From Fig Leaves to High Fashion… Classical Greece 33


After the Dorians and the Ionians succeeded in conquering the Mycenean civilization around 1100 B.C., Greek civilization entered into a dark age that lasted nearly 300 years. Vital trade links were lost, towns and villages were abandoned, and the population dwindled. Architecture, art, and literacy practically ceased.  While farming, weaving, metalworking, and pottery did continue during this time, they were restricted to local markets. Some technical advances were still made by the Greeks, but the overall trend was toward simplicity and functionality instead of beauty and art.


In keeping with their desire for simplicity, Greek clothing was nothing more than an assortment of cloth rectangles draped around the body and secured in place with pins and cords. The foundational piece for any Greek wardrobe was the Chiton, a

Greek Chiton

Greek Chiton

kind of tunic fashioned from a single rectangular piece of linen or wool cloth. Worn by both men and women, it was wrapped around the body, fastened at the shoulders with simple pins or fancy broaches, and belted at

Greek Chiton with Himation

Greek Chiton with Himation

the waist. Chitons were usually bound at the waist with a double belt between which a section of cloth could be pulled out to create a kind of pocket that was not only decorative but useful. Working men, children, and some younger women wore short, knee length Chitons to allow for more freedom of movement, but full length Chitons were preferred by women and higher ranking men. Chitons could be draped in any number of ways to suit the wearers style. The Chiton would become the signature garment of the Greeks, representing cultural and intellectual refinement. It would later become adopted by the Romans and would continue to be incorporated into fashionable styles throughout the ages – even today – as a nod to Classical Greece.  The pattern for this dress will be available soon, but if you would like a chance to win the prototype, be sure to leave a comment below to be included in a random drawing to be announced in next months newsletter!

Around the time that Greece began to emerge from their dark age, King Solomon of Israel died and a civil war erupted in his kingdom that split the nation into the rivaling kingdoms of Israel and Judah. As the two kingdoms fought against one another, the Assyrian Empire began to rise in power at an alarming rate.  The Assyrians were a heinous force that compelled Israel and Judah to work together to ensure their survival.  The Greeks looked to the Assyrians with keen interest and began adopting elements of their art, religion, and mythology. In 776 B.C., the Greeks held their first Olympic games, and tradition marks that event as the beginning of the Classical Greek period. Interestingly, it was at about this time that God sent the Biblical prophet Jonah to preach to the Assyrians, who responded with a deep, though short lived, repentance. Just as Israel and Judah were a divided nation, so were the two Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta. Though they shared a common language and heritage, in every other respect, they were different. The people of Athens, descended from the Ionians, were situated on a high plain and their outlook on life was as bright and fresh as the sunshine and warm sea breezes that spilled over them from day to day. Athens had become a bustling center of trade and the people loved to bask in the sunshine discussing poetry and listening to philosophers. Descended from the Dorians, the Spartans settled in the bottom of a deep valley where they barricaded themselves from foreign influence and developed a darker view on life. They trained their men to be soldiers –  and their women to raise soldiers. Sacrificing their emotions to create hardened soldiers, Spartans had little use for literature or philosophy. The Athenians and Spartans had little love for one another, but like Israel and Judah they could unite to fight outside invaders as easily as it could divide to fight against each other.

When the Greek culture adopted and modified the Phoenecian alphabet, artists, mathematicians, scientists, architects, poets, writers, and philosophers flourished. This was the time of Socrates, Homer, Hippocrates, Plato, and Xenophon. Aesop, a freed slave from Samos, also lived during this time.  He had a natural intellect and wit that he used to raise himself up to a position of high renown among the intellectual giants of his time. He lived between 620 and 564 B.C., which made him about the same age as the Biblical Daniel. Desiring to instruct and be instructed, he traveled through many countries, sharing his witty tales of human folly. Aesop lived in a period of tyrannical rule and unrest in Greece, and the Lydian King Croesus employed him to manage various difficult and delicate affairs of state with the narration of his wise fables. On one particular ambassadorial mission to Delphi, Croesus sent a large sum of gold for Aesop to distribute among the citizens. However, Aesop was so provoked by the Delphians greed that he sent the gold back to King Croesus. The Delphians were so enraged by his act that they accused him of impiety and executed him as a public criminal.


Aesop, ca. 620 – 564 B.C.

Not familiar with Aesop’s Fables?  Here is one of my favorites for you to enjoy.

Belling the Cat

The mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young mouse got up and said: “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old mouse arose and said: “I will say that the plan of the young mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the cat?”

Moral Lesson: “It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.”

Aesop for Children (translator not identified), 1919. Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956).

Aesop for Children (translator not identified), 1919. Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956).

