Silk Road garb (Part 1 – research & planning)

Direct link from Pinterest

For the Montengarde (The SCA Barony I live in) 12th Night event in January, the event stewards are promoting a fun costume-centric part of the event.

Copied from the post:

“Looking for some exciting new garb? Bored of the same old, same old?
This Twelfth Night in Montengarde, we will be holding the first ever Silk Road Garb Challenge!
Make an outfit from a land outside the standard spread of Catholic or Protestant European nations and strut your stuff on the runway. Provide your personal commentary and brief documentation for our official runway commentators!
Take the opportunity to explore and research lands and peoples you’ve never before considered! Wow us with your fabulous new frock! Dazzle us with your damask!
Fabulous prizes to be won in novice, intermediate, and advanced categories by those the judges deem most worthy! Newcomers to sewing are warmly encouraged to participate!
Start planning now, and please contact us with any questions (including whether your garb idea will be okay – the answer is probably yes.)
Alice Percy & Sorcha de Lenche, Twelfth Night Event Stewards”

Read the full post here: Montengarde Facebook page Though the group is closed, so you’ll need to be accepted as a member to read it.

I don’t know if I’ll have time to research a brand-new location/time and pull together a costume which will suit my standards/expectations/needs, but I figured I’d start off with some research… Since I’m totally new to any and all eastern costume, and don’t really have a ton of interest/time to do the research, I started (as frequently…) on Pinterest.

So… Byzantine…

The event stewards later included Byzantine in their ideal, which was good for me – originally I just thought “Eastern” and thought about the end of the Viking’s Silk Road – the Byzantine Empire. (I may have been listening to a LOT of Turisas at the time.) In addition, I thought of a former Princess of our SCA (then Principality) Kingdom, who had gorgeous Byzantine attire for  her reign. I was procrastinating a fair amount, but eventually got going on it….

Clothing elements

‘Lady Ariadne Karbonopsina’ helps a great deal in breaking down the needed elements for a costume – doing much of the work in reading for me in her class handout “11th Century Byzantine Clothing Construction“. She offers a breakdown for an 11th century persona in Constantinople. Additionally ‘Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina’ offers descriptions of garments in her blog post “Byzantine Garb Basics“, which I’ve incorporated with Ariadne’s breakdown.

Under layer

Direct link from Pinterest

Tunica: The tunica was an undergarment worn by men and women of the upper classes. (It was usually the only garment for the working class.)

It was typically constructed of natural or bleached linen for upper class. For the lower class the colour was “opaque”.

The tunica could be long sleeved, sleeveless, or short sleeves, though for upper class the sleeves are long and close-fitting to the wrist.

Tunica necklines were either boat-neck or crew-neck.

Ariadne assumes that the tunica was a full-length garment, though she conceeds that it’s hard to know for sure.

In the early Byzantine period, the tunica was decorated with clavi; vertical stripes going down the length. However, by the 11th century, the clavi became less popular, and were “replaced by an addition of decorative bands at the neck”, arms, and hem.

Ariadne shows a pattern for the tunica, showing a pair of trapezoids for the body, and a pair for the sleeves. The pattern shows a straight neck at the back, and a slightly dipped round neckline at the front. The pattern doesn’t look especially fabric-effective, so I’ll likely opt to use my regular tunic pattern instead, if I opt to make this layer. 

While the clavi are very iconic for this culture, I actually don’t really love them… so think if I make a tunica, I’ll opt for the later period style, with decorative bands rather than the vertical stripes.

In the image above, the underlayer is shown longer than the dalmatica, with tight, long sleeves.


Middle layer

Direct link from Pinterest

Divetesion (aka dalmatica or colobium):

The dalmatica is described as a unisex over-garment.

The dalmatica’s sleeves are either long enough to cover the wrists, or ending at mid-forearm. The sleeves are moderately-wide to wide.

The dalmatica was likely woven to shape (like the tunica) with a slit woven in for the neckline, but was much more “trapezoidal in style” than the tunica.

The garment was full-length, and there were “generally no slits”, though Ariadne points out a “rare example of there being a slit in the men’s version, going up to the knee”. The men’s version could also be somewhat shorter, displaying hem trim on the tunic. For women, the hems were floor length.

This garment was commonly made of silk brocade.

In terms of colour, Ariadne writes that “purple and gold were reserved for the Imperial family” and that courtiers are depicted in blue, red, and white divetesions.

The divetesion was embellished with jewels, decorative bands at the neck, arms, and hem.

Ariadne shows a pattern for the divetesion as well, showing a pair of trapezoids for the body, and a pair for the sleeves. The pattern shows a straight neck at the back, and a slightly dipped round neckline at the front. The pattern doesn’t look especially fabric-effective, so I’ll likely opt to use my regular tunic pattern instead, with wide “angel” sleeves instead of my regular tapered sleeves.

The image above (as well as up at the top of the page) show those wide “angel” sleeves.

Top layer

Chlamys: a half-circle or rectangular cloak. Anna describes this as a trapezoidal cloak instead.

The chlamys was worn knee-length by “soldiers and labourers, with full-length cloaks being worn for all other occasions, especially formal courtwear”.

The cloak was fastened with a brooch on the right shoulder, or optionally in the centre of the chest.

The cloak was adorned with insignia indicating the wearer’s station and status.

