What Did People in the Byzantine Empire Wear

As with many other aspects of society, the early stages of the Byzantine empire mimicked their Roman counterparts in the style of dress as well, though the Byzantines eventually adapted and adopted styles unto themselves. In the beginning, however, togas were very popular in the upper classes as formal or official dress. Often, one could denote a citizen’s class simply by the splendor of their fashion. The wealthy lawyers tended to dress in woven silks and in elaborate patterns with embroidery, while the lower classes tended toward resist-dyed and printed fabrics. Often, the poor would have to settle for only a few select pieces of clothing through their life times, as clothing within the empire was rather expensive for lower classes.

By the time Justinian came into power, however, Byzantine fashion was altered drastically. Rather than sporting togas like their Roman brethren, Byzantine citizens now resorted to clothing called tunica, worn similar to a modern-day shirt with the fabric pinned over the shoulder. This new form of dress was worn by both men and women, and it was often worn in a similar fashion to undergarments with other garments typically worn over it, the most common of these called the dalmatica.

Throughout the time of Justinian’s rule, the chlamys (a semicircular cloak) was often worn by the upper classes with the length varying between the hips and falling all the way to the ankles. Along with the chlamys, those within the Senate would sport a tablion, a colored panel across chest or midriff. This was often adorned in certain colors and jewels to denote rank even among the senatorial class.

Women within the Byzantine empire tended to dress more often with modesty in mind. Their clothing was simply designed, most often only to cover a woman’s body almost entirely in any state, even through pregnancy. Some women at court were also adorned with bells as accessories, sometimes with bell-hooks to support their skirt. Women also tended toward wearing head-cloths and veils to cover their hair. Some descriptions also allude to women veiling their faces as well as their hair, though this not often seen in artistic depictions. It is possible to conclude that women outside higher social circles went even more well-wrapped than women of court. It is also interesting to note that these sources are dated to a time before the establishment of Islam.

Footwear was the most diverse form of clothing in the Byzantine empire. While sandals and slippers were widely popular among the lower classes, the military often wore boots (at separate times, either laced around the calf and leg or covering up to the knee entirely). Even rarer was the use of actual shoes, reserved solely for the upper classes and even further denoted by color. Green symbolized the protovestiarios, a high position at Byzantine court – often reserved for eunuchs. Blue denoted a sebastokrator, a senior court title that also referred to rulers within the Byzantine sphere of influence, as a measure of subordination to the Emperor. And red was reserved for the Emperor himself.

At one point in Byzantine history, there were even special forms of dress for court during various occasions, such as the name-day of the Emperor. Often, groups of officials would dress in blue and white while other groups dressed in red and green while they danced. These originally to denote the four popular factions during the chariot races, later simplified to the Blues and Greens. However, as heavy military stress came to bear on the Byzantine empire, this ceremonial tradition was utilized less and less until it was completely done away with after Constantinople’s capture during the Fourth Crussade.

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