In response to what I considered a really interesting question in last night's Art History I class, I went into full research throttle and found out some stuff I didn't know--which always gets my little grey cells twitching.
I love it when students connect what they already know from their own fields to what's going on in class, and last night a fashion student asked about the relationship between the Greek peplos (as in the garment worn by the Peplos Kore) with peplum, which I only really knew as a Latinized equivalent of peplos. So this morning I took down my trusty (and dusty) Liddell and Scott Greek dictionary and got the following definitions:
I. Any woven cloth used for a covering, sheet, carpet, curtain, veil, to cover a chariot, funeral urn, seat.
II. Upper garment or mantle in one piece, worn by women. 2. at Athens, the embroidered robe carried in procession at the Panathenaea.
Next came the Cassell's New Latin dictionary, which defined peplum simply as "the robe with which the statue of Athene at Athens was clad at the Panathenaea" and cited Cicero as its source.
Well, we sort of already knew much of the above, so I went on to chase down the evolution of peplum into modern use. My initial Google search turned up an eyeful: all manner of cute little minidresses, apparently quite trendy at the moment, from the Peplum Ponte Tank at Anthropologie, to the Peplum Ponte Dress at Victoria's Secret. What these garments have in common is a flared element over the hips, and it's certainly possible to see how this might have evolved (over two and a half millennia) from a peplos.
From this initial search I moved to the Ultimate Fashion History Source, aka the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the ever-useful Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History provided a nice thematic essay on the Chiton, Peplos, and Himation in Modern Dress, with examples both ancient and modern. This didn't offer any help on the peplum, however, and I was still wondering about how it made its way into trendiness.
A little further Googling turned up a very nice blog post from Fashion & History (January 2012), which not only explained what's going on at the moment, but also why peplums seemed so familiar to me: The Frilly Tale of the Peplum. It turns out that this particular garment was especially popular in the '40s (so I probably saw my mother in one), and again in the '80s (when I might have missed it during my child-chasing days). The post, by "Author" (who doesn't provide an "about" page, but does cite his/her sources carefully), provides some brief but helpful information (including some vintage Butterick and McCall pattern envelopes featuring peplum dresses from both eras).
For a more traditional source on the origins of the Greek version of the garment, here's the page I mentioned in class, from Cambridge University's Classics faculty, on The Peplos Kore.
If anyone else runs into anything interesting, please send me the information for posting here (or write your own post for inclusion in the Parliament).
Sources not linked above:
Liddell, Henry G. and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th Ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.
Mourning Athena. ca. 460 BCE. Acropolis Museum, Athens. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 March 2013. Web. 18 April 2013.
Simpson, D. P. Cassell's New Latin Dictionary. New York: Funk and Wagnells, 1960. Print