From breeches’ Crete to trousers’ Crete

Have you wondered the importance of sariki (i.e. kerchief with fringes)? Why do the Cretans wear a black shirt? Which are the influences of the traditional Cretan costume?

Law on dressing, influences from various nations in Crete and vendettas are the main elements that influenced the Cretan costume.

The evolution of the Cretan costume in time

Western influences

The Venetian laws (and later Turkish) influenced the history and evolution of the costume. People were not allowed to wear very extravagant costumes or valuable stones.

Men were not allowed to sew and wear velvet clothes with golden embroidery. In 1394 the Venetians raised the taxes of the imported textiles in Crete in case of disobeying.

The wealthy people of the island were used to the Byzantine luxury and wore extravagant clothes with many embellishments to show their high social class. The Byzantine costume was used after the liberation of Crete from the Saracens, in 961.

In the Venetian Occupation, the clothes of the Cretans were influenced by the west. Cretan women wore cotehardie dresses that were dresses in a straight line, tight in the chest and hips showing off their curves, sleeves till their elbows and a squared opening in the neck. Calcagnetti, i.e. the high clogs, were also worn by the ladies but with the help of two servants in order to walk on them. Then, men started to wear short clothes till the knees.

Breeches’ origin

The Cretans started to wear a type of breeches possibly influenced by the Algerian pirates. The Cretans were working as sailors in the Venetian ships and wore breeches in order to mislead the Algerians. When they left the ships, they kept wearing them as they could not afford more clothes.

Ottomans determine the traditional Cretan costume

In 1669 Crete was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and many laws about the clothes of the Cretans were applied. The Ottomans allowed the import of fabric from the Muslim areas so the Cretans could choose silk, leather etc for their clothes.

Then the costumes of the Cretans started to remind the traditional costumes of today. Women wore large skirts, large belts, usually a silk shirt, a neckerchief and jerkin, i.e. an embroidered with gold vest. Men started to wear breeches, usually a white shirt, a belt with a handkerchief, the fez that later became sariki (i.e. kerchief with fringes), a vest, a jacket and stivania (i.e. boots).

Kiamil Achmet pasha, the governor of Chandax, banned the red and white sarikia, ordered the breeches to be blue or black and the shoes to be red. The stivania of the Cretans were black, red and white until then. The insubordinate Cretans kept wearing white stivania resisting to the order. Nikos Kazantzakis in his book, “Kapetan Michalis”, mentioned “we heard the elder to talk about slaughters and wars, freedom and Greece and we boasted when the old Captains came from the mountains with their breeches and their white stivania, with their blue-sleeved shirt like honest creatures and go through the narrow streets of Megalo Kastro”. He also wrote that God resembled an old Cretan fighter that wore the clothes of that period, “he wore the breeches, hold knife and went up and down Kastro”.

The importance of the Cretan costume

Sariki, the famous Cretan kerchief, started to be worn in the middle of the 20th century. Sariki with the fringes like tears expressed the grief of the Cretans for the so many years of the Turkish Occupation and the Arkadi holocaust.

An inseparable part of the Cretan costume was the knife. The knife in the female costume showed that the woman is engaged or married. The knife was a gift from her husband and the miniature of a man’s knife. The knife of the men in their belts showed their social and economical status.

The white shirt was gradually changed to the black one and that started from Sfakia, in the 17th century when vendettas were still on. The relatives of the victims wore black shirts in order to show their grief and their “promise” for revenge. When they got their revenge, they did not wear the black shirt anymore. In 1936, when Eleftherios Venizelos died, the black shirt was established in the Cretan everyday costume.

The differentiations…

The costumes were different according to the different areas of Crete and the social status of the people wearing it. The clothes in the countryside were always simpler and cheaper.

Ioannis Kondilakis in his book “O Patouchas” described very successfully the differentiation of the clothes of women in the countryside to the clothes of the women in the city. Kondilakis presented the changes of a girl that moved to a city and the first impression of the village’s residents when she returned back by saying “we should not tell that we live in the world and do things. You should listen to her describing the city and its advantages”. Then he continued describing the city clothes of the girl “and if she could not describe something, the embellishments on her described it successfully, the silken strip in her blond hair, the golden cross… her short dress that was open in the front and short till her knees and her shoes with the high heels”.

The traditional women’s Cretan costumes are the formal clothes and are divided into three types, the costume with the jerkin and the dress, Sartza and Kouda that are also divided according to the area they are worn. The most popular costumes are those worn in Sfakia and Anogeia.

The men’s costume is the same in the whole Crete and divided into the everyday and the formal costume. Only terzides sewed the men’s costumes.

From long skirts and knickers to short dresses and trousers

Women of Crete continued to wear their traditional costumes till 1920 but that was changed due to various reasons. The Industrial revolution and the immigrants that came back to their homes changed the way women were dressed.

The informations were taken from:

  • “History and folklore of the Cretan costume”, Ioannis Tsouchlarakis
  • “The folklore art of Crete, the woman’s costume”, Evagelia Fragaki
  • “The folklore art of Crete, the man’s costume”, Evagelia Fragaki
  • Speira, Altenrative Adult KETHEA School, Ariadni, vol.2

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