Fustanella (for spelling in various languages, see chart below) is a traditional skirt-like garment worn by men of many nations in the Balkans (Southeast Europe). In modern times, the fustanella is part of Balkan folk dresses. In Greece, a short version of the fustanella is worn by ceremonial military units like the Evzones, while in Albania it was worn by the Royal Guard in the interbellum era.
Some scholars state that the fustanella was derived from a series of classical Greek garments such as the chiton (or tunic) and the chitonium (or short military tunic). Although the pleated skirt has been linked to an ancient statue (3rd century BC) located in the area around the Acropolis in Athens, there are no surviving ancient Greek clothings that can confirm this connection. The Roman toga may have also influenced the evolution of the fustanella based on statues of Roman emperors wearing knee-length pleated skirts (in colder regions, more folds were added to provide greater warmth). Folklorist Ioanna Papantoniou considers the Celtic kilt, as viewed by the Roman legions, to have served as a prototype. Sir Arthur Evans considered the fustanella of the female peasants (worn over and above the Slavonic apron) living near the modern Bosnian-Montenegrin borders as a preserved Illyrian element among the local Slavic-speaking populations.
In the Byzantine Empire, a pleated skirt known as the podea (Greek: ποδέα) was worn. The wearer of the podea was either associated with a typical hero or an Akritic warrior and can be found in 12th-century finds attributed to Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180). On Byzantine pottery sherds, warriors are shown bearing weapons and wearing the heavy pleated fustanella, including a mace-bearer clad in chain-mail.
In his Lexicon of Medieval Latin, Charles du Fresne suggests that fustanum (a piece of cloth) originates from the Roman palla. Cotton fustana was among the belongings of Pope Urban V (1310–1370).
Although some scholars have claimed that the fustanella was introduced into Greece by Albanians in the 15th century, archaeological evidence shows that the fustanella was already in common use in Greece as early as the 12th century, predating the arrival of Albanian-speakers on Greek lands by several centuries. The full-pleated Greek fustanella was worn originally as a military outfit and seems to have been reserved for persons of importance. It was frequently worn in conjunction with bows, swords, or battle-axes and frequently shown covered with a jointed corselet, or with a vest of chain mail.
During the Ottoman period, the fustanella was worn by the klephts and the armatoloi. In the early 19th century, the costume's popularity rose among the Greek population. According to Helen Angelomatis-Tsougarakis, its popularity in the Morea (Peloponnese) was attributed to the influence of the Albanian colony of Hydra and other Albanian settlements in the area. However, the Hydriotes could not have played a significant role in its development since they did not wear the fustanella, but similar costumes to the other Greek islanders. In the other regions of Greece, its popularity was attributed to the rise of power of Ali Pasha, the semi-independent ruler of the Pashalik of Yanina. Moreover, its lightweight design and manageability in comparison to the clothing of the Greek upper classes of the era also made it fashionable. The fustanella worn by the Roumeliotes (Greeks of the mountainous interior) was the version chosen as the national costume of Greece in the early 19th century. By the late 19th century, the popularity of the fustanella in Greece began to fade when Western-style clothing was introduced. In modern Greece, the garment is seen a relic of a past era that most members of the younger generations don't identify with.
The Greek fustanella differs from the Albanian fustanella in that the former garment has a higher number of pleats. For example, the "Bridegroom's coat", worn throughout the districts of Attica and Boeotia, was a type of Greek fustanella unique for its 200 pleats; a bride would purchase it as a wedding gift for her groom (if she could afford the garment). A fustanella is worn with a yileki (bolero), a mendani (waistcoat) and a fermeli (sleeveless coat). The selachi (leather belt) with gold or silver embroidery, is worn around the waist over the fustanella, in which the armatoles and the klephts placed their arms.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, the skirts hung below the knees and the hem of the garment was gathered together with garters while tucked into the boots to create a "bloused" effect. Later, during the Bavarian regency, the skirts were shortened to create a sort of billowy pantaloon that stopped above the knee; this garment was worn with hose, and either bushkins or decorative clogs. This is the costume worn by the modern Greek Evzones, the Presidential Guard.
