Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

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Minoan Clothing: Bronze Age Fashion, part two

This is Part Two. You can find Part One here.

Let's continue our exploration of Minoan clothing, shall we? Perhaps the most well-known item of Minoan clothing is the open-front top that Minoan women wear in much of the art. As I mentioned in Part One, this style probably involved sacred symbolism and would not have been considered racy or immoral in that time and place.

The Snake Goddess figurine above, from Knossos, is wearing the famous breast-framing tightly fitted top with snug elbow-length sleeves. It turns out, however, not to be a top but a full-length tunic that's worn with a skirt on top of it, as we can see from this fresco from the House of the Ladies in Akrotiri:

Minoan fresco from Akrotiri

In most cases, the skirt worn over the top is a tiered wrap skirt, like we see in the fresco above and this one, also from the House of the Ladies in Akrotiri:

Minoan fresco, House of the Ladies, Akrotiri

You can see here that as the woman leans over, her wrap skirt separates a little in the front. This is the probable explanation for depictions of this type of skirt from the side that make them look kind of like tiered pants, like this fresco from Xeste 3 in Akrotiri:

Saffron Gatherers fresco from Akrotiri

The tops on all of these garments are snug through the torso and sleeves, as we can see more clearly in this bronze votive figurine:

Bronze Minoan figurine of young woman

This figurine (above) is also wearing a tiered wrap skirt over the long tunic with tightly fitted top. The tunics weren't always snug, though. In this fresco from Xeste 3 in Akrotiri, the two women on the left and in the middle are wearing tunics with loosely fitted, sheer tops:

Minoan fresco from Akrotiri

Some people have suggested that Minoan women wore a hoop skirt underneath their clothing to make their skirts look so full. In fact, the Wikipedia page about hoop skirts that I linked in the previous sentence includes a photo of the Snake Goddess figurine.

As a longtime historical costumer and someone who has actually worn hoop skirts and other kinds of historic feminine underpinnings, I have to disagree with this assessment. If you'll scroll back up to the photo of the bronze figurine that shows three views (it's two pictures up from here), you'll see that her skirt is full side to side but not front to back. This is the case with every realistic female figurine that I've found, including the two famous Snake Goddess figurines:

Minoan Snake Goddess figurine

Minoan Snake Goddess figurine

Now let's look again at these two frescoes from Akrotiri:

Fresco from the House of the Ladies, Akrotiri

Minoan fresco from the House of the Ladies, Akrotiri

You can see that the bottom of both tunics have been painted with horizontal lines across them. This suggests to me that the lower parts of these tunics were created as corded petticoats. Corded petticoats were popular in the early to mid-19th century, just before hoop skirts became the standard.

A corded petticoat is made by either weaving horizontal layers of thick cord into the fabric or sewing them between layers of finished fabric. This makes a stiff material that holds its shape pretty well, even without starch. It's likely that two pieces of fabric were sewn together to make the Minoan women's tunic, one piece for the front and one for the back, with seams up the sides. If the material was woven with plain fabric up top and cording in the skirt area, this would give a silhouette that was wide from side to side and shallow front to back, with the cord stiffening the flat pieces of fabric in the front and back but not providing any depth. This is just what we see in the three-dimensional renderings of Minoan women's clothing.

For many centuries, the long tunic (with or without cording - it's shown both ways in the art) was the base garment for women's wear. Eventually, by the end of the Minoan era, the ankle-length tunic was being worn by both men and women, without a skirt on top. We can see this garment on the two central figures in this detail from the Hagia Triada sarcophagus:

Hagia Triada sarcophagus detail

The woman on the far left and the man on the far right in this image are wearing skirts made from animal hide, a garment that's  believed to be associated with animal sacrifice, so it's something that only clergy would wear.

Another garment that only clergy are shown wearing is the long, diagonally-wrapped priest's robe. The men in the Camp Stool fresco from Knossos wear this style, as do a number of priests depicted on Minoan seals. As far as I'm aware, this style of garment is only shown on male-presenting people in Minoan art. Here's one of the men from the Camp Stool fresco:

Camp Stool fresco detail

I began Part One by talking about the hot Mediterranean climate, but the winters there do get pretty chilly. There are several representations of Minoan women wearing a large garment that drapes over one shoulder and wraps around the body. Here's one example, from the West House in Akrotiri:

Minoan fresco from Akrotiri

The Minoans had wool as well as linen, so it's likely they made warm winter clothing out of wool. This may have been woven and/or felted. The image above shows what looks like fringe or hair on this garment, but other images (the Mature Women frescoes from Xeste 3 in Akrotiri) show similar garments with scalloped edges, suggesting either a puffy material (shearling sheepskin?) or a felted material that could be cut into scallops without raveling. However it was made, this garment looks warm and cozy.

So there you have it, the basics of Minoan clothing: beautiful, comfortable, and appropriate for the Mediterranean climate.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


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