Hellenic Habilliments

A Page About Ritual Garb

 Mostly Reprinted from The Serpentine Leopard

1: The Why of It

2: The How of it

A: Men

B: Women

3: What to Wear When Not Fully Dressed

4: Some Comments on a Colorful People






The Why of It

In ritual space we traditionally stand 'outside of time, in a place apart.' We are seeking to break through the barriers of our perception of the material world and come into contact with a reality which operates within a different frame of reference: what we call 'the Divine.' Everything we do in a ritual circumstance is meant to help us break through those barriers, from the olfactory perception of invisible incense to the sharing of food and drink with each other and with the Deities Whom we invite to join us.

One very tradtional means of aiding us in our transition from mundane to sacred space is the use of clothing. From the elaborate ritual garb of a class of priests to the 'Sunday Go to Meetin'' clothes of Appalachian farm folk, most cultures have some form of changing from every day clothes to special, ritual clothing. When we begin to change our clothing we also begin to change our consciousness. Once dressed for the ritual we are already half way to the place where we want to be: for it must not be forgot that to come into contact with the Divine we must accept changes in ourselves; changes which we begin to manifest when we bathe, annoint ourselves, and put on our ritual garb.

When we began the work that eventually became Thiasos Olympikos, we set down as basic that people who wished to participate in what we were doing would have to offer the simple token of respect of wearing Hellenic Clothing; at the very least, to make an attempt. Fortunately, what we came to call Hellenic Habilliments are easy to accomplish. One can make a quick khiton or peplos out of a sheet, a couple of pins, and a cord or rope. One can make an Himation out of a blanket. We have never felt this was too much to ask, and we have found that those who don't wish to go to that small trouble are likely not going to embrace our religion anyway, and most certainly will not embrace the ethos that grows out of it.

Most people quickly graduate from the sheet and blanket, however, and want ritual clothing more personal and more in keeping with the tastes of our Cultural Ancestors. In order to hold back the tide of conspicuous consumption, and keep our religion from falling before the idol of fashion, we have promoted the very simplest of Ancient Hellenic clothing, the Dorian. We don't have any objection to more elaborate ritual clothing, mind you: we just feel that if you want it, you will have to do the research for yourself. Our part begins and ends with providing instructions for simple Doric clothing for men and women such as one can wear to almost any of our rituals, and when visiting other ritual traditions as well. That said, let us proceed to the actual directions.


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Simple Doric Clothing for Men


1: The loincloth, or perizoma, is easily achieved with a strip of cloth seven feet long by one foot wide. Cotton or linen are the usual materials. You fold it in half lengthwise, to form a strip seven feet by six inches, then wrap it tightly around your waist a couple of times, leaving a length free that reaches down from the base of the spine at least to your knees. Tuck the hanging strip around the rest twice (right above the base of the spine), then bring it through the legs and up in front. At the bottom of the testicles spread the cloth open to form a pouch. Tuck the open end of the cloth under the band in the front, pull to secure, then tuck it back and under the front of the band.

The process is really hard to describe. The perizoma is held on entirely by friction, and it really works; but if you can't figure it out, don't hesitate to ask someone to show you how it works when you meet someone wearing it.

It is likely to prove a strange sensation the first time you put it on, as the folded cloth in back fits neatly... Well, modern slang speaks of a wedgie, and it feels a lot like that. But once you are used to it, it is not uncomfortable at all.


