History of fashion: Minoan Crete

Published: 17th February 2010
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Minoan costume was one of the four styles that led to the development of Greek attire. It also influenced clothing in the coastal regions of the Black Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and in some areas of inland Asia. It is accepted that the concept of cut emerged here; Minoans were the first to wear fitted clothes. The hat also originated in Crete. Unfortunately, no clothing specimens have survived Crete's temperate, damper climate. What we know of Minoan has come from art. The evolution of Cretan costume during the different periods of the Cretan and Aegean civilizations is well documented, but can never reveal exactly what was worn.



Women's clothing

In the early stages of civilization in Crete, women wore the loincloth, common to both sexes, but arranged in a form of skirt. By the eighteenth century BC, women's clothing included a decorated skirt, a bodice, an outer garment, either a long cloak or a short cape, and a head-dress.



As the skirt evolved, it became more elaborate and ornate. Supported at the waist and reaching to the ground, it was tightly belted and fitted closely over the hips. The oldest model, Early Minoan III (2400 to 2100 BC), was bell shaped, made in broadly striped cloth. Its fullness was supported on horizontal hoops which helped to stiffen the garment. Flounces, narrow strips of patterned material, fell over each other to form a checkerboard pattern of light blue, brown, and beige cloth. A fresco at Hagia Triada depicts a woman wearing a skirt in which two tiers of flounced fabric with white, red and brown rectangles and a red-and-white binding were sewn on to a skirt with a white-and-red cross pattern.



Figurines from Palaikastro show that this fashion for stiff skirts persisted in provincial towns until early sixteenth century BC.



The bodice evolved from a way of wrapping a stiff shawl around the body and then girdling it at the waist, leaving the breasts completely or almost completely exposed. At the end of Middle Minoan (1580 BC) the bodice, which was open down the front to the waist, rose behind the neck in a Medici collar. From the eighteenth century onwards, the collar disappeared. The d├ęcolletage, however remained, for the bodice was laced only below the breasts.



Forearms were universally bare. Sleeves were tightly fitted, puffed or 'leg-of-mutton' styled. They were held in place by ribbons tied at the neck or by crossed shoulder straps over the back.



The corset was one of the most surprising garments. It was formed of a framework of metal plates, which presupposes the use of copper. The technology was new and unknown to Neolithic people. The corset made the skirt lie flat on the hips and accentuated the slimness of the waist and the prominence of the bare breasts.



The slim waist was sought after mostly by women, but also by and men. It was often accentuated by a belt. Cretan women of Middle Minoan I wound the girdle twice round the waist, letting the ends fall in front to the foot of the skirt. Another type of belt, with two rolls but without tabs, remained in vogue over a long period and has been found in faience votive objects. A simpler style consisted in only one roll.



The apron worn on top of the skirt originated in the primitive loincloth common to all prehistoric Palaeolithic and Neolithic peoples, which might have been ritually preserved in religious costume.



Minoan costume became most elaborate between 1700 and 1500 BC; it was a superb example of luxury and elegance. Vivid colors and rich textiles characterized the Cretan's wardrobe, which included the gown, the apron, bodices, culottes-type skirts, and numerous styles of hats. After the Mycenaean invasion in 1450, Mycenaean women took Minoan colors and costume shape, and these eventually made their way Into Greek styles.



Men's clothing

All men, workmen, as well as warriors and princes, wore the loincloth, which varied in shape according to the material used - linen, thick wool, or leather. The loincloth could be arranged like a short skirt or a double apron. It generally finished at the back in a point that was sometimes lengthened and upturned resembling an animal's tail. Or another loincloth could be worn over the first, but back to front, forming a flounce that extended to mid-thigh with two points, one each at the back and front. The torso was not covered.



The male thin waist were accentuated by cloth belts heavily decorated with metal; the most expensive ones displayed rosettes and spirals made of silver and gold, or copper.



After the Mycenaean invasion, men wore tight-fitting shorts with decorative tassels. This style prevailed until the Dorians invaded Crete in about 1100 BC.



The ceremonial attire consisted in a long, one-piece gown made in bright colours with rich embroidery. It was reserved for princes, the nobility, and priests. Tunic-shaped, it fell from the neck to the calf or ankle. A short cape or a cloak made from animal skin or wool was worn over the loincloth or gown for warmth.



Male nudity was widely accepted. Men of any rank or status roamed freely in the nude.



Footwear

Cretans went barefoot indoors, but wore shoes outside. Especially the high class never showed themselves in public without shoes or sandals. The latter were finely worked and attached above the ankles with thick thongs. These thongs were sometimes decorated with beads, but this was the height of luxury. Minoans' shoe-types included slipper shoes, moccasin-style socks, sandals, and high, closed boots for journeys. Men wore white half-boots, reaching to the calf. They were probably made of the same some white leather or pale chamois skin, still used by Cretans shoemakers today. They could also be red with thongs tied seven times round the leg.



Women wore high boots, slippers, sandals, and sometimes shoes with heels.



Textiles

Early Minoans wore animal skins, but by 3000 BC they had mastered the art of weaving flax and, later, wool. Proof that spinning and weaving were already known in Neolithic communities is furnished by the discovery of numerous spindle-weights.



Everything connected with clothing, from sheep-shearing to cutting the cloth, was a domestic occupation, but dyeing was made by skilled professionals. The industry used vegetable pigments as well as the purple extracted from shellfish. This purple industry had a long history under the middle Minoan period, and made it possible to dye fine materials with three or four colors in varied patterns.



Jewelry

Many of the jewelry items that survived from the Minoan period were found in tombs, buried with their owners.



The average Minoan wore necklaces of stones, while the wealthy proudly displayed beads of blue steatite, of blue paste imitating lapis lazuli, agate, amethyst, cornelian or rock crystal, or metal plates. Mixed with these beads were pendants bearing animal, bird or human motifs. Minoan women have been depicted wearing thin necklaces with long strands that could be wrapped up to three times around the neck.



Pendants and ear-rings were very popular. They were crafted out of wire, metal strips, rolled into spirals, or metal plaques decorated with rosettes.



Head ornaments were usually worn only by women who decorated their hair with gold bands or diadems. Hairpins were made of copper or gold. The simplest kind had spiral heads, while examples with flower heads were found at Mochlos.



Bracelets were worn on both arms.



Hats and head-dresses

Hats are believed to have originated in Minoan Crete. They included high caps, pointed hats, berets, turbans and even tricorns, perhaps with ritual significance, decorated with rosettes and crowned with a curled plume or ribbon. Certain hats have white trimmings, while others black.



Hair was styled intricately. Women wore their hair in a variety of ways: in a ponytail hanging at the back of the neck, in long waves and plaits, or with a single or double lock curling above the ear and hanging down by the neck. Women of high rank wore ornamental gold pins in their hair. Gold or copper hairpins were also used to hold the hair in place. Hairstyles could feature lavish ornamentation such as pearls and gems held together by gold filigree fillets - narrow hair bands - or a small gold crown. Alternatively, the hair could be braided with strings of pearls. Late Minoan men wore their hair in a long wavy style.



Knossos: the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture.



Hagia Triada: the archaeological site of an ancient Minoan settlement.



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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