A 14th-century document (1335 AD) listing a series of items including a fustanum (a cloth made of cotton) which were confiscated from a sailor at the port of the Drin River in the Skadar Lake region of Albania. The Albanian version has around sixty pleats, or usually a moderate number. It is made of heavy home-woven linen cloth. Historically, the skirt was long enough to cover the whole thigh (knee included), leaving only the lower leg exposed. It was usually worn by wealthy Albanians who would also expose an ornamented yataghan on the side and a pair of pistols with long-chiseled silver handles in the belt.
The general custom in Albania was to dip the white skirts in melted sheep-fat for the double purpose of making them waterproof and less visible at a distance. Usually, this was done by the men-at-arms (called in Albanian trima). After being removed from the cauldron, the skirts were hung up to dry and then pressed with cold irons so as to create the pleats. They then had a dull gray appearance but were not dirty by any means.
The jacket, worn with the fustanella in the Albanian costume, has a free armhole to allow for the passage of the arm, while the sleeves, attached only on the upper part of the shoulders, are thrown back. The sleeves are not usually worn even though the wearer has the option of putting them on. There are three types of footwear that complement the fustanella: 1) the kundra, which are black shoes with a metal buckle, 2) the sholla, which are sandals with leather thongs tied around a few inches above the ankle, 3) the opinga, which is a soft leather shoe, with turned-up points, which, when intended for children, are surmounted with a pompon of black or red wool.
Republic of Macedonia
In the Republic of Macedonia, the fustanella was worn in the regions of Azat, Babune, Gevgelija Municipality, the southern area of the Great Morava, Ovče Pole, Lake Prespa, Skopska Blatija, and Tikvesh. Among the inhabitants of Macedonia it's known as fustan, ajta and toska possibly because the costume was introduced in the country as a cultural borrowing from the Albanians of Toskëria (subregion of southern Albania).
Status and practicality
While the image of warriors with frilly skirts tucked into their boots may seem impractical to a contemporary audience, modern paratroopers use a similar method to blouse their trousers over their jumpboots. Lace was commonly worn on military uniforms in the West well into the 19th century, and gold braids and other adornments still serve as markers of high rank in formal military uniforms. Fustanella were very labor-intensive and thus costly, which made them a status garment that advertised the wealth and importance of the wearer. Western observers of the Greek War of Independence noted the great pride which the klephts and armatoloi took in their fustanella, and how they competed to outdo each other in the sumptuousness of their costume.
The word derives from Italian fustagno 'fustian' + -ella (diminutive), the fabric from which the earliest fustanella were made. This in turn derives from Medieval Latin fūstāneum, perhaps a diminutive form of fustis, "wooden baton". Other authors consider this a calque of Greek xylino (ξύλινο), literally "wooden" i.e. "cotton"; others speculate that it is derived from Fostat, a suburb of Cairo where cloth was manufactured. The Greek plural is foustanelles (Greek: φουστανέλλες) but as with the (semi-correct) foustanellas, it is rarely employed by native English speakers.
Name in various languages
Native terms for "skirt" and "dress" included for comparison:
Spiridon Louis, Olympic marathon champion (1896).
At the carnival in Venice. Painting by Mikhail Scotti depicting a man in traditional fustanella
Albanian leader Hamza Kazazi, photographed ca. 1858.
Fustanella as worn by the Royal Guard of Albania in 1921.
Aromanian shepherd in traditional clothes, photo from the early 1900s, Archive: Manachia Brothers.
Guard of honour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Syntagma Square, Athens, 2006
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- Smithsonian Institution and Mouseio Benakē 1959, p. 8: "From the ancient chiton and the common chitonium (short military tunic), fastened by a belt round the waist and falling into narrow regular folds, is derived the fustanella which by extension gives its name to the whole of the costume."
- Fox 1977, p. 56: "The young shepherd wears a fustanella, descendant of the military tunic of ancient Greece, now rarely worn except by certain regiments."
- Paulicelli & Clark 2009, Chapter 9: Michael Skafidas, "Fabricating Greekness: From Fustanella to the Glossy Page", p. 148.
- Notopoulos 1964, p. 114.
- Evans 2006, p. 126.
- Notopoulos 1964, pp. 110, 122.
