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Peter Vanges

Kytherian dress. A brief History, with focus on the spaleta.

Kytherian dress. A brief History, with focus on the spaleta. - Kytherian women wearing the traditional spaleta

Kytherian dress

[Being], Chapter 43

Peter Vanges.
Kythera. A History.
Publisher: Kytherian Association of Australia.

Any attempt to trace and define a purely Kytherian dress would be very difficult, especially when one considers that over the years the island was under the influence of so many outside forces. Furthermore, very few decorated scraps of garments have survived and our knowledge of Greek dress is therefore dependent on literary references and, to a larger extent, the depictions in visual art works. Pottery artists were generally skilful craftsmen showing exact details of life at the time. The sculptor also supplied valuable information, particularly in the earlier periods before an interest in drapery, for its own sake, was developed. Kytherian dress originally, like the costumes of ancient Egypt and Crete, depended upon hanging or draping rather than upon fitting. There was relatively little change in the basic pattern from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period. Throughout these centuries the Kytherian costume was characterised by its simplicity. Attention was later given to elegance of line revealing the structure and movement of the body.

The main garments were two, known to all Greeks as endymata (inner garments) and periblemata (outer garments). The main endyma was the chiton, common to both sexes.
Women and older men wore the long chiton but younger men and manual workers often wore a shorter one - only to mid thigh - in order to allow greater freedom of movement.

There were two styles of chilton: The amphimaschalos had two armholes and covered both shoulders; the other, the heteromaschalos, worn mainly by athletes and workers, had only one armhole and left the right arm and shoulder uncovered. It seems that the chiton was usually worn next to the skin without any undergarment. Later the chitonion was introduced. This was an under-shift worn under the chiton. Women wore a band around the breasts under the chiton, called mitra or apodesmos.

The main outer garment orperiblema was the himation. It was common to both sexes. The himation often had a decorative border and sometimes hung in pleats to the feet. On women, the long pleated himation was also called the peplos. This ancient word “peplos” is still in use referring to the embroidered bridal robe. The material of the Kytherian dress of this period was mainly wool or linen. In winter a thicker and coarser weave was used for the himation, called the chlaina. Cotton was not used for complete garments until after the classical period. Silk was imported from the East and worn only by the hierarchy or priestesses of the temples, or the higher-ranking public servants. Furs were not used on the island due to the mildness of the climate. Kythera -Porphyrousa- was world famous for the substance used to colour the garments of the nobility and aristocracy of the time.

Kytherian women, through the ages, wore their hair in free-flowing locks or in a series of tight plaits or caught up in a chignon behind. Later the hair was held by kerchiefs, snoods or nets. The kerchief (mitra) often worked in a pattern, and covered either the entire head or part of it. Today the word “mitra” is used to describe the decorated headdress (crown) worn by the bishops of the church. Ladies wore no hat but for protection against the sun used a sunshade (skiadeion). Men also usually went hatless but for journeys, hunting or the theatre, wore types of hat which were also in general use among artisans, fishermen and farm labourers. There were two main kinds: the brimless “helmet” type called kyne or the close-fitting felt cap called pilos.

It was customary for Kytherians to go barefoot indoors and to put on footwear (pedila) when going out. Footwear was of two types: the sandal and a proper shoe, with many intermediate forms. The sandal, bound underneath the foot, was called hypodema. The Greek word “sandalion” refers to a transitional form which had a thong across the toes and a small upper leather, called zygon , partially covering the foot. The krepis was a kind of half-shoe with a thicker sole than the sandal. The embades and lakonikae were full shoes, worn only by men. The cothurnus was a common form of footwear worn by both men and women and suited to either foot. Shoes were commonly made of leather or sometimes of felt, and felt socks could be worn inside shoes or sandals. Soles were sometimes thickened with cork and men’s shoes for hard wear were strengthened with nails. Well-fitting footwear was considered a mark of good breeding.

The above types of dress were worn with some local variations up to about A.D. 1200, when the Venetians took possession of Kythera. The Venetians, during and after the Crusades, introduced to the island new fabrics, new designs and an interest in hairdressing. Numerous changes in costume evolved in Europe and eventually reached Kythera, with the arrival of newly appointed government officials. For the peasants, the introduction of the new outrageous array of clothing created little inter­est. The traditional dress was later replaced by one with a clear European influence.
Another strong influence on costume was that of the east, during the years of Turkish occupation of Greece, as is evident by the picture of Madame de Cerigo.

For many years, the dress for men and women went through a slow but definite evolution until a dress common to all Greek islands eventuated. For Kytherians the influence of Cretan dress was inevitable. During the difficult years of their history, all Kytherian families strived to be self-reliant, producing necessary items and making their own clothes.
From all the designs used, one stands out and is considered as the “Kytherian” dress: the Spaleta.
Although fashion trends from elsewhere have always influenced Kytherian dress, the “spaleta” have only changed in colour or variation of material. The “spaleta” has never lost its beauty and traditionally it is still worn on special occasions and for festive celebrations.

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1 Comment

Dean Coroneos
on 19.01.2005

The wearing of "spaleta" resonates very deeply with Kytherians. 1. Do other Kytherians have photographs of women wearing spaleta? Particularly modern photographs? In colour? 2. Does anyone recognise any/all of the women in this photograph? 3. When was this photograph taken? 4. At what spring was the photograph taken? 5. I note the strength with which the water is running - lower right-hand side.