An insignificant quarrel between two small Greek cities led to a thirty-year war between Athens and Sparta would bring the Classical Age of Greece to an end. During the third year of the war, a plague entered the city of Athens killing more than half of its population, including their great leader Pericles. With no strong leadership, Athens suffered several humiliating defeats until it was was finally forced to surrender to Sparta in 404 B.C.  Although Athens ceased to exist as the center of the great colonial empire, it became the home of the first great university and its legacy of learning and teaching spread throughout the western world. 


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


33 thoughts on “From Fig Leaves to High Fashion… Classical Greece

  • Susan

    I find your articles on this subject very interesting. I also like how you are adding patterns to each segment. Thank you once again.

  • Jessica

    Thanks for the newsletter! As always it’s an interesting read. I’m looking forward to your new releases!

  • Rebecca Todd

    The history lessons are always enjoyed! Thanks for sharing, and this pattern will be great!

  • Marcy Mahle

    I love all your Historical articles and love your Historical patterns even more. I cannot wait to see what you have in your next newsletter.

  • Carolyn

    I love your the
    I love your patterns. But especially I look forward to the articles about the history fashion. Keep up the great work.

  • Monya

    I love your historical articles, I’m always learning something new. I also adore your historical patterns. Thank you!

  • Melodie Hess

    I always enjoy the historical “lessons” you teach about clothing and other things of various periods in time.
    Thank you,

  • Rachel Koppleberger

    I love these ‘From Fig Leaves to High Fashion…’ posts. Thank you for sharing the knowledge and stories with us. I look forward to both the next post and the upcoming pattern for this post.

  • Darlene

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article. This was my favourite part of history in high school. I love to learn – loved being at university. It seems my schedule did not allow room for history classes, or I made other choices – not sure. If I could choose again, history would be high on my list. And fables are such fun – this one is especially relevant – history always teaches about today. I took many literature classes and gained some history in them. Just as I did not know the drape was called an himation, many profs did not know the biblical references in modern literature. Knowing, or having read, the Bible is always valuable in school. I love literature and fables for children – reading to my children every day was such a joyful time. I love the chiton – I did not know the drape had a name: himation. The outfit is simple and elegant, and endlessly variable with different fabrics, trims, bias tapes, cords – it will be so much fun to make chitons with himations! I love historical dolls. I look forward to my next history lesson and a new pattern! Many thanks for brightening my day, and teaching me many lessons 🙂 Learning is so much fun! Love maps and pictures from early times.

  • Mo in Va

    Love your patterns!

    Only wish there was more time to sew as they are treasures when completed.

  • aliy such

    just beautiful i studied Ancient Greece and Rome last year in my history of the western world Class i always wanted a Chance to have basic knowledge of how to create such beautiful garments worn by women and i girls of that era.

  • Sophie T

    This will be another beautiful pattern! Your history of costume is always so interesting! 🙂

  • Lora Crouch

    I always enjoy your history included with the fashion each month. Thank you for sharing it with us. Thank you for your wonderful patterns. You have a true gift.

  • Sheryl Booth

    I love Greek history and the fact that you were making a pattern for this sends me over the moon! The doll Rebecca, I think would be gorgeous for this. Well, in my head anyway! Josefina also would be perfect for this dress! With her long dark hair and dark skin, she would make the perfect Greek female.

    I am keeping my fingers crossed and hope to be able to have my chance at winning this wonderful pattern! And if nothing else, I cannot wait to purchase it.

  • Sue

    Thanks for clueing me in on the history of Aesop. I have enjoyed a few of his fables but never knew he had been a slave or was executed. Your history lessons are so informative and interesting.

  • Megan Lacey

    Looking forward to seeing the chiton pattern! As a history major, I always look forward to seeing your articles.

  • Diane

    Thank you for the continuing history lesson. It’s exciting to have the story behind the fashions. I always look forward to your newsletter for information and inspiration.

  • gloria buckle

    An extremely informative article, as always. I really love reading about the early fashion trends. Thank you.

  • Gail Voteau

    We love how you meld history, sewing, and doll clothes. We were helping at a homeschool convention a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned your website and patterns to homeschoolers as great resources for families who enjoy dolls and history.

  • Mathilde

    I’ve always found Greece’s fashion history particularly fascinating. Maybe it’s just because nouns like “chiton” or”fibula” sound fabulous to start with. In any case, thank you for the very interesting read!

  • Christie Berthold

    I love history too. That and literature were my favorites in school. You do such a nice job of bringing the background of the time into what you create and we learn something every time. What a good teacher as well as a good designer and seamstress you are. When I grow up, I want to be just like you. Since my 75th birthday is coming up in June, I am afraid I better get to that part about growing up, but it is so much more fun to sew for and play with dolls and read books that take me to other times and places….I think I might just have to put that “growing up” off a bit longer.

  • Melodie Hess

    I enjoy the history “lessons” you share about various clothing styles and fabrics. Your newsletter is always fun to read!

  • Janet

    Another entertaining and educational article about history of fashion! Thank you for sharing these with us