- Kazhdan 1991, "Akritic Imagery", p. 47: "While 35 plates have the warrior wearing the podea or pleated skirt (sometimes called a fustanella) attributed to Manuel I, the "new Akrites," in a Ptochoprodromic poem, and 26 have him slaying a dragon, neither iconographic element is sufficient to identify the hero specifically as Digenes because both the skirt and the deed characterize other akritai named in the Akritic Songs."
- Morgan 1942, pp. 133, 317–318, 333.
- du Fresne 1678, p. 563, "Fustanum".
- Bulletin Archéologique du Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques, p. 284: L'Inventaire d'Urbain V (1310-1370), en 1369, enregistre «unum matalacium de fustana alba, cotonno munitum».
- Morgan 1942, pp. 132–133: "Most of these men are warriors with long curling locks falling down their backs, clad in pleated tunics or chain mail with short pointed caps on their heads. They wield swords, and protect themselves with shields, either round or shaped like a pointed oval...The mace-bearer of No. 1275 is clad in chain mail with a heavy pleated fustanella worn about his hips. The importance of this latter piece is very considerable, for the details of the costume, often shown on Incised-Sgraffito figures, are very clear, and make it certain that the fustanella exists as an independent garment and is not an elaboration of the lower part of a tunic. It is consequently demonstrable that this characteristic garment of latter-day Greece was in common use as early as the twelfth century in Greek lands."
- Verinis 2005, pp. 139–175: "Thought originally to have been a southern Albanian outfit worn by men of the Tosk ethnicity and introduced into more Greek territories during the Ottoman occupation of previous centuries, the "clean petticoat" of the foustanéla ensemble was a term of reproach used by brigands well before laografia (laographía, folklore) and disuse made it the national costume of Greece and consequently made light of variations based on region, time period, class or ethnicity."
- Forster 1960, p. 245.
- Wolff 1974, p. 31.
- Ethniko Historiko Mouseio (Greece), Maria Lada-Minōtou, I. K. Mazarakēs Ainian, Diana Gangadē, and Historikē kai Ethnologikē Hetaireia tēs Hellados 1993, p. xxx.
- Angelomatis-Tsougarakis 1990, p. 106.
- Beller & Leerssen 2007, p. 168: "The Aegean, the Peloponnese and the Roumeliotes of the mountainous interior each claimed precedence based on their records of trials and exploits during the War of Independence. The political muscle of the latter ensured that their traditional dress (fustanella) was chosen as the national costume; it has remained a universal emblem of Greekness."
- Smithsonian Institution and Mouseio Benakē 1959, p. 31; Fox 1977, p. 56.
- Smithsonian Institution and Mouseio Benakē 1959, p. 8: "The yileki (bolero), the mendani (waistcoat) and the fermeli (sleeveless coat) which are worn with the fustanella, and their mode of decoration, are reminiscent of the ornamented breastplates of ancient times. The selachi (leather belt) with its gold or silver embroidery, worn round the waist over the fustanella, and in whose pouches the armed chieftains, the Armatoli and Klephts of the War of Independence placed their arms, recalls the ancient girdle; 'gird thyself' meant 'arm thyself' (Homer, Iliad)."
- Gjergji 2004, p. 20.
- Konitza 1957, pp. 85–86.
- Konitza 1957, p. 67.
- Nasse 1964, p. 38: "The Albanian soldier who arrived in southern Italy during the days of Scanderbeg wore a distinctive costume; if he was a "Gheg" (northern Albanian), he wore rather tight breeches and a waistcoat; if he was a "Tosk" (southern Albanian), he wore a "fustanella" (a white pleated skirt) and a waistcoat."
- Gjergji 2004, p. 207: "In Macedonia the fustanella was part of the costume of men in Skopsko Bllatija, Ovce Polje, Babune, Azat, Parcovo, the district of Gjevgjelia and all southern Morave, Prespa, Tikvesh and elsewhere. It was wide and gathered at the waist with many folds. It was called "fustan", "ajta", and "toska" (see 89, p. 101) perhaps because it had been borrowed from the costumes of Albanians of Toskëria."
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- Oxford English Dictionary; Babiniotis 1998.
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- Verinis, James P. (May 2005). "Spiridon Loues, the Modern Foustanéla, and the Symbolic Power of Pallikariá at the 1896 Olympic Games". Journal of Modern Greek Studies 23 (1). pp. 139–175. doi:10.1353/mgs.2005.0010.
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