The people who we know today as the Byzantines called themselves Romans, spoke Greek, and lived in modern-day Turkey. (The name Byzantine came from the founder of the empire's capital, a Greek man named Byzas, who may have existed only in legend.) While the areas that were once ruled by the Roman Empire fell into disorder as conflicting tribes fought for control of their territory, the Byzantines maintained a legacy of learning and a civilization inherited from the Greeks and Romans for more than a thousand years.
The Byzantine costume tradition took its form from the Roman Empire (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.) and its color and decorative tradition from the Orient and the Middle East. The Roman roots are easy to understand.
The standard overgarment of upper-class men, and sometimes women, in the Byzantine Empire (476–1453 C.E.) was the dalmatica. The basic form of the dalmatica, like the tunica, or shirt, from which it descended, was simple: it was made from a single long piece of fabric, stitched together along the sides and up the sleeves, with a hole cut for the head.
Paludamentum was a broad term referring to several varieties of cloaks that were worn during the time of the Byzantine Empire (476–1453 C.E.). Worn by both men and women, these cloaks were worn over the standard garments of the day: the tunic and dalmatica worn by men, and the stola, or long dress, and palla worn by women.
The stola was the basic garment worn by women during the years of the Byzantine Empire (476–1453 C.E.). The stola was a long dress, sewn along both sides from the hem at the bottom all the way to the arms.
Like so much of their costume tradition, the Byzantines inherited their basic hairstyles and forms of headwear from the Romans who preceded them in ruling the Mediterranean world. Men tended to wear their hair short and cut straight across the forehead in what is today known as the Caesar cut, named after the Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (100–44 B.C.E.).
A headdress with ancient roots, the turban is made from a long strip of cloth, most often cotton or silk, which is wrapped around the head, usually in a specific pattern. The turban frequently covers the whole head, concealing the hair from view, and sometimes the cloth is wrapped around a turban cap rather than directly around the head.
At the beginning of the Byzantine Empire (476– 1453 C.E.), Byzantine customs surrounding body decoration and accessories closely resembled those of their fellow Roman countrymen. Byzantines in the capital city of Constantinople developed public baths similar to those found in Rome, and public bathing was a daily ritual for many.
The most important method the Byzantines used for decorating their clothing was embroidery. Embroidery is the decoration of fabric with patterns of stitching or needlework, in which thread is pushed through the fabric to make a raised pattern and tied off in back.
Painting, sculptures, jewelry, and ornaments from the Byzantine Empire, which stretched across much of present-day Greece and Turkey from 476 to 1453 C.E., leave us with a rich record of the clothing and decorative traditions of this powerful empire. Very little is known about Byzantine footwear since the long draped clothing of the Byzantines, which reached to the floor, tended to hide the feet.