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Society

Women’s Life in Ancient Greece: Grooming and Care of the Body

March 4, 2023

Women in ancient Greece were considered to be of limited spirituality. They were forced to move in an extremely limited circle of activities, a woman’s life being limited to and mainly concerned with bringing up the children and managing household issues.

Women were excluded from public life and their social status was very low. She was always under the guardianship of a man – father, husband, or eldest son if the husband had died.
Although in some cities, such as Sparta and Gortyna, the woman’s life was different as the state recognized women rights and allowed them to participate in more activities, it seems that for the rest of Greece the way of women was similar to that of Athens.

Appearance and beauty were important for women in ancient Athens as we can understand from sources and archaeological finds.
Costume

The most common clothes in ancient Greek woman were the chiton and the peplos. The chiton was worn under the peplos and covered by it.
The chiton was usually made of cotton or linen, and the length depended on the woman’s social class and social status. For example, a woman from a wealthy family could wear a long chiton that reached the floor, while a woman from a poor family could wear a shorter one.

The peplos was made of heavier fabric, usually wool, while the chiton could be cotton or linen. The chiton was secured to the body with the help of a belt or buckle (pin).
In the cold they wore a cloak, the ‘imatio’, over the chiton.

The color combinations of clothing included mainly black and white, but also red and blue. Women also wore sandals, usually made of leather. Their look was completed with jewelry, such as necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

Marble grave stele of a young woman and servant, Greek, Attic, ca. 400-390 BC. Photo: Public domain / Metropolitan Museum of Art

Embellishment

For skin care, ancient Athenians used a variety of natural ingredients such as olive oil, honey, and clay. They also used an ointment made of crushed almonds and honey to remove dead skin cells and keep their skin soft and smooth. Their ointments and creams were stored in special small vessels with a wood or clay lid called ‘pyxides’.

To keep their hair shiny and healthy they used oils and herbs with combs and brushes made of natural materials. They also often used buds of laurel and cedar to darken their hair color and make the hair softer and more pliable.

For graying hair they would either using henna to dye it. They would apply lemon juice or vinegar and sit in the sun to lighten their hair color.
In terms of makeup, ancient Greek women used rouge, dyes for the eyebrow, and eyelashes.

The cosmetics were made of various oils mixed with mineral or vegetable pigments. The colors they used were white, red, and black.

The rouge was a white powder usually made of carbonate lead, which they used on the face to look white. To paint the cheeks or lips they used ‘milto’ (red mineral soil) or the root of the plant infused or extracted. To make lipstick they also used henna powder, varnish (made of minerals), and herbal substances such as algae and berries.

They painted their eyebrows with nuts, ashes, or antimony (a lead-like element). For the lashes they first used charcoal and then a mixture of egg whites, ammonia, and resin.

Grooming and makeup were of great importance to the life of the Athenian woman of the upper social class, especially from the 3rd century BC and onward. However, there was a threshold that was only exceeded by women of loose morals – they used more intense colors in their makeup.

As for women from the lower social strata, they did not use makeup at all.

Sources: The Public and Private Life of the Ancient Greeks by Robert Flaceliere, Women in Classical Athens by Sue Blundell, and The Beauty and Grooming of Greek Women in Antiquity: https://bit.ly/3SDPyhw.

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