A chlamys is a rectangular cloak fastened at the neck or shoulder that wraps around the body like a cape.

The Details


he Berg Dictionary of Fashion History defines a chlamys as:

“A rectangular cloak or mantle of wool cloth. Originally worn by soldiers, first as a loin cloth and then as an asymmetrical cloak, and then absorbed into general use and possibly worn over the chiton.”

According to Abrahams in Greek Dress, chlamys were worn over the short chiton by travelers and riders, hunters, horsemen, and was the characteristic dress of Ephebi. Like the himation, it consisted of a rectangular piece of material, but was a slightly different shape, being rather more oblong. In fact, when double it would form almost a perfect square (Abrahams 19).

Chlamys were mostly worn over the left shoulder and fastened at the right side of the body and much of the front uncovered (Brooke 28). Its normal dimensions would be about 6-7 feet long by 3 1/2 feet wide (Johnson 21).

Oil flask (lekythos) with the hunter Kephalos and his dog

Fig. 1 - Artist unknown (Greek). Oil flask (lekythos) with the hunter Kephalos and his dog, Early Classical Period about 470 B.C.. Ceramic, red figure; 39.2 cm (15 7/16 in). Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 13.198. Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912. Source: MFA Boston

Terracotta pyxis (box)

Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. Terracotta pyxis (box), ca. 465–460 B.C.. Terracotta; white-ground; h.12.1 cmwith cover 17.2 cm (h. 4 3/4 in with cover 6 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 07.286.36a, b. Rogers Fund, 1907. Source: The Met

Terracotta pelike (jar)

Fig. 3 - Artist unknown (Greek). Terracotta pelike (jar), ca. 450–440 BC. Terracotta; red-figure; 47.8 x 34.3 cm (18 13/16 x 13 1/2 in). New York: The Met, 45.11.1. Rogers Fund, 1945. Source: The Met

Terracotta lekythos (oil flask)

Fig. 4 - Artist unknown (Greek). Terracotta lekythos (oil flask), ca. 480–470 BC. Terracotta; red-figure; 34 x 11.4 cm (13 3/8 x 4 1/2 in). New York: The Met, 25.78.2. Fletcher Fund, 1925. Source: The Met

Chlamys offered warmth and decoration and were often adorned with clavi, or purple stripes (Pendergast).

When war broke out, men, notably soldiers, had to change to the chlamys. The latter, ideal for riders, were sometimes ornamented and closed with a brooch on the right or left shoulder (Müller). The chlamys could be made from fine or richly decorated material (Müller).

In Fig. 1, Perseus is beheading the sleeping Medusa while wearing his chlamys like a cape. In Fig. 2, depicting the Judgement of Paris, the middle character is wearing a chlamys, with the characteristic side exposure. Fig. 3 shows the chlamys being worn as a cloak over another garment (likely an exomis).