The Doric chiton (KYE-ten) was one of the most common garments worn by both men and women in Greece during the sixth and early fifth centuries B.C.E. The Dorians were a people who had invaded Greece in the twelfth century B.C.E. , and the Doric style was a simple, classic design found in much Greek art and fashion. The chiton was a kind of tunic formed by folding and wrapping a single rectangular piece of fabric around the body. Women's chitons usually provided more modesty, reaching from shoulders to ankle, while men often wore their chitons at knee length. However, for formal or ceremonial occasions, men sometimes wore the long chiton as well.
Most Greek clothing was created simply and elegantly, by draping and wrapping a single piece of cloth in different ways. The earliest form of the chiton was simply a rectangle of woven wool cloth, approximately twice the width of the wearer, which was folded around the body in a narrow tube and fastened at the shoulders with pins or broaches. The Doric chiton, also sometimes called the Doric peplos, appeared around 500 B.C.E. and was made from a much larger piece of woolen fabric, which allowed it to be pleated and draped. The rectangular chiton was folded down at the top before being wrapped around the wearer, creating a short cape or overblouse at the top. This overblouse was called the apotygma, and it was sometimes weighted at the edges with beads or pieces of metal so that it would stay in place.
Once it was pinned at the shoulders, the chiton could be belted to increase the drapery effect. Both men and women draped the Doric chiton artistically, but men often wore it pinned at only one shoulder, leaving the other shoulder bare. Another common male style was to drape a belt or sash around the back of the neck, then under the arms to tie in back, creating a sort of harness to hold the chiton in place. Women frequently wore several belts or girdles with the Doric chiton. Sometimes as many as three belts were worn, one under the breasts, one at the waist, and one at the hips, to catch up the flowing fabric and drape it gracefully. Another feminine style involved wrapping one long belt around the body and crossing it between the breasts or across the back.
Because much of the information about Greek fashions has come from marble statues, many people have long assumed that ancient Greeks dressed mainly in white. However, historians have learned from documents and other studies that colored clothing was very popular among Greeks who could afford the dyes. Doric chitons were often dyed in colors and striped designs, and decorative borders were also popular.
Around the mid-400s B.C.E. , the simple Doric chiton was replaced in popular fashion by the more elaborate Ionic chiton.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion: The Evolution of European Dress Through the Earlier Ages. London, England: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1924. Reprint, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1931.
[ See also Volume 1, Ancient Greece: Ionic Chiton ]