps were made of soft felt, with the point either flattened onto the crown of the cap, hung to the side, or stood up softly. The Phrygian cap was later popular during several different time periods and has been seen on a wide variety of people from French revolutionaries of 1789 to the seven dwarves in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The style is still echoed in some types of modern stocking caps.

The Phrygian cap became popular wear for many Greek men, from soldiers to farmers, and the style continued to spread after Greece was conquered by the Roman Empire in 146 b.c.e. Men continued to wear Phrygian caps at various times throughout the Middle Ages (c. 500-c. 1500 c.e.), and they rose to tremendous popularity again during the French Revolution, which began in 1789. An ancient Roman custom of giving Phrygian caps to slaves who gained their freedom inspired French revolutionaries to adopt the cap, which they dubbed the "liberty cap." The soft felt cap was dashing enough for freedom fighters, yet simple enough to provide a contrast with the stiff three-cornered, or tricorne, hats of the aristocracy. The Phrygian cap, often made from red cloth, became the symbol of French liberty.

Phrygian caps have continued to be symbols of freedom, and pictures of them are often found on official seals and banners, such as the state seal of West Virginia, the presidential flag of Argentina, and the Treasury seal of Paraguay. A 1992 song by the rock group

XTC, "Then She Appeared," describes a woman who appears "Dressed in tricolour [the French flag] and Phrygian cap."


Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

Sichel, Marion. Costume of the Classical World.New York: Chelsea House, 1980.

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  • regolo
    How to make egyptian headgear?
    8 years ago
  • rosa
    What is greek headwear called?
    7 years ago
  • henry mcintosh
    How did the people many years ago use potash to curl their hair?
    5 years ago

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