The fabric could be patterned or solid, though neither source indicates fibre content or colour. In a graphic on Ariadne’s page, there appears to be cloaks shown in black/brown, red, and gold. They appear to fall like wool, or other fabric with weight.

Since this event will be indoors (albeit in the winter), this will possibly be the last thing I’d consider making… 


Fan hat: fan-shaped hat worn by women

Direct link from Pinterest

Propoloma: “Trapezoidal hat worn by non-Imperial ladies of the court” (I’m presuming this is the same as the fan-shaped hat.)

I found some really good ideas and instructions on making this hat, so I’ll likely be going that route. Anna has information about the hat on her blog, along with a walkthrough as she made her own.

Maphorion: veil worn by women

I’ll just use my existing linen veil, rather than making something new.

Turbans: worn only in the ‘borderlands’

Phrygian-style conical caps (no indication if this was unisex or not)

Round, flat-topped hat without a brim (this sounds a bit like a beret, and again there is no gender associated in the writing so far).



Slip on flat shoes

“Tzangia were highly embellished and bejewelled shoes worn by the Imperial Family.”

Ankle boots

Calf-high boots for labourers and soldiers


There are a few different accessories that were noted through my sources.





Belt: Jewelled belts – optional; garments could be worn belted or unbelted.

Belts are shown wide, worn at the natural waist with one long end that hangs down, and narrow, also worn at the natural waist, but without the long, hanging end.

Since the garments are largely loose and unfitted, I’ll definitely make a belt to go with this costume to take the waist in a bit and give me some shape. 

Linked from Wikipedia – Byzantine Empress Theodora (c. 815 – after 867)

Superhumeral: “An elaborate embroidered and jewelled collar. Often edged in pearls.”

This seems like a pretty iconic part of the Byzantine costume, so I’ll definitely make one of these. Most of the source illustrations show a coordinating (though not necessarily an exact match) long strip down the front of the dalmatica, which I think gives a nice look and line to the costume, so I’ll do both.

I’m a  bit confused about if the stripe down the front is sewn down, or left hanging though. With the belt over-top of it, it would be restrained from falling all over the place, if unstitched, but in images like the one to the left, it looks like it’s probably stitched down, since the hem trim has gone over top of the bottom of it. 

Crowns (aka Stemma, aka Diadem): were worn by the Imperial Family. The Byzantine crowns are characterized by “Pendulia”; long strands, frequently made of pearls, that hung in front of the ears. In a image shared by Ariadne, a male is shown in one style of crown, and a female in one slightly different.

I won’t be doing a crown, since I’m not any kind of royalty in the SCA… even though I really, really like some of the Byzantine crowns! 


Ariadne also notes that there were a number of other garments worn by the Imperial family, and Anna also notes garments with Roman or Greek origins.  I won’t be exploring any of them for this project.

General clothing notes



The sources I referred to above, recommend silk, as the first choice for the “obvious display of the Empire’s wealth”.

The silks would be “heavily patterned brocades with geometric patterns, figurative designs of animals or religious scenes, or floral and abstract designs influenced from the Arabic and Islamic fabric industries.”

Silks could also be solid colours.

While natural silk would have some imperfections, the weaving was fine, and would not be slubby like today’s dupioni or raw silk.


Linen was also used in this time period, although it was less expensive. Ariadne recommends finely woven linen.

Linens would have been embellished to look more expensive, like their costlier silk counterparts.


Fine wool was another less-expensive option for clothing. Ariadne writes that the wool chosen should not be rough, scratchy, or coarsely woven.

Wools would have been embellished to look more expensive, like their costlier silk counterparts.


During the 11th century, cotton was less common than in earlier Byzantine era, because Ariadne writes that “Egypt was no longer part of the Empire and the cotton trade had thus declined”.


Clothing was embellished with embroidery or appliqué and embroidery.

Trim was used on the neckline, cuffs, and hems.

Pearls and gems were used on the body of the garment to embellish, and it was not necessary for gems to match throughout the garment. Glass imitation gems were also used when real gems were not within budget.

“Stripes on each shoulder running straight down the garment are called clavi.  Clavi may end at the hem or terminate mid-garment with a roundel or square element called a segmenta. The clavi could be tapestry woven into the garment at the same time, appliquéd on from another piece of tapestry, embroidered cloth or even commercially made trim. Extant garments show designs that ranged from basic knot work and the classic “Greek Key” design, to more elaborate embroidered scenes of various flora and fauna, mythology and the Bible.” – 


Roundel designs were quite common to the Byzantines; seen in artwork and literature. Ariadne notes that “back-to-back animals, birds, and humans in roundels or squares were popular motifs.” Designs were seen on multiple layers of clothing.


Directly linked from Pinterest

Ariadne notes that Imperial Purple and Gold were reserved for the Imperial Family during the Byzantine Empire. Beyond that, there were very few restrictions on colours.

Popular colours were red, green, blue, and yellow. Less frequently, there is evidence of “clothing in red, ochre, yellow, orange, white, lavender, natural, tan, light and dark brown, gold, pink, maroon, light and dark blue, cobalt blue, slate blue, aqua, light and dark green, yellow-green, coral, purple, raspberry, rose, and black”. Highly saturated colours were common.


One comment on “Silk Road garb (Part 1 – research & planning)

  1. […] cuffs aren’t necessarily historically accurate. In several period images, you can see a much more fitted sleeve edge under the wide sleeve. In all that I could find, these […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.