2: The khiton is the basic male garment, a kind of ultra-easy tunic. It consists of a piece of fabric roughly 60 inches by 72 inches (we are going to describe the most adaptable kind, for practicality's sake). You can make it from wool crepe, but you could also use linen, cotton, or silk. A fine weave is desireable, for warmth, and it should hang gracefully. To wear it: fold the cloth in half, so that you have a double thickness 30 inches by 72 inches. The open side should match your dexterity, i.e., if you are right handed the open side is on the right. At the top, pull the back slightly over the front and pin it at two points (with two decorative but strong pins, fibulae), each a third of the way across. Slip an arm through the hole thus defined by the folded side, and your head through the center hole defined by the two pins. You may find that you need to adjust the spacing of the pins to fit your personal dimensions. (If you are really large, then you may want to make the width of the cloth more than 60 inches)


3: The Zonai are two cords or girdles or belts or cinqtures, each about 5 feet long (or more, depending on your girth). They can be made of anything you like. Wrap the first one around your waist, lapping the back panel of the khiton over the front panel, and tie it attractively. You are now covered in a long garment.

Pull the khiton up under the zone (zo-neh) at your waist until the bottom hem is at mid thigh. Getting the hem straight takes a little practice, and maybe help from a friend; and you don't want the zone to wrap and tangle itself. The extra material which you have pulled up now hangs over the zone at your waist in a sort of puff. Wrap the second zone around your waist over this puff (called a kolpos) and tie it attractively, flattening the kolpos down.

In cold weather you can pull the khiton down all the way for warmth, forming an ankle length robe.

In Homeric times the khiton was sewn up the side into a tube and the two fastening at the shoulders were sewn rather than pinned. A short khiton may also be worn, with the overall length extending from the shoulder to mid thigh. In this form one needs only one zone, and there is usually no kolpos: but keep in mind that the kolpos serves as a pocket, so you may want to give yourself a little extra length of cloth, even in the short version.


4: The khlamys is a short cloak made from a rectangle of wool or other fabric about 45 inches by 90 inches. It needs to be tight woven and warm.


5: The himation (him-ah-tee-on) is a long cloak made from the same sort of fabric, but about 60 inches by 120 inches.

To wear either, fold the long length in half so that you have a double thickness in a square. About a third of the way across from the fold, pull a little of the back over the front and pin it with a very large, very heavy, fibula. (The pin must go through four thicknesses of the cloth.) Stick your head through the hole thus defined, and drape yourself gracefully.

The himation may also be worn without the pin. One popular way to wear it without the pin was to throw one end over the left shoulder (from the front), wrap the himation around the body but below the right arm, then throw the remaining length over the left shoulder (from the back) or over the left arm. It should go without saying that you must drape your himation gracefully however you wear it.

6: A grown man will always wear a wreath of flowers or leaves on his head to any public occasion. A simple wreath, or corona, is always appropriate. If, however, the Gods have smiled upon you and given you a victory, then you may choose to wear a stephanos, or victory wreath. For this reason one should avoid wearing laurel, oak, olive, or wild celery wreathes unless one has been awarded them.


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Simple Doric Clothing for Women


1: Undergarments

To put it bluntly, I have not found a simgle reference work giving any information whatever on what women wore under their clothes in Ancient Times. If you have any information we would greatly appreciate learning about the topic.


2: The peplos is the basic female garment, and, though more complex than the male khiton, and containing a good deal more cloth, it is still pretty easy to make and wear. It consists primarily of a big rectangle of cloth, which, because of the size, you will probably have to sew together from smaller rectangles.

To arrive at the proper dimensions, you must first stand with your arms outstretched to the sides and have someone measure you from elbow to elbow. Double that measurement and you have the width of the cloth.

To determine the length of the cloth add one foot (or more) to your height. For instance, if you are six feet tall, the cloth would be seven feet tall.

Lay the cloth flat and fold over a flap from the extra length. This surplus length will measure roughly the extra length (if you added a foot to your height, then the foot ) plus the height, roughly, of your head. For a ballpark figure, try two feet. This will make your cloth (for instance) five feet in length with a two foot overfold. This overfold on women's garments may very well come down to us from Indo-Europeans, as it is characteristic of Norski clothing for women as well as Hellenic. In Hellenic it is called an apoptygma. (The y is an upsilon, pronounced like a German umlauted u.) The reason that extra foot of cloth is variable is that the apoptygma can be variable in length. Most usual is for it to hang to the waist. If the kolpos is very visible, it should probably be longer. It will readily be realized that the apoptygma provides a woman with a double thickness of cloth over the chest and back areas.

