Ionia is an eastern region of Greece, and Ionian design is a delicate, elegant style that became popular throughout Greece in art, architecture, and fashion during the fifth century b.c.e. The Ionic chiton (KITE-en), the most popular Greek garment during the fifth century b.c.e., demonstrates many of the elaborate features of Ionian design. More of a gown than a tunic, the Ionic chiton was an intricately draped garment with many folds and pleats. It was worn by both men and women.
Like the Doric chiton and the peplos, a simple sleeveless outer garment, the Ionic chiton was formed from a single rectangular piece of fabric. However, while the earlier Dorian garments had been made of wool, the Ionic chiton was made from much lighter linen fabric, dyed in bright colors and embroidered with stars, birds, or other designs. Some Ionic chitons were even woven of silk. This lighter fabric allowed much more pleating than had been possible with wool, which created fuller, more flowing garments. Ionic chitons were also much larger than earlier chitons, often measuring twice the width of the wearer's outstretched arms. This allowed plenty of fabric to make the pleats and folds that were the most important feature of the Ionic design. Those who wore the Ionic chiton often increased the folds and drapery of the garment by tightly folding and twisting the fabric when wet, then allowing it to dry in order to set the folds in the cloth.
Unlike the Doric chiton or peplos, the Ionic chiton was not folded over at the top to create an overblouse. Instead, the fabric was wrapped around the wearer and pinned along the shoulders and arms in as many as eight to ten places. Once the chiton was belted below the breasts or at the waist, the pinned shoulders formed elbow-length sleeves that covered the arms with soft folds of fabric. The fabric was usually bloused out above the belt to form more folds. Both women and men sometimes wrapped a belt behind the neck and around the shoulders to hold the chiton in place during physical activity. Women almost always wore the Ionic chiton so long it reached the floor. Young men often wore a shorter, knee-length version, while older men and men of high office wore ankle-length chitons. Since the Ionic chiton was made of sheer, lightweight fabric, a woolen peplos or Doric chiton was sometimes layered over it for protection from the cold or a himation, or cloak, was wrapped around the wearer.
Greek styles have inspired fashion designers through the ages, and the graceful Ionic chiton is one of the most typical examples of the elegance of Greek clothing. In 1907 Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949) created a popular dress called the Delphos gown, which was based on the design of the Ionic chiton.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Hope, Thomas. Costumes of the Greeks and Romans. New York: Dover, 1962.