Mireille Lee, assistant professor of history of art and classical studies, delivered the Richard H. Howland Lecture on September 20 to the Milwaukee Society of the Archaeological Institute of America. Her title was The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Dress. Lee has published widely on the social functions of dress in ancient Greece, including her monograph Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Archaeology provides important evidence for ancient Greek dress, which was essential to the construction of social identities. Although no complete garments survive, preserved fragments of silk and embroideries indicate the elite status of the wearer. Jewelry, dress fasteners, toilet implements, perfume vessels, cosmetics, and mirrors are also important indicators of status and gender.
The visual sources, including sculpture and vase painting, depict men and women performing various dress practices. Although some practices, such as bathing and the use of perfumes, are common to both genders, others are specific to either men or women. The visual sources demonstrate other aspects of identity: age and social role are often indicated by hairstyle, whereas ethnicity is also conveyed by means of garments and body modifications. Although dress is often considered a mundane aspect of culture, Lee argues that dress provides unique insight into ancient Greek ideologies.