Because of the apoptygma it is convenient to choose a cloth which is pleasing to the eye from both sides. However, there is precedent for cutting the cloth of the aopoptygma and flipping it, then sewing it back on: or even making the apoptygma of a different cloth and sewing it on.

Once you have folded down the apoptygma you must then fold the cloth in half along its verticle axis, thus providing a rectangle of the proper width for the garment. You may now sew up the open side if you wish, or you may sew it up to the waist level, or you may simply leave one side open, which is simplest. Measure a third of the way across at the top (the apoptygma hangs down from the top) and insert a strong pin through the four folds of cloth, bringing the back slightly over the front to do so. Another third of the way across and repeat the process with a second strong pin. You may now put on the peplos, slipping your head through the hole formed in the center by the two pinnings and one arm through the hole formed by one pinning and the fold.

3: The zone (pronounced zo-neh, the last letter being an eta) is simply the girdle, which before the invention of elastic is a word meaning something like a belt. We read in Homer of golden zonai, of a fringed zone with a hundred tassels, and there is even suggestion of one made of leather. We read as well of magical zonai, so this is a good place to use your imagination.

Once you have put on the peplos, simply tie the zone around your waist. Historically the zone might be worn at any number of heights, from the waist to up under the breasts. Once tied, you then pull up the fabric of the skirt until the bottom hem is at a good level for you to walk. There will then be a little overfold pouch at your waist. This is the kolpos, and it can be small or quite voluminous, depending on your taste and the amount of cloth you have at your disposal. It serves as a pocket as well. Note that the apoptygma hangs loose over the kolpos, and that if the kolpos is going to hang down a ways, the apoptygma needs to as well. Consult historical illustrations to make it look right. The Athena on the Parthenon is a good example.

4: The Himation (him-ah-tee-on or him-ah-tay-on; there are different spellings and translitterations) is the basic outer garment and it is a word meaning, basically, a piece of cloth. It is 7 or 8 feet in length and in width equal to the wearer's height. It can be made of anything from warm wool, for winter, to something gauzey for the heat of summer. In other words, it can be an overcoat or a veil, depending on your tastes and needs. A woman of Ancient Tiimes never went out without one, but what she did with it was a matter of her taste and creativity. A great big decorative toy to be draped and played with at will. Rich colours and decorations were standard, so I often recommend sari cloth as a possible substitue available to modern women. Historical illustrations will give you the idea; cozy and dignified or downright seductive, it's up to you.

5: The variety of sandals and headgear used by women in Ancient Times is so enormous that there is no hope of giving you pointers, much less descriptions. Hit the books! Something on your head seems to have been usual: a wreath of flowers is pretty basic and useful to identify yourself as an Hellene.



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What to Wear When Not Fully Dressed


No, this part is not about doing sports in the nude. Whenever possible we prefer to play sports that way, but we mainly have to cope with the Puritan World around us.

No, this part is about what to wear when you go calling at ceremonies held by folks of other traditions: a subject which has prompted some considerable discussion of late, both in Thiasos Olympikos and other Hellenic Polytheist groups.

One can, of course, wear one's full ritual gear: khlamys, peplos, himation, etc., etc.. But there will be times when one simply doesn't want to transport all of one's garments, or when one is far from home when the invitation is made to attend such events. Under those circumstances one will still wish to identify one's tradtion as Hellenic Polytheist rather than, for instance, Wiccan or Norski.

After considering the matter for a little more than ten years now, we offer the following suggestion:

A corona.

Nothing is more characteristic of the culture of the Ancient Hellenes than the wearing of a wreath of flowers on one's head for celebration; and, aside from the Hippies in the 'Sixties (previous century), it does not seem to be characteristic of any other culture as a major icon. Other peoples have worn flowers in their hair for particular festivities, but not as a general badge of identity.

