The most common cloak worn by young Greek men between the seventh and first centuries b.c.e., the chlamys (KLA-mis) was one of the few items of ancient Greek clothing worn exclusively by men. It was a short cape, fashioned, like most Greek styles, from a single rectangle of fabric fastened with a pin at one shoulder. Woven of coarse woolen cloth, the chlamys offered the wearer warmth and protection from the weather, while still giving freedom of movement to the active Greek man.
Until the later part of the fourth century b.c.e., when Macedonian general Alexander the Great's (356–323 b.c.e.) conquests of Persia and Egypt brought new fashion influences to Greece, most Greek garments had for centuries been worn by both men and women. Men and women might wear their chitons (tunics) and himations (cloaks) draped differently, or have them decorated with different colors and designs, but few garments were designed to be worn by one sex alone. The chlamys was one piece of clothing that was worn only by men. It was a short, warm cloak that was preferred by soldiers, horsemen, and travelers, and those who wanted to imitate the dashing fashions of these adventurous young men.
Usually a rectangle of woven wool, measuring approximately seventy-two inches by fifty-four inches, the chlamys could also be rounded at the edges. The cloak was worn by draping it over the left shoulder and pinning it together over the right shoulder. This left the right arm free to hold a sword or a horse's reins, while covering most of the rest of the upper body. Popular with travelers, the chlamys could also be used as a blanket when camping overnight. Often, metal weights were sewn into the corners of the fabric, to help the wearer drape his cape in an elegant fashion.
Though many Greek men wore the chlamys over some other garment, such as a chiton, it was just as common to wear the cloak alone. In many works of Greek art, messengers, who carried communications between the Greek cities and towns, are shown wearing only the chlamys and a wide brimmed traveling hat called a petasos, both of which were typical traveling clothes of the time.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002.