Togs and Togas: Dress in the World of The God’s Wife

I’ve been pushing all of you around with political history and poetics for the past couple of weeks, so I thought here I’d go back to something a little more basic. Let’s talk about period clothing and turn this into a temporary fashion blog! 

The foundational garment in the world of The God’s Wife and Daughter of Eagles is the chiton (KITE-on), a Greek garment worn by both men and women made of linen or wool usually secured at the shoulders by pins (peronai). These tunics are generally what you’re picturing in your head when you think of “ancient Greek dress,” and the only real difference between the version worn by each sex is length. Men’s chitons were belted at knee-length (with exceptions for certain occupations such as priests, and weirdly enough, charioteers), while women’s chitons were always ankle-length or even longer. Below are examples of each: 

Though as is often the case, women’s chitons had many variations on the apoptygma, the pleated fold at the waist, and the placement of the zoster, the belt worn over the chiton to give it definition. The zoster could either sit at the waist or just below the breasts at what we think of as an empire waistline, or almost any point in between. 

Artemis, as the goddess of the hunt, is allowed to belt her chiton above the knee.

The other main article of clothing for Greek people of this period was the himation (hi-MAT-eeon), a cloak or drape worn over the chiton. Women especially are usually depicted wearing this extra covering, but it could be worn in a variety of ways, as illustrated below: 

Now the Romans of this period are also wearing a version of the chiton that they call the tunica, the differences between the two being fairly minimal. As with their Greek counterparts, men’s tunicas were knee-length and women’s tunicas reached their feet. The major difference with the Romans was that for adult citizens, the tunica was mostly an undergarment on which the rest of their outfit is built as opposed to being the outfit unto itself. 

Informally, Roman men wore the tunica as their everyday dress. But for formal occassions and public duties, male citizens were expected to wear the toga

Yes, yes. I know…
Ok, now here’s the future emperor Tiberius wearing one the correct way.

There were a number of different borders and designs used on the toga to denote the wearer’s social rank and achievements. And just as people lament the decline of dressing standards today, getting men to wear their togas when they were supposed to was often a struggle, particularly as the garment became more voluminous and cumbersome. Octavius at one point had to issue a law forcing senators to wear them when they were attending to their duties in the Forum. 

Wear your damned togas! This isn’t a barn!

Incidentally, Octavius is demonstrating the proper way to wear your toga when you are offering sacrifices to the gods, that is, pulling the edge of the toga up to cover your head. 

Now, for the proper Roman matron, the tunica was definitely only an undergarment. To show the Empire her virtuous standing as a wife and mother, a woman would wear a stola over her tunica, as her husband would wear a toga over his. The difference here being that the stola was a woman’s everyday wear. Below is Octavius’ wife, Livia Drusilla, modeling a stola for you all:

Aside from the stola, you see that Liv is wearing a drape over her head that resembles the Greek himation, which is her palla. Pallas serve the same function as the himation, though Roman women were often depicted with it pulled over their heads as a sign of modesty.  

Liv is hardly modest, but like her husband, she understands the importances of optics.

But we’re not quite finished yet, because I want to draw your attention to the lower part of Livia’s skirt in the previous picture. Now, you might assume that is the tunica peeking out, but it’s likely a limbus. A limbus was a piece of fabric sewn to the hem of a stola to give the appearance of another dress beneath. In a time when even the wealthy owned fewer clothes than we do today, this gave the impression that the wearer could afford layers, a sign of wealth and status. As in, “Gods and men, Livia Drusilla is so rich she can afford to wear two dresses to this party!” My example is a little weak because Liv’s husband is rich enough to let her wear twenty dresses to a party, but the point stands.

The result of all of this, as you can see, is generally the respectable Roman woman wore less revealing clothing than her Greek counterpart, with more layers. This may be in part because while excluded from some aspects of civic life, Roman women spent more time in public and among both sexes than traditional Greek women.  So instead of being secluded from the world by physical space, a Roman woman’s seclusion was her demure attire. Though like her husband refusing to wear his toga, as time progressed, the outfits of Roman women became more varied and less restrictive than the stolid Republican dress espoused by Octavius’ vice squad. 

In addition to the what the Greeks and Romans are wearing about the Empire, I wanted to talk a little about Egyptian clothing, which isn’t something very many of my main characters are wearing at this point in history, but it is what the gods are sporting and it does come up from time to time.  

Traditional Egyptian dress remained largely unchanged throughout its history, in part because if you find a way to keep cool in such a climate, you’re not likely to deviate. Men’s clothing was generally very simple – a kilt without a shirt was fairly de rigeour, as modeled below by Set: 

Did you miss me, mortals?

Men might wear robes if they were priests or high-ranking officials, but aside from the quality of the linen used and the number of pleats in the garment, there wasn’t a lot of variation. One interesting exception was the starched kilt that the pharaoh was sometimes shown in, which had a three-dimensional aspect to it that I suspect served the same purpose as a Renaissance codpiece. For an example, check out this bas-relief of Octavius walking like an Egyptian in traditional pharaonic attire: 

Oh, yeah, he might say he doesn’t want to be a king, but in any place that is used to the concept, he jumps right in…

Women wore linen shifts that were plain in cut, but could either be white or dyed in a multitude of patterns and colors, as shown by the goddess Ma’at below: 

Noblewomen and the royal family were usually shown wearing sleeved white linen dresses, their high status marked by their elaborate jewelry and the hundreds of pleats in their attire, attesting the number and quality of the servants they could devote to such a fussy style. This was the kind of dress Arsinoë would have probably worn in the triumph, because while a captive, it was important to advertise her rank as a princess to lend luster to her defeat.  

On a similar note, below is a good depiction of the traditional vulture crown I have her wear throughout her adventures, a common crown for the queens of Egypt to be shown in. 

Lastly, as a sidebar, I want to touch on one Indian outfit that is going to come up in Daughter of Eagles because my Aetia adopts it as her garment of choice when there’s work to be done, and that is the shalwar kameez, a loose shirt and trousers outfit common to many parts of South Asia in one form or another. 

As you can see, illustrated in one of its Punjabi iterations, the shirt is long over baggy trousers (though the trousers can be more like what we think of as skinny pants as well). The shirt’s sleeves can be of virtually any length, including sleeveless. The long shawl over the model’s arm is a dupatta, which much like the Greek himation, can be worn in a variety of ways; among them over the head as a headscarf, as a shawl wrapped around the shoulders as a Roman woman might wear her palla, or draped over the back like a cape. 

So there you have it, a crash course in ancient clothing that’ll let you join the ranks of all the pedants that bemoan when movies and tv shows use sari wraps for Roman women because that’s what the costume department could get from their Indian suppliers. Of course as I just showed, if they’d fund a new series based on my books, they might be able to get away with it 😉 

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