The Traditional Cypriot Garment – Dress code

Cypriot clothes gave comfort, beauty and grace to those who used to wear it.

The materials used to produce traditional Cypriot clothing were cotton and silk of local production.

The specific cloth used for the outer part of the garment was called “alatzia” (made of cotton), usually with a white base and thin vertical or crossed stripes in traditional colours, deep red, blue, yellow, orange and green. For the casual / everyday men’s shirts and women’s dresses, “alatzies” were usually blue with white stripes.

Women’s Garment
We basically distinguish three types of garments in women’s wear. These are: “sayia”, the dress and the urban or the garment of Nicosia.

The so called “sayia” was a dress with an opening in the front and at the sides and women used to wear it until the 19th century; a shirt was also worn inside the dress.  Women wore long underwear that covered the legs up to the sole. Obviously women of the past had to cover the whole body because of the strict conservative way of life. At the edges the underwear was embroidered. (At the calf of the leg and up to the ankle).

“Sayia” was made with high quality fabrics like damask or silk woven with gold thread. They also used silk striped fabric from Syria, called “sam alatzia”, which local weavers copied. “Sayia” slightly differed from place to place.

“Sayia” was established as “Karpasitiki” (an area of eastern Cyprus)

The dress was a garment with a waist or pleats and was worn by women in rural areas of Cyprus, especially in the plains and mountains. They used to wear this with slightly different variations depending on the area and its use. For example, in the mountains, they wore dark colours whereas in the plains, they wore more lively natural colours. There was also variety in the embroidery of the cleavage, (“trachilia”) that was necessary for breastfeeding.

Women used to wear an embroidered apron with the dress; however they preferred a simple apron with everyday clothes.

The urban or the garment of Nicosia was worn in the 2nd half of the 19th century. It included a wide silk skirt, a short tight jacket with sleeves, a shirt and a fez or shawl.

On the head they wore a fez with a rich ‘alokoto’ or a shawl with a bow at the side.

On the head they used to tie a shawl which held back the hair and ended in a bow at one side so it allowed a lacy material, “pipila” to show.

The young women divided their hair in the middle and styled them into two long braids. (“vroulia”)

As far as the wedding costume is concerned, in big villages in Cyprus they used the garment of the city, whereas in rural places they used the dress with the addition of jewelry and a red scarf which distinguished the bride from the other female guests.

In Karpasia the wedding dress was made of “Alatzia” in brown colour. It also had rich appliqué embroidery in gold thread and pieces of coloured felt and a silk shirt was exposed under “sayia”. The underwear that reached the legs had embroidery made by a loom or was handmade.

The jewelry completed the celebratory garment like in all other parts of Cyprus; these were chains, crosses, necklaces, golden earrings, bracelets and rings.

Men’s Garment
Traditional Trousers (“Vraka”): It was produced by a thick “thimito”, a cotton handmade cloth; they sewed and used enough pieces so that it looked tufted. According to a traditional Cypriot song, “Saranta (40) pihes thimito ekaman mou mia vraka…” the cloth used is mentioned thus emphasizing the richness of the trousers. The cloth with which they used to make the trousers was always white and specialized dyers used to colour them, usually black. On the upper part there were creases (prosiasti) through which a long lace passed and used to tie the trousers. This lace was usually made of wick (“fitili”) and it was called “vrakozoni”.

Shirt: The shirts were usually woven and made of silk, dark coloured fabric that was sewed by seamstresses. They also used other fabrics that were cheaper to make the shirts. In the old days the shirts did not have collars; however they gradually started to add collars.
The waistcoat or “zimbouni” was like the jacket of the whole garment and was made like the women’s outer garment, with “alatzia”, in different variations. It was embroidered with colourful designs, whereas the everyday waistcoats were dark coloured and simple. The urban waistcoats were made of wool black fabric or even made of velvet and were richly embroidered with a metallic wire.

The wedding waistcoat was usually made of dark coloured velvet and the back had colourful embroideries of birds and lions. Under the waistcoat they used to wear a cotton shirt for everyday whereas on Sundays they chose one made of silk.

On the head men wore a fez and sometimes they added a shawl that was tied at the side.

Belt or “Zostra”: This was a woolen belt; usually black with red stripes, with a width of about 20cm and 8-10 feet height with woven tassels at the edges. The belt was worn around the waist to cover the cover and for good appearance.

On the belt or girdle (zostra), other than hiding their dagger (tsiakkoudi), they used to either tie a knitted purse or hid a separate purse that they bought.

Socks or “klatses”: Most men wore socks only during the winter; only a few wore socks  all year round that had to be black and came up to the knee. Some wore socks made of wool; in particular, women used lambs wool to make them.

Underwear: The underwear was like the traditional Cypriot trousers (vraka) but it was white like flannel and made of cotton or kapok. The underwear was up to the knee and had laces at the edges that were tied around it. It was fashionable, if the underwear was exposed, to be 1-2 cm longer than the traditional trousers (“vraka”).

Boots: The shepherds and many farmers used to wear boots made by shoemakers. These boots had thick nails underneath and they were very heavy. Others used to wear “skarpes”, thick shoes without laces. The wealthy and those of higher status wore the so-called “frangopodines”. They were made of leather and could be dyed. These are the boots that dancers wear today during performances.

Overcoat or coat: In the past coats were very heavy and the English exported them to Cyprus. They used to call these coats “kapottous”.

Hats: Some men used to wear a hat/cap called “kasketo”. These hats were made of cashmere and had an inside lining. In the villages they wore a black shawl but some used to wear a straw hat too. A few men wore a casque or “rempoublica”.

The jewelry that completed the men’s garment were the watch, the chain and the rings, mostly worn by those that could afford them.

Research: Antonis Lazarou