Comparing Ancient Greek and 1920s Fashion

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Comparing the ancient Greek civilization and the 1920s period is essential to the history of the world civilization. While ancient Greece developed certain trends, the 1920s period had the most significant transitions in the history of the world. The ancient Greek culture was a period of political, social and economic growth that would later influence the 1920s civilization and the western civilization as a whole. Fashion history is as old as the history of man. In the past centuries, the designers and the couturiers laid the foundational design for the modern fashion of the recent centuries. The freedom of women from the corseted captivity, the development of readymade clothing, brands, logos, fashion shows, intellectual property, and also marketing are some of the direct and indirect outcomes of the bravery, creativity, and ingenuity of the people who had societal and stylistic visionaries. Fashion and dress are areas that have been studied by scholars. The study of fashion growth in history entails different approaches such as anthropology, design, business studies, sociology, history, and cultural studies.

This paper seeks to compare and contrast predominantly social, economic and political factors that shaped both the ancient Greek and 1920s civilizations. The paper analyses fashion styles and dressing between the ancient Greek civilization and the 1920s as the basis of identifying social, political and economic differences and similarities between the two eras. The essay will discuss the societal, economic, political and environmental aspects of fashion in the two periods.

Overview of the Ancient Greek Dressing

The ancient Greek civilization was characterized by clothing that was rectangular linen and sometimes wool. Due to the long hot periods of the year, the people during the ancient Greek civilization wore light dresses. Their dressing was made up two parts of cloaks and tunic also known as peplos (Lee, 2015, p. 106). The clothes were also covered by ornament hooks, shoulder pin, and belt on the waist. The women’s clothes were longer up to their ankles while men wore shorter robs that covered up to their knees.  Wool was used in making the women’s inner tunic, and it was clasped at the shoulders. The upper section of the tunic was folded on the waist. Other women wore a loose veil during public appearances. The women were also characterized by necklaces and earrings made of silver and gold.

The men wore a rectangular woolen robe referred to as chlamys which was an emblematic Greek military outfit (Lee, 2015, p. 117). It was always covered around the arms and sometimes used a shield in battle. When the cold seasons approached, the Greeks wore large cloaks on top of the chlamys or peplos (Lee, 2015, p. 89). Over long periods of time, the large heavy covers were made of light materials to fit every weather condition. Footwear was not as standard as they walked barefoot, but on special occasions, they wore sandals made of leather. However, most of the Greeks would live more extended periods without wearing shoes or sandals.

High-peaked hats known as petasos enabled the Greek men to protect themselves from a lot of heat during the summertime.  Occasionally, women would also wear similar hats, but they were mostly used while traveling. Clothing was expensive since most of them were made of wool which was expensive as it was imported from India. Consequently, wealthy class of people could easily afford clothes while the poorer would make their own. The women and slaves were the groups of people making clothes in the ancient Greek civilization.

Overview of 1920s Clothing

The 1920s period witnessed a rising question of the new trends in fashion. The period became the most significant and influential in the fashion history as it created unique and creative eras in the fashion display today. During this period, the fashion trends shifted faster than expected. The fashion that was initially reserved for aristocrats and the high-class citizens were now being accessed by the middle class (Lee, 2015, p. 89). The affordability of certain textiles was now possible hence majority could wear fashionable clothing. However, clothes made from hand were still common. The designers and homemakers were exploring new styles to identify what would fit and what would be discarded. For example, young city women began dressing differently from their mothers.

The most spectacular fashion trend in the 1920s was characterized in the shape of the silhouette which was stunningly flat and straight (Lamkin, 2015, p. 1). The straight feature was a distinctive element of fashion during this period. Some of the notable elements of 1920s fashion included, fur coats, custom tailored suits, woolen sweaters, felt hats and short sports jackets. The men’s fashion tended to remain unchanged while the women’s fashion was breaking new grounds.

