The female costume’s garments of Mani
Diagram of the essay
i. Distinctive features of the female costume’s garments of Mani,
ii. the costume of Mani region until the first half of the 20th century,
iii. the influences that has received,
iv. its role in the everyday life of the region and
v. the final dominance of the costume’s form that was accepted by the local society.
This essay records, studies and presents the women’s garments of Mani costume based on historical
research and the analytic method.
“The study of all the forms of Greek clothing (everyday’s, Sunday’s, wedding costumes, etc.) has an
ethnological and historical significance because it shows, apart from the conditions, the way of life
and the financial capabilities of the local people, the traditional relation of the garments with the
ancient ant the Byzantine clothing as well as the variety of foreign influence revealing its
connections. The Greek garments in all regions are always adapted in the place, the manners and
the customs, with some specific differences from place to place” (Loukatos 1978: 173-174).
The need and the appearance give various forms in costumes, as the social coexistence establishes
garments, manners and cultures. These manners and cultures of every region and country in
different historical periods obtain a different view. That is because of the change in the scenery,
the needs of the inhabitants, the impressions that their soul gets from nature, the way of life and the
degree of their civilization. Thus, the local costumes should not be generally regarded as
accidental manifestations. (Stackelberg 1980:9).
From the costumes and the customs, it is revealed in a special and clear way, the elegance and the
spirit, the originality of the character and the condition of every society or if all this comes out
from the primal climatic and moral conditions and not from of the alterations because of the
foreign influence. (Stackelberg 1980: 10).
The inexhaustible material of the Greek garments is based on an autonomous spiritual basis and
stems from the team will and the inner life of the village or the city. (Hatzimihali 1948: 13).
The local garments began to forming, as we know them today, during the 17th and the 18th
century. Most of them have their origin back in the Byzantine era, the latter years of the empire,
while in many costumes we find elements from earlier years, even before the Byzantine era mainly
a technique and aesthetics so archaic that affects very much the style even of the modern elements
coming from European fashion. (Tsarouhis 1958:254).
Inside the large number of printed pictures with Greek subjects, that started appearing in various
European publications, we find that even from the end of the 15th century the depiction of
Greek garments have a special position. (Kouria 1989:55).
The modern Greek women’s costumet, aimed mostly to make an impression rather than to show the
beauty of the body, has roots, as far as sewing is involved, in the ancient years and, as far as the
shape is involved, in the Byzantine and the West in the period of Renaissance. The various elements
that it received from many other influences, were always adapted to the Greek needs. During the
time, these elements – archaic, of Byzantine tradition, of foreign influence or natural environment –
evolved in an enormous variety. (Papantoniou 1978: 7).
The women’s costumes of our country are separated mainly in two great categories: One with pure
Byzantine origin (development of the “dalmatiki”), and another one with the Byzantine roots merge
with the costumes of the western Renaissance (dress). (Papantoniou 1978:7).
A common feature among all the Greek garments, civic or rural is the “poukamiso” (shirt), that
origins from the “heirodoto heitona”, common in all Mediterranean people already from the
mycenaic period. That is, the ancient "heiton" and the "heiridoton imation" develop to the
“dalmatiki” with the “perheirides” of the Byzantine era, which leads to the modern “poukamiso”,
which is of use in the whole of the Balkan peninsula. (Hatzimihali 1948: 13, Tsarouhis 1958: 254,
Papantoniou 1983-85: 29, 1978: 7-8, Koukoules 1950: 104-105).
On top of that “poukamiso” in the earlier Byzantine times they wore the “hlamyda”. During the
later years of the Byzantine empire the “hlamyda” was replaced by a sort of overcoat with
sleeves, while the “heitonas” remained within. When that started is not clear. The analogous
modern overcoats in the popular garments are called “kavadia” or “sagiades” or “segounia” or
“anderia”. The first two terms are for sure Byzantine (Tsarouhis 1958: 255, Papantoniou 1978: 11-
12). While we vaguely know the clothing of the latter years of the Byzantine Empire, we can present
the evolution of the popular garment since the after-Byzantine period. (Tsarouhis 1958: 258,
Papantoniou 1983-84: 29).
Over the “poukamiso” the “kavadi” was worn, over the “kavadi” the women wore various short or
long overcoats, often having a fur lining, just like those of men (Tsarouhis 1958: 258).
Along with this garments we have another cloth, the so called “foustani” (dress) which is also worn
over the poukamiso. We cannot cross out the possibility that the origin of this “foustani” is of
Byzantine origin although we encounter it in Italy the same period that it is worn in Greece, and
could be much older than the “kavadi” (Tsarouhis 1958: 258-259, Papantoniou 1978: 7, 13).
Where women wear this dress, the men usually wear the “vraka”. The “foustani” is completed with
various short or long overcoats, mostly short and with a long and wide belt (Tsarouhis 1958: 259).
The garment of Mani that Stackelberg has pictured in his book, shows that the Mani women wore
garments of an island type, that is "foustani" over the “poukamiso” (Tsarouhis 1958: 262,
Stackelberg 1980: XI).
The “foustani” of Mani of Stackelberg along with a painting of a man from Mani, shows that in the
Peloponnese was repeated what happened in many parts of Greece. That is, the inhabitants of
coastal cities with occupations related to the sea accepted the “vraka”, while the women wore the
island dress of the closest island. (Tsarouhis 1958: 263, Papantoniou 1983-85: 29-44).
The women’s garments of Mani, or “foresia” (Koukoules 1950: 121), belongs to the type of
costume with a “poukamiso” and a “foustani”, The “foustani” as I. Papantoniou (Papantoniou
1978:14) mentions belongs to the category of Renaissance dresses like those from Crete, N.
Sporades, Trikeri, Hydra, Spetses, Amorgos, Andros, Salamina, Megara, Hios, Tsakonia etc.
The “Foustani” of Mani is called “Velesi” (“velessi”, “velehi”, “ta velesia”) (Papantoniou 1978:
14, Vagiakakos 1961: 163-64, Historical and Ethnological Company of Greece 1993: 112, 249,
Koutsilieris 1960: 174, Kassis 1980: 69).
It is made at the loom by thick woven wool or thick cotton fabric, it is dark red, black, lead or dark
purple. It is very large and long until the ankle. The “velesi” was ornamented with the “bougazi”
(colored fabric) (“bougadi”, “bougazi”, “bogasi”, “bