Both Greek men and women wore an outer garment called a himation (hi-MA-tee-on) beginning as early as the sixth century b.c.e. Although made in various dimensions, himations generally were large rectangular pieces of fabric arranged around the body in a variety of different ways. They were made out of loosely woven thick wool. Though no physical remnants of himations have been discovered, statues and decorations found on pottery suggest that these garments were often dyed bright colors and covered or bordered with intricate designs that were either woven into the fabric or painted on.
Men normally wore the himation alone, although some wore it over a short chiton, a basic garment that covered the upper body and varying portions of the legs, much like a short dress. When men wore himations, they made sure to keep the edges from dragging on the ground because to do so was considered in poor taste. Fashionable men carefully wrapped their himation over their left shoulder, because to bare one's left shoulder was a sign of barbarism, or being uncivilized. Himations were popular with men until the end of the Archaic Period, around 500 b.c.e., when the himation became most frequently worn by women.
Greek women wore himations in public as warm cloaks over their thin Ionic chitons (a type of tunic). Women wore himations in a variety of different styles, such as the symmetrical and the transverse himations. A symmetrical himation was a large rectangular piece of cloth worn draped over the shoulders like a shawl with the center sometimes pulled up to cover the head. A transverse hima-tion became popular to wear over the Ionic chiton; it was made out of a rectangular cloth with the center touching the left hip of the wearer and the ends attached over the right shoulder with a brooch
or pin. One of the most common ways for women to drape the himation was to wrap it around the entire body. Starting with an end of the cloth draped forward over the left shoulder, the himation would be wrapped across the back and either under the right arm or covering the right arm and then slung across the chest to the left shoulder or held over the left arm. To secure the himation, some Greek women tucked a fold into their girdle, a string wrapped around their waist. Less often women tied their himation around their hips. For greatest protection from the weather, women would completely cover themselves with their himations, draping the cloth over their heads to veil their faces and covering both their arms with it.
Himations were such a prevalent part of the Greek wardrobe for so many years and worn in so many different styles that the word "himation" is often used by scholars to refer to any number of different wraps worn by Greeks.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Houston, Mary G. Ancient Greek, Roman, and
Byzantine Costume and Decoration. 2nd ed.
New York: Barnes and Noble, 1947.
Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Greece.
New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
[See also Volume 1, Ancient Greece: Doric Chiton; Volume 1, Ancient Greece: Ionic Chiton]
Over their clothing Greek women often draped a himation, which could vary in color from basic white to a more colorful pink or red. Reproduced by permission of © Araldo de Luca/CORBIS.
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