When I first began researching Ancient Greek clothing online, the plethora of pictures and descriptions spanning the Archaic through the Hellenistic eras left me confused about what to make and how to make it. Most sources described three basic female garments: the chiton, the peplos, and the himation. However, these garments were constructed and worn in different ways over time and there is conflicting information about the distinctive features of a chiton versus a peplos. Some sources say that a chiton is typically made from linen and rarely has an apoptygma overfold, while a peplos is almost exclusively made from wool and always has an apoptygma. Other sources describe wool chitons with apoptygmas and linen peploses. Each garment could be worn alone or a peplos could be worn over a chiton. These variations may have depended on time and place, but it was difficult to determine which garment was being depicted on Hellenistic statues, pottery, and wall paintings. I ended up approaching the challenge anachronistically, seeking to recreate the general aesthetic of Greek clothing rather than belaboring the accuracy of the details. I settled on design elements and fabric choices based simply on personal preference and fabric practicality or availability.
The larger Ionian chiton designs of the Classical era were not appropriate for my persona so my garments needed to be sleeveless or short-sleeved. I chose not to wear a peplos over a chiton due to the warm Arizona weather. I liked the look of the peplos’s apoptygma overfold that would allow me to embellish an additional mid-length edge. I preferred long (mid-thigh to hip) apoptygma lengths rather than short (waist to breast) apoptygma lengths because they are better for my body type. I also preferred using linen rather than wool due to the dense weave and stiff drape of most modern lightweight wool fabrics. I ended up creating a linen hybrid of a peplos and a Doric chiton.
Many online sources explained that a Doric chiton was constructed in a similar manner as a peplos, by folding a long piece of fabric in half to create a tube with one folded side edge and one sewn or open side edge. I have since found sources that depict Hellenistic chitons constructed by sewing two rectangles together at each side, but I originally assumed chitons always had to be folded over. The apoptygma of a peplos was created by allowing the top of the tube to fold back down to the waist or hips. The apoptygma was most likely longer on young girls to allow for height growth (pictured above on the left). As the girl matured, the length of the garment could be increased by moving the shoulder fold higher up the tube of fabric. I experimented with different apoptygma lengths to see what looked and felt best on my body. I also made a few chitons without an apoptygma.
I assumed period chitons would have used lightweight, loose-weave linen, but I didn’t feel I could wear something sheer at SCA events. I was mostly working with light or medium-weight, densely-woven linen so I didn’t want to make a garment much wider than my hips. Unfortunately, a few of my first chiton attempts ended up too narrow to pin at both shoulders while still leaving enough room for arm holes so I ended up wearing them pinned at only one shoulder. I realized this was inaccurate so my first design challenge was to create a chiton with an apoptygma that would fasten at both shoulders while not leaving me swimming in frumpy linen. This led to my first anachronistic chiton/peplos hybrid design.
I would pin the shoulders about an inch in from the edge then tuck the corners under the edge of the arm slit to mimic the look of a wider pinned sleeve falling from the shoulder. Most commercially available fabric is not wide enough to give me the width I need when folded in half so I used the width of the fabric as the shoulder-to-floor height. I then attached an additional piece of linen to the top of the chiton, just below the neckline, that would fold over to create the apoptygma. The arm slits were a bit complicated to sew appropriately with the apoptygma. The pictures below show the construction of the arm slits on both the sewn edge and the folded edge, as well as the flat felled join of apoptygma fabric to the body of the chiton.
Below is another chiton with the apoptygma join closer to the neckline.
I made a single-layer chiton with navy blue rayon challis as an experiment to try to find a fabric that would drape better than linen while still being made of breathable, natural fibers. I had intended to make it with an apoptygma, but I machine embroidered the bottom edge and ran out of time to embroider the apoptygma edge before I needed to wear it. Here are pictures of the top of the chiton while I’m wearing it, the embroidered edge, and the hemmed arm slits.
I no longer wear this chiton design, but this is still a viable option for people who are not comfortable wearing sheer fabrics and want to have a slim garment design. It mimics the silhouette of a chiton or peplos even if the drape isn’t accurate. Future blog posts will describe the transition of my chiton design to sheer linen with buttoned sleeves, as well as the evolution of my preferred methods of edge embellishment. With the exception of the embroidered rayon challis chiton, I stenciled all of my first chitons. I will address stenciling in a separate post.