The next example, from The Lady in the Spitfire, contrasts styles of the period.
In this example from Are They Singing in Sparta? The primary objective of this particular scene was to tell the reader about how women of the period groomed and dressed so that thereafter in the novel lengthy descriptions would not be necessary. The hope was that after this one scene, the reader would be able to visual items based on short references.
“I have decided to apologize to the Supreme Polemarch personally for what Sandy did,” she announced as Sybil went to the clothes trunk to fetch her something to wear.
Sybil dug deeper into the trunk and pulled out a full-length, long-sleeved chiton. “You’ll be wanting this then,” she said simply. “It’s warmer anyway.”
The chiton was of soft, dark green wool and was shirred along the seams from neck to wrist. Along this seam bronze balls had been sewn at intervals, and there were two bands of embroidery in gold thread, one at knee height and one at the hem itself. Alethea donned the chiton, while Sybil selected a himation to go with it. “The purple himation, Mistress?”
“No, not that!” Alethea rejected her best himation sharply. The last time she’d worn it had been so unlucky.
“But you’ll want to wear your amethyst collar, surely? Athenian wives always laden themselves with jewels.”
“No,” Alethea answered firmly. “My chain of gold rosettes and the rosette earrings will be fine. And I’ll wear the dark blue himation… and the lion-head pin to hold the himation at the shoulder, but first help me put up my hair.”
Alethea seated herself upon a low stool before her dressing table, and Sybil took up the carved ivory comb. Alethea’s curly hair snarled easily, which was shy she wore it bound at night. Sybil released the hair from its bonds, and set about combing it expertly. “You still have such lovely, thick hair, Mistress,” Sybil assured her without jealousy, although her own hair was so thin and sparse that she kept her head covered with a snood at all times.
Alethea did not respond. Sybil was always making her compliments, insinuating that she was still an attractive – marriageable – woman. She had let Sybil’s flattery go to her head and paid dearly for it. She told herself to stop listening.
Sybil expertly bound up Alethea’s thick hair in a ribbon that held the curls bunched at the back of her head. On her forehead she set a gold diadem. Then she teased a few curls back to hang in front of her ears. She gave Alethea a polished bronze mirror in which to inspect her work with a smile of pride and the remark, “no one would think you were a day over 30.”
Alethea looked at herself critically…Her eyelids were starting to sag and her neck was wrinkled. She was 38. What could ever have induced her to think a young man would find her attractive enough to be interested in her? She had made an absolute fool of herself! She put the mirror face-down on the dresser and with a sigh got to her feet.
Sybil expertly doubled the himation over so that it hung in two, unequal layers. She wrapped it around Alethea so that the longer layer hung to mid-calf. This left just a foot of the chiton with its border exposed, while the shorter, upper layer of the himation fell to just below her hip. For inside, it was draped from under her left arm to over right shoulder, where it was pinned, leaving both arms free to move. But when she went outside, she could pull the upper flap up over her head and encase her left arm for added warmth.
By weaving Alethea’s thoughts and worries into scene of her dressing, I have broken up the pure description of what a wealthy Spartan lady of this period (the archaic, before Spartan customs restricted women’s freedom to adorn themselves) would have worn.
In the excerpt below from The Olympic Charioteer the description of a stranger and his dress is sufficient to tell the protagonist he is dealing with a wealthy man, and so the reader is also taught what to look for.
In contrast, a few pages later the protagonist is at pains to prevent a misconception that could also be caused by Spartan dress.
“No—that is, he is my driver, but he is no slave! He’s a Spartan eirene, if you know what that is.” Teleklos was over-reacting to the slight, but he did not want any mistake about Nikandros’ status. Because eirenes were not yet citizens, they did not yet have the right to wear Spartan scarlet. They wore unbleached chitons and coarse black himations. There were many slaves of rich masters who went about better dressed, and this made it all the more imperative to clarify things.
I’d like to close with a description of men’s dress in ancient Sparta that contrasts three men. The excerpt is taken from Spartan Slave, Spartan Queen.