Vlahokerasiotes Wearing Traditional Dress[1]


The apparel of a local society, like all other material and non-material contents of a culture (e.g. customs, technology, language etc.) is a reflection of multiple historical influences, is always in a state of flux, and is an indicator of the place of origin, the background and the social status of the person wearing it. In the case of Greece, of crucial importance were the influences of classical Greece, the Byzantine Period, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Rule, the 1821 Revolution, and the Greek Orthodox Church. Naturally, every region within the country experienced differently the above influences. As a result, the outcome was different, depending upon the local, geographical, climatic, and cultural conditions.

In older times, the dress of a person coming from another village was enough to betray the identity of his village, although this became more complicated, when there were brides and grooms from other villages, living in that village.

Aside from the place of origin, the traditional apparel, along with its ornamental accessories and their composition, could reflect the age of the person (e.g. the older chieftains wore kilts (foustaneles) with more folds and below the knees, while those of the younger braves had fewer folds and their length stopped above the knees); the family status of women (e.g. young single women wore a white kerchief, the married ones wore black ones with an embroidered design and the older women/widows wore black without any design); the purpose of the dress (e.g. women wore silk or velvet aprons with embroidered design for the formal events, “common” ones of lower quality materials for daily tasks and “variegated – symbols of amusing deviance” for the period of the grape harvest); and the social status of the person (e.g. the well-to-do men wore “rustic shoes” (tsarouchia) made of ox skin and those of the poor of pig skin)[2].

Specifically, and in the case of the Arcadian prefecture (that also includes Mantineia and the village of Vlahokerasia), the traditional dress of women consisted of a head kerchief (tseberi), a woolen knitted scarf (belerina), a short cape (kapsoni), a jacket with skirt or with just a girdle (bolka), skirts with or without a blouse, a short coat (kontogouni), an apron, a girdle, an overcoat (giourdi) and rustic shoes (tsarouchia). More composite costumes for women in Arcadia were (1) the Amalia dress that included a short coat, a fez with a tassel, a blouse, and a girdle and (2) the “blackdress” outfit (mavrofoustano) that included a blouse, a skirt, a fez with a tassel, an apron, a scarf, and an overcoat (sigouni). Some of the above (and especially those which were in fashion or were imported) were valued as family treasures and were even recorded in the dowry contracts and thus were passed from generation to generation.

 For the men from Arcadia, there has been reference to various plain and composite forms of dress, such as: (1) a long broad shirt with cleats worn over the pants (poukamisa) (2) a pants worn below the knees (benovraki) (3) a kilt (foustanela)[3] that consisted of a vest (gileko/fermeli), a belt pouch (selachi), a girdle (zonari), a fez with a tassel, a shirt, gaiters (periknimides), garters with a tassel (kaltsodetes), and rustic shoes (tsarouchia) (4) an overcoat (doulamas)[4] and later (2) a pastoral dress which consisted of black pants, black vest with a red embroidered design, a red or white kerchief, a white shirt and a knitted belt (zonari). For both sexes, the costumes were accompanied by the accessories and ornamentation which reflected the socioeconomic status of the wearers. The apparel and their accessories were worn both for ornamental/symbolic and practical purposes[5].

European fashions began slowly to diffuse to the Greek territory after 1821, but especially after the First World War, first in the cities and afterwards in the country and the villages. In Vlahokerasia, as we show in the present collection, the traditional dress (e.g. the long, wide short with pleats for men) had become history in the decade of the 1950s, while some of the traditional costumes remain in the trunks as family treasures. For narratives of Vlahokerasiotes in relation to traditional dress, the visitor is referred to the third part (“Folkore”) of the monograph Vlahokerasia: History, Demography and Folklore written by Angelos Bistolas et al. (Α. Μπιστόλας κ.α._Λαογραφικά Στοιχεία και Γλωσσάρι.docx). Nowadays, the traditional costumes are worn by the Presidential Guard and are revived during national holidays, national parades theatrical performances organized by schools, and traditional-dance classes (See Social Organization – Solidarity).

