Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Greek Head Wrap, in wear

Front view
Rear view
Finally, here are some pictures showing my head wrap in wear, taken by my patient husband from all of the standard angles.  Because I don't have a hand mirror, I didn't have more than a vague idea how this style looks on me from the back or in full profile until I saw these photographs.  The weird yellow shadows are caused by the odd lighting in the hallway where the photographs are taken; please try to ignore them.

Having tried to put on the head wrap about half a dozen times and looked these photographs over, I have a number of observations that may be worth thinking about:

1.  The wool band I used is probably a bit wider than necessary, and is too wide for the resulting style to look like the images on ancient Greek pottery. It's about an inch and a half (roughly 4 cm) wide, and it should probably be no more than an inch wide (2.5 cm) to resemble the period images.  That argues for using a tablet woven band or a commercially woven wool tape in an appropriate size.

2.  It is critical that the tape be wool and that the fabric be linen or a cotton rough enough not to be slippery.  Using different fibers would make it likely that the wrap would slide off one's head, no matter how tightly it was tied.  The fact that wool is easily dyeable with period-available substances enhances the ornamental value of such a wrap, and further supports the use of wool for the purpose.

Left side
Right side
3.  It's clear from Stephens's video that you want a piece of cloth wide enough to go around your head with a few inches of overlap and long enough to wrap around your bun.  Other than that, the exact size probably comes down to individual preference.  Perhaps I should have made the fabric piece a bit shorter, but doing that would make it hard to position the wrap so that all of the bun is covered--and I think the wrap looks better that way.

4.  It's difficult to wrap the band tightly if you are putting the head wrap on your own hair, because it's difficult to flip the ends of the band around in a way that guarantees that the entire length of the band will continue to lie smoothly while you are flipping them.  That leads me to the conclusion that Greek women probably used a cloth bag with a band attached for this style, instead of a flat piece of cloth.  That way, it would be easier to keep the bun covered as you wrap the band.

5.  Once the wool is knotted, however, the wrap is quite stable even if the band isn't knotted tightly, and it tends to stay put even if the band is not double-knotted.  The stability is a tribute to the self-sticking qualities of wool, and shows that this would have been a very practical style for a busy Greek woman.

If I make another such wrap, I will use a thin, narrow, tablet-woven band instead of thick wool.  I believe the resulting wrap would look both more authentic and more beautiful that way.  Still, this was a quick, interesting, and educational project, and I'm glad I did it.


  1. Interesting and so nice to see some photos of it in wear (and on someone with a rather different hairtype to that of Janet Stephen's model).

    It's interesting how similar this is (in finished, as-worn look) to the medieval St. Birgitta's cap/coif, especially as you say you feel it'd work better as a bag+tie rather than a piece of fabric + tie.

    1. The end result of putting on this head wrap in the manner that I have done, and an already closed bag cap such as a St. Birgitta's cap yields a similar shape; the difference, I think, is how easy it is to get the finished result. That's why I think the bag caps are superior.

      I remember reading that Greek women also used bag caps made from sprang, though I don't recall where I read that. My project for June is going to be to try to made a sprang cap. If I succeed, then I'll have more to say on this topic.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Sorry, I completely forgot I had a comment here.

      That's interesting about the bag caps being easier. Good thing to know.

      Re. sprang, I haven't heard that fact before. However, I do know that there are Grecian paintings (my mind says vases, I may be wrong) showing what looks very much like sprang weaving. So, it could be a conjecture between that plus net-like caps in imagery. Good luck with your sprang project. I had a bit of a play with the medium before deciding to focus on other stuff as I couldn't find any solid evidence for medieval (particularly, English late medieval) sprang.

    4. It's okay; I'll delete the duplicate.

      I can't recall what the support is for Greek women using sprang hairbags, but there's a fascinating article in Archaeological Textiles Newsletter Issue 49 that uses experimental archaeology to support the hypothesis that the patterned leg coverings shown on Persian and Scythian male figures on classical Greek vases may well have been made with sprang. Issue 49 can be downloaded for free from the ATN website: the article is Drinkler, Dagmar, Tight-Fitting Clothes in Antiquity – Experimental Reconstruction 11-15. Admittedly, the article doesn't show that the Greeks used sprang, but sprang was clearly well-developed by other peoples in period.

    5. Yeah, I've heard of that thesis (though I've not read the article). I ... am not sure what I think of it. Certainly, I don't buy her expansion of the thesis to medieval hosen. However, I don't know enough about either Persian/Scythian history or about the particulars of her reproductions to make an educated opinion on the Persian/Scythian hypothesis.

    6. I don't think sprang was used on medieval hosen, either; if it had been we likely would have a find or two. Moreover, in my opinion the strongest part of her argument is the patterns shown on hosen of Persians and Scythians on Greek pottery, and we don't find similar patterns shown on hosen in medieval art.

  2. I see what you mean about using a bag; it would be a lot easier to work with than a flat piece of linen. The flat version seems like it is okay if you are putting it on someone else, but quite fiddly to put on yourself.

    It's always really interesting to see how these things work out in real life. I think with these sorts of conjectural reconstructions it's important to actually make one to see how it works in the real world.

    1. I think you're exactly right; the flat wrap is easy enough is somebody else is wrapping your hair for you. :-)

      I agree with you that it's fascinating to see how clothing design concepts work out in real life. That's one reason I made so many apron dresses. Now, better information on the archaeological finds is available, and many more people are making apron dresses (often without considering the existing archaeological data at all). To me, that makes apron dress construction both less useful and less fun. By the way, how is your linothorax project coming along?

    2. It's progressing, but slowly due to the weather here. However, I have been able to confirm that if it gets wet it will stick itself back together as it dries out, no harm done. I was very impressed. And relieved.

    3. Glad to hear it. Though as Aldrete et al pointed out, Alexander the Great's army appears to have used linothoraxes, and they fought in some pretty wet climates. Best of luck.