This second-century BC figurine of a dancing woman in the permanent collection at the Legion of Honor conveys a grace of movement that is accentuated by the fabric that swirls around her body. She wears a traditional sleeveless chiton, a garment made from a rectangular piece of cloth that is folded over to create an overblouse and is belted high under the dancer’s breasts. A pin on her left shoulder holds the chiton in place, but on the right her breast is exposed. The red coloring on the bottom edges is a remnant of the paint applied by the artist, probably to simulate the bright colors of dyed linen or silk, lightweight fabrics that would create such delicate, vertical folds as these.
One of the characteristics of Greek clothing, as depicted in art, that has most influenced fashion designers is “wet drapery,” a term used to describe fabric that appears to cling to the body in undulating folds, revealing the contours of the shape underneath. Modern fashion designers have borrowed this feature to reference the classical age, using a variety of techniques and materials to reproduce the effects of ancient dress as evidenced in sculptures such as the Legion of Honor’s dancing figure.
The upcoming special exhibition High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Legion of Honor has a number of adaptations of classical garments, including an evening dress by Madame Eta Hentz that dates to her collection of 1944 and Madame Grès’s evening dress from 1937. Both looks feature drapery inspired by ancient Greek dress.
Learn more about the exhibition and don’t miss such complementary pieces as the dancing woman in the museum’s permanent collection.
Figurine of a dancing woman, 2nd century BC. Greek, Italy. Terracotta with traces of polychrome. FAMSF, museum purchase, Salinger Bequest Fund, 78.4