Further, a corona can be made from a variety of materials. It doesn't have to be fresh flowers, though of course that is ideal. One can grab a handful of ivy and quickly weave a wreath. One can use silk flowers from many large chain stores. We have had small and sparkling coronas made from metallic leaves normally used in flower arrangements. Dried flowers were used in Ancient Times for 'winter crowns,' when all the fresh flowers had withered. Herbs, such as rosemary and oregano, were also used, and many are evergreen.

Just try to avoid laurels, olive leaves, and wild lettuce, as well as oak; unless you have earned them! If you have earned them, then you can and should wear them everywhere, and proudly!

And although we are not particulalry into proselytizing, people may ask you about the flowers in your hair, and you can explain; which is the most usual way to let people know that Hellenic Polytheism is alive and well and growing and thriving!



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Some Comments on a Colorful People


--They didn't walk around in White!

The usual picture that modern people have of the Ancients is that of folks walking around in sheets; this delusion has been brought about by the simple process of all the paint washing away over a couple of thousand years.

It's just not the case!

To begin with, the buildings were painted. You can still see the beautiful red and blue paint on the sheltered ornamention of the Parthenon. The use of gold leaf was common in archetectural ornamention. How colorful were the buildings? Well, all the little inset figures on this page (including the bright red and black one at the top) are Hellenic architectual ornaments, in what survives of the original colors.

To continue: the statuary was painted. If you look carefully at the Hermes of Praxiteles you will find that his hair was red, that his sandals were gold, etc., etc.. The marbles that we see have had the paint washed off by time. They were originally done in life-like polychrome. One sometimes sees a statue with the remains of highly realistic enameled eyes. The Athena of the Parthenon was made of gold and ivory, and the Zeus of Olympia was ornamented with many-colored precious and semi-precious gems, as well as gold and ivory. Forget the white marble; the painted plaster saints in Roman Catholic churches have more in common with the statuary of our Cultural Ancestors than do the monochrome imitations of later ages.

The clothes: well, if you look at painted pottery you will see how enormously and brightly decorated the clothing was. One of the 'maidens of the Acropolis' is wearing clothing with no less than sixteen different patterns! We do not have enough historical cloth to have an idea of the range of means available to our Cultural Ancestors, so we don't know how much was woven, how much as embroidered, whether or not they did fabric painting, whether there was some form of fabric printing: but we do know they used a lot of of color and a lot of decoration. The variety and the quality of cloth was incredible! We know from records that they had three different kinds of silk available to them, whereas we really only have one.

White was a color most often seen on particular priesthoods. The priesthood at Delphi made a point of wearing an Ionic khiton made of white linen. I am told that the priesthood of Athena wore white. But illustrations indicate that even this basic white priestly gear was ornamented, if only with an embroidered border.

Black and grey were colors most often worn for mourning; they weren't so much formal as sad. Whether they were used as a ground for brightly colored ornamention on other occasions I cannot say.

The richest color was a true, Tyrian purple, so dark that it was almost black except where the light hit it. It was very expensive, and mostly worn by the rich and powerful. It is from this Tyrian, red-purple, that the 'royal purple' of modern times is descended. There was also a 'home purple,' made via less expensive means, but it faded more readily.

In some pictures we see women wearing a peplos which they have made by sewing together panels from three different fabrics, each richly ornamented, each totally different.

In other words, you probably cannot be too colorful, you probably cannot commit any crimes against Ancient Taste, and you probably cannot go as far as our Cultural Ancestors went. The only advantages you have is that modern dyes will give you even brighter colors, and they will not fade as readily as traditional dyes.

So... Don't try so much for 'authenticity' as for the spirit of the way our Cultural Ancestors did things. Remember that if they had possesed the dyes they would have used them, and undoubtedly with a more Dionysian abandon that we can hope to achieve.




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