The dynamic structure of chromatin is linked to gene regulation and many other biological functions. Consequently, it is of importance to understand the factors that regulate chromatin dynamics. While the in vivo analysis of chromatin has verified that histone post-translational modifications play a role in modulating DNA accessibility, the complex nuclear environment and multiplicity of modifications prevents clear conclusions as to how individual modifications influence chromatin dynamics in the cell. For this reason, in vitro analyses of model reconstituted nucleosomal arrays has been pivotal in understanding the dynamic nature of chromatin compaction and the affects that specific post-translational modifications can have on the higher order chromatin structure. In this mini-review, we briefly describe the dynamic chromatin structures that have been observed in vitro and the environmental conditions that give rise to these various conformational states. Our focus then turns to a discussion of the specific histone post-translational modifications that have been shown to alter formation of these higher order chromatin structures in vitro and how this may relate to the biological state and accessibility of chromatin in vivo.