The Minoans, who lived on the Greek island of Crete between 3000 and 1600 B.C.E. , had a very complex culture, more advanced than many of the societies that followed it. This complexity is shown in the artistically designed and skillfully made clothing they wore. Much of our knowledge of this clothing comes from artwork that has been found at the sites where the Minoans lived, thousands of years before most recorded history.
The society of ancient Crete was largely unknown to modern people until the late 1800s C.E. , when one of their ancient cities was discovered. Until that time most scholars thought that stories of a Cretan civilization ruled by a king named Minos were only legends. As historians began to study the ruins of the ancient Cretan city, they learned that the people who lived there had a richly developed culture with many similarities to modern societies. They called this culture Minoan, after the legendary King Minos in Greek mythology.
Minoans wore a variety of complex garments that were sewn together in very much the same way that modern garments are made. Unlike the classical Greeks who followed them hundreds of years later, the Minoans sewed skirts and blouses that were shaped to the body of the wearer. Crete is located in the southern Mediterranean and has a hot climate, so heavy clothes were not needed. Ancient Minoan men wore only loincloths, which were small pieces of fabric wrapped around the waist to cover the genitals. However, even these small garments were made with much attention to detail. Loincloths were made from a wide variety of materials, such as linen, leather, or wool, and decorated with bright colors and patterns. Many had a decorative pagne or sheath that covered and protected the penis, and some had long aprons in the front and back with tassels or fringe. While early Minoan men usually went bare-chested, in the later years of the Minoan civilization men often wore simple tunics and long robes.
The first modern scholars to study Crete were astonished by the design of the women's costume, including blouses and skirts that closely resembled modern women's clothing. Minoan women wore skirts that flared out from the waist in a bell shape, with many decorations attached to the cloth. Later designs were made from strips of fabric, sewn in ways that created rows of ruffles from waist to ankle. Women also wore close-fitting blouses that were cut low in the front to expose the breasts. A tiny waist was prized, and both men and women wore tight belts made of metal, which held their waists in. Some historians believe that these belts must have been worn since early childhood, forcing the waist to stop growing.
The figure of the Minoan woman, with large breasts, large hips, and tiny waist, was very similar to the female shape that came into fashion during the late 1800s C.E. , when women laced themselves into tight corsets to make their waists small and wore hoops under their skirts to increase the size of their bottom half. Some experts believe that Minoan women must have also had some sort of framework under their skirts to support the bell shape. In fact, so close were Minoan fashions to popular French fashions of the 1800s that one of the women in an ancient Minoan painting was nicknamed "La Parisienne" (the woman of Paris) by those who discovered her.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From Ancient Egypt to the 20th Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.