In regard to the present thematic unit, we have, up to now, several photos and three hyperlinks. The photographs depict a variety of traditional apparel: male kilts, long-wide shirts, vests, belts with a pouch, handkerchiefs, fez/berets, knitted belts, gaiters and garters. Some of these are for holidays/important events and others for daily tasks. Many of them originate from other villages of Arcadia (e.g. Nestani, Leonidio etc.), some from other areas of Greece (e.g. Central Greece, Arachova Viotias), while others constitute adaptations to the local/individual conditions and are mostly the result of geographical, occupational or seasonal factors. The fact that not all the photographs are body-size complicates classification. The three hyperlinks to accompany this thematic unit involve: a dowry contract (1867) between Kerasiotes which refers to traditional apparel, a poem (“The Soiling of the Foustanela”), selection of Eleni Velissaris (“Voice of the Village”, No. 56, March 1998) which also refers to the social strata differences in past local societies and an organized event with traditional dances (2014) at the Areos Square of Tripolis in which also participated descendants of Vlahokerasiotes. Our aim is to create more hyperlinks with documents and/or narratives for Vlahokerasiotes depicted in the present thematic unit and for other Vlahokarasiotes with traditional dress. The Committee is seeking old photographs of Vlahokerasiotes with traditional dress, even photos of materials stored away in trunks and constitute family treasures, as well as of dowry contracts where traditional dress (of any kind) is recorded, as long as the digital material is accompanied by the identification statistics (place, period/year, persons depicted, source of materials etc.). We invite our compatriots, wherever they are, to search their archives and contribute to the further enrichment of our collection.

Nikos P. Petropoulos
VDM Committee Coordinator

Click here or on the image above to browse the flipping book.


[1] Sources:

-Uniforms of Eipirotikos Hellenism”, Working Group, General Lyceum Kastritsi (Fotini NJikolaidis et al.) Patra, 22/01/2013 (In Greek).

-“The Apparel in the Arts, History and Culture: Traditional Apparel of Central Greece”, 2nd Lyceum Lamia, School Year 2012-13 (Paraskevi Varoutis et al., Teacher advisers: Ilias Plakas and Evangelia Giotas)

-“Apparel”: (http://hellas.teipir.gr/DimosKentrikouZagoriou/greek/zagori/Paradosi/endymasies.htm

-“Apparel, Chariots and Tsaprazia: The St. Symios Association of Fair Participants», https://aisimios.wordpress.com/ (Tsaprazi, silver or gold ornaments worn by men across their chest (X-shaped). Traditional man’s wear in Eipirotiki Greece.

-G. Ch. Komzias, “The St. Agathis Fair”, Aitoliko, 1999: http://g-komzias.blogspot.com.

-Our gratitude to Constantina Kontogiannis for her contribution regarding local traditional dress.

[2] We don’t exclude the operation of “anomalous display” (lower classes adopting practices of higher classes), a social phenomenon first applied by Thorstein Veblen to the American people in the beginning of the 20th Century (Theory of the Leisure Class” 1899).

[3] The Greek kilt consisted of 400 folds, one fold for every year of Ottoman occupation.

[4] Worn by the well-to-do classes (Fr. Rendingote and Eng. Riding Coats). The lower strata wore cossacks/rough, sleeveless overcoats made of buck goat hair).

[5] The silver or gold-plated, X-shaped accessories worn by men across their chests (traprazi or kiousteki) had mostly an “ornamental” or “symbolic” value. The kiousteki had a square or round plaque in the cross-section which depicted various representations of Saints or the Mother of Christ –apparently a vestige of ancient panoply. On the contrary, the “belt couch” (selachi) had more of a “practical” character. Aside from its use as a belt, it was used for the support/storage of various objects or materials such as pistols, grease (medoulari), knives, tobacco, accounts-tablet (tefteri), lighters (pyrovola), pens (kalamaria) and combs.