History of fashion: Byzantine fashion accessories

Published: 24th February 2010
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Jewelry and ornaments

Early Byzantine jewelry reflected both Greek and Roman styles, but oriental and Middle Eastern influences came to prevail. Both men and women wore heavy jeweled collars earrings, rings, and brooches made of gold, pearls, and precious stones. Special attention deserved the art of enameling, which was imported from Persia and from here spread to the rest of Europe. Enameling techniques, including the cloisonné enameling, which consists in a thin coating of white or pale blue enamel inlaid between slightly raised gold wire, flourished between the 9th and 11th centuries.


Byzantine attire was characterized by the richness of its materials. Silk, taffeta, damask, velvet, tapestry, brocade, linen, wool, cotton were all used. Colors were vibrant and the weaving techniques - extraordinary. The textile industry was the envy of Western Europe, which on more than one occasion tried to steal their know-how, but in vain.

An interesting episode would play an important role in fashion history. Until 552 silk was imported from China and the manufacture of silk remained a mystery. Then two Persian monks smuggled back a hollow bamboo staff in which were hidden hundreds of silkworm eggs and the mulberry seeds needed to grow the leaves on which the worms feed. This would put an end to the eastern monopoly on the silk trade. The Byzantines silk, known as samite, was thick and strong, similar to today's brocade. It could be embroidered with gold thread or meshed through sheets of gold fabric.

The textile industry grew rapidly during the epoch of Byzantine prosperity (9th to 13th century). Travelers, pilgrims and crusaders contributed to the spread of byzantine fabrics, though expensive fabrics were forbidden to export.

Hats and head-dresses

Hats were not commonly worn by Byzantines, the only exception being the straw petasos and the Greek skull cap zucchetto. Head-dress did, however, become an intricate part of court and ecclesiastic dress. Nobility wore crowns and ornaments designed by skilled jewelers. Church dignitaries wore the infula - a knotted fillet of white wool, ornamented with jewels and gold embroidery. Bishops and cardinals wore the zucchetto in different colors, which marked their rank. Monks' robes had a cowl that could be pulled over the head.

The diadem worn by Constantine was made of a band of cloth decorated with gems and tied behind the head, called a Stephanos. As the Stephanos changed - pendants and chains were added, which hung over the temples and cheeks - its name changed too; it was called stemma. Theodora's crown was decorated with an aigrette of precious stones. Hair was held in nets, sometimes decorated with pearls or beads.

In the thirteenth century, empresses began wearing an oval tiara of Sassanian origin, which would become the skiradion worn by dignitaries in the fourteenth century. It was scarlet, green or white, and was brocaded with gold and sewn with pearls. Another tiara was made of a circlet topped with a tall plume. The calyptras, worn by the emperors, was shaped as an arched polygon.


Byzantine hairstyles shared both Roman and oriental influences. Women wore their hair long and styles in elaborated hairdos, under a turban or with a string of pearls into it. Men's hair was short, styles in cropped bob with a fringe on the forehead or medium length and brushed away from the crown. Church dignitaries shaved the crown of their head. Short, trimmed beards and mustaches became popular in the 9th century.


Footwear was very oriental in style, colors and materials. Men and women wore shoes made of embroidered silk, and decorated with gold and gem stones. They could be in vibrant hues of green, blue, red, plum, violet or simple black, gray and brown. Shoes included calf-length boots and jeweled slippers.

Make-up and grooming

Public baths were as popular in Byzantium as they were in Rome. Byzantines were aware of the importance of good hygiene. Cosmetics had lost their value, but the perfumery was a thriving industry. The empire's strategic position made the import of ingredient from China, India, and Persia relatively easy. Perfumers occupied a prominent place in society as craftsmen and among Constantinople's great bazaars, spicers and perfumiers had their own special place - a market between the emperor's palace and the church, Santa Sophia.

The author is the founder and owner of Adriana Allen LLC - a European fashion brand offering handmade and one-of-a-kind handbags and fashion accessories. You can learn more about world fashion, fashion's history, and how to buy fashion accessories at our official blog

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