Cypriot costumes are an integral component of the traditional culture of Cyprus. Each one is distinctive of a group of people who lived on this east Mediterranean island, and who, despite their idiosyncracies, maintained a uniform identity, keeping alive the consciousness of their common origin and history.
Study of the different types of Cypriot costume reveals the island's relations with neighbouring and far-off lands, through trade or conquest. The costumes bespeak the Cypriot people's ability to assimilate foreign traits and to re-create them in its own way, consistent with its own tradition.
Each individual costume is a complex work of art, combining not only techniques of processing the raw materials, weaving and embellishment, but also skill and sensitivity in the manner in which it is cut and sewn. The costume is the true expression of folk artistic creation.
There has been no previous systematic work on Cypriot costumes. It has been impossible to complete research on and recording of all the local costumes, since garments of inestimable value in the nowadays occupied regions of the island have been destroyed. This volume on Cypriot costumes, presented by the Cyprus Folk Art Museum and initiated and sponsored by the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, seeks to cover at least part of the void.
Presented here are rare costumes from the Collection of the Cyprus Folk Art Museum of the Society of Cypriot Studies. They date from the 19th and early 20th century and derive from all Darts of the island. Together with the unpubshed costumes in the Collection of Ms. Maria Eleftheriou-Gaffiero, which belongs to the Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus, they constitute the oldest and most complete collections of Cypriot costumes to have survived to this day.
The information and photographs which amplify the literary sources were collected on field trips to the various regions of Cyprus during the period 1966-1974. Old photographs and paintings from the Archive of the Cyprus Folk Art Museum, early editions and family photographs have also been used. We believe that this publication is a serious contribution to the study of Cypriot costume and the island's traditional culture in general.
Compared with the costumes of the wider Greek world, those of Cyprus are simpler and display a eater degree of uniformity, on account of the ,island's limited size. There are, nevertheless, local variations, both in the kind of costume and
its details: in the colour of the cloth, the combination of its partial elements, the cut, decoration and in its accessories. Like Cypriot folk art in general, the costumes are characterized by a conservatism, though this in no way detracts from their diversity and charm.
In a more or less egalitarian society, such as that of Cyprus until the early decades of the present century, the costumes worn by men and women gave their wearers a sense of security, confidence and ease. The "best", festival, costumes ,were still associated with the institution of the dowry, which has deep roots in Cypriot tradition. Indeed, in some regions, such as Paphos and Karpasia, where the custom of pastos and mana'ssa were observed, they were displayed along with the textiles and embroideries in the home of the prospective bride.
This custom helps explain why the best extant examples of these costumes are small in size, since girls began preparing their dowry at an early age and, once married and producing children, rarely wore these garments.
Some items of the costume, such as the bridegroom's silk chemise and kerchief, are of symbolic and talismanic significance, being offered as a gift by the fiancee. The female silk chemise was similarly important and was a precious component of the bridal costume.
The materials used for the costumes were cotton and silk, the cultivation, processing and weaving of which have a long tradition on Cyprus.
The most usual fabric for the outer garments was 'alatzia', a durable cotton cloth rather like ticking, usually with fine vertical or crossed stripes in deep red, blue, yellow, orange or green on a white ground. Men's shirts and women's dresses for everyday wear were generally of blue alatzia' with white stripes. Black was substituted for blue in the cloth used for the jackets of elderly men, while those of younger men were of standard red-striped alatzia' 'zibounisimi'. There were also local variations for the festival costumes, which had a characteristic colour combination and were named according to their provenance, such as maratheftikes, morphitoudes, lapithkiotikes inter alia (Angeliki Pieridou, Kypriaki Laiki Techni, Nicosia 1980, pp. 64-65).
Silk textiles, for which Cyprus has been famed since Medieval times, were used in their natural hues for festival and bridal chemises and undergarments. Though the fabric varies from region to region, the fine pure silk and silk and cotton taista and itaredes of Nicosia and the towns of Lapithos and Karavas in Karpasia are outstanding. White, hand-woven cotton cloth was used for everyday chemises.
Nicosia and its environs was renowned for its sattakrouta, a silk cloth dyed with natural color-ants in vivid shades. It was used for the skirts of the urban festival costume. Skirts of brightly coloured striped and checked silk were also popular in the large villages with a long tradition in silk-weaving, such as Lapithos and Karavas.
Wool, mixed with cotton yarn, was used only rarely; for the chemises worn in villages of the Troodos Mountains. Here the climate is cooler than in the plains, where thick cotton was sufficient even in winter.