Social Factors

Societal factors played a major role in determining the fashion in the ancient Greek civilization as well as the 1920s. Different social classes wore different types of clothes in Greek society. The ancient Greeks could buy clothes from the marketplaces referred to as agora, but these were considered expensive. Consequently, the less fortunate in society would make their own clothes which were of less quality than the ones from the market. The wealthy class of people had tunics made of colorful clothes while the ones for the poor people were plain. In the 1920s, the end of World War One meant a growing economy hence the rise of the middle class. The people wanted to change with the changing times and the best way to show change was in their fashion. The affordability gap between the high class and the rest was significantly reduced.

In the Greek civilization, women struggled to overcome hardships and prejudices, and some of the experiences went up to the 1920s. Some women tried to rise above the barriers, but there was a lot of interference. Women did not have rights compared to men in the ancient days. Women were considered as somewhat second class citizens. They were prohibited from possessing property, voting, have their names, or attend political discussions. Men regarded them as less important. To the men, women were fearful, irrational and were only purposed for physical desire. Regardless of their classes, all women were expected to get married, bear children, and raise families.

However, in the 1920s, women began winning certain rights such as voting. The women could now benefit from the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution. They could engage in leadership, politics and had a voice. Until the World War One, many young women in the lower classes worked as home maids, cleaners for the rich. However, the upper-class women were just expected to get married and raise families successfully. It was unthinkable to find women teachers or clerks. After the Great War, working women began speaking against their poor working and healthcare conditions which led to suffrage movements. Women began active campaigns for their rights to vote through picketing and protesting. Their war catapulted into the success of the women suffragette movement. Women began abandoning the horrifying undergarments which meant social control. Previously women used to wear a corset which confined them. The feminist women in the suffragette movements took offense at other young women whom they called flappers. They were championing for unrestrictive fashion to face out the confining corset. Despite shedding off the corsets, they did not buy into short dresses and the flapper behavior. The feminists wanted to be viewed more seriously. Therefore, they believed wearing frivolous fashion would mean they are not serious in their course.

While the ancient Greek women were relegated to making clothes and did not have the power to express themselves, the 1920s women were eager for the ability to express themselves even in the way they dressed. This desire led to women suffrage movements that culminated into the political power of organized groups (Bolt, 2014, p. 63). The 1920s fashion influenced young women wearing them and also their actions. Contrary to the ancient Greek, due to the 1920s fashion, it was normal for a lady to go out and drink and have nightlife fan during jazz. The changes led to women being able to express themselves and possess other rights like voting and working. Also, contrary to the ancient Greek, the 1920s fashion was synonymous to music. The 1920s women were known for having spirited attitudes and love for fashion and music.

Political Factors

Politically, the ancient Greek civilization had different democratic techniques compared to the 1920s. The Greek democracy was exclusive in that slaves, women, children or aliens who did not acquire citizenship were not allowed to vote. Therefore, such categories of people did not have a choice in the selection of leaders. However, in the 1920s there were tremendous shifts in how politics were undertaken. Women began championing for voting rights and participation in political processes. Also, the legal systems in ancient Greece were more difficult than the 1920s since people represented themselves in court as opposed to getting a lawyer which was common in the 1920s.

Issues such as alienation of political power remained different in the two eras. For example, the citizenship in ancient Greek was determined by appropriation of power and the relationships between the various classes affected. There were clear modes of differentiating citizens and non-citizens. In the 1920s, people began to fight for the equality of every person.

The democracy in the 1920s embodied the ideologies of democracy, but the structure has been diluted over time. The 1920s democracy witnessed a change of ideology as far as democracy is concerned. The dominant ideologies such as liberalism were seen as substituting instead of complementing democracy. However, the two eras of the ancient Greek and the 1920s share a certain amount of patriotism and nationalism exercised by both government and citizenry. The ancient Greeks regarded power and existence highly as well as the 1920s civilization.  The same way the ancient Greek spent time and resources to ensure they do not give their power to adversaries is similar to how 1920s democracies were enthusiastic in retaining their power.

Another similar feature of the two eras is the perception of lack of representation for a nation or state. The new 1920s democracy still had people feeling excluded from core decision making criteria in the leadership. Similarly, in ancient Greeks, only adult men were granted an opportunity to elect leaders and participate in government activities hence a feeling of exclusion of the rest of the society who are also integral. Although these similarities exist, they relate to one another only basically. More detailed comparisons between the two eras indicate that the ancient Greek civilization had radical democracy compared to what was experienced in the 1920s.

Economic Factors

The Greek economy flourished in the periods that were known as Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic where it showed significant differences compared to the 1920s. During the Classical and Archaic periods, the Greeks were not unified. However, they were made of various small and independent city-states. However, the spread into the east gave rise to large kingdoms in the Hellenistic period.  Throughout the transitional periods, the technology was much lower than the 1920s period. Slaves were used in economic activities, and it included children and their parents (Freeman, 2014, p. 520). The technology was the most significant factor that shaped the economy during the two eras. There was a tide of economic change that spread across various countries in the 1920s. There was an improved economy, and the gap between the middle class and the wealthy people was reduced resulting in high living standards. Even though many women did not fully benefit from the economic changes, the society began to accept a changed way of dressing which was a new revelation. The fashion changes were spearheaded by the mass media such as motion pictures and radio. 

In the 1920s there was booming economic growth never witnessed in the ancient Greek due to technological advancements such as the automobile industry. Increased number of automobiles on the roads fastened the production of steel, glass and other vital materials that would change the economy. Compared to the ancient Greek civilization, there was mass production of goods and services since the small and independent city-states were faced out in the 1920s. Mass production meant faster and efficient output hence lowering the price and many people could afford the once expensive goods including clothing.

While the ancient Greek women made clothes from their homes, the 1920s textile industry depended on mass production due to the availability of better technologies.  The 1920s economy also witnessed new management techniques that led to capitalism (Schumpeter, 2017, p. 7). The working conditions of laborers were improved, and even women were involved in the economic development process. Improved working conditions meant the development of insurance, workers unions, and growth in recreational activities. Mass production led to mass consumption of consumer goods that created marketing and advertising which shaped the public opinion on particular products. These developments were mere imaginations in the ancient Greek economy. However, the role of the ancient Greek civilization in influencing the 1920s economic growth cannot be underrated. From the discovery of fashion to architecture, the Greeks set the stage for the 1920s people to develop the economy hence they are the cradle of western civilization.


The significant societal changes in the 1920s came due to events which impacted almost everybody. Immigration, communism, race relations, women suffragette movements, science and technology, and voting influenced the social structures of people. Technology advancements ensured labor and improved quality of living. There were shifting of values which also affected consumerism. Urbanization changed the family organization and the role of different classes of the society. For example, in the ancient Greek, children were not considered as an expense as it would turn to be in the 1920s. Furthermore, women’s organization influenced their voting rights as political establishments could no longer dismiss women’s view. Movies and music led to a new societal dispensation. There were beauty contests which became some of the major events that attracted participants from across the world.

All these changes occurred at a time when fashion was being revolutionized. Therefore, fashion played a significant role that went hand in hand with the societal, political, and economic changes. Fashion would determine social classes of people, though this was similar to the ancient Greek civilization. In the 1920s, wearing in a particular way would mean an individual belonged to a certain social group. For example, young urban women embraced short skirts while old women stuck in long costumes. Fashion for different occasions was distinct. For example, people wore differently when attending religious functions and when attending parties, movies, and music festivals. This trend was also notable in the early Greek civilization. The differences between the ancient Greek culture and the 1920s was more of advancements rather than absolute change. The 1920s civilization was a turnover both economically, socially and politically. For example, the conditions and positions of women improved significantly from confinements to a freer and self-expressing society. Fashion was one of the most significant indicators of the women’s journey to freedom.  


Bolt, C., 2014. The Women's Movements in the United States and Britain from the 1790s to the    1920s. Routledge.

Freeman, C., 2014. Egypt, Greece, and Rome: civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean. Oxford          University Press.

Lamkin, K.D., 2015. The Desperate Drive for Perfection: Changing Beauty Ideals and Women's         Fashion in the 1920s. Inquiries Journal, 7(02).

Lee, M.M., 2015. Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece. Cambridge University Press.

Schumpeter, J.A., 2017. Theory of economic development. Routledge.

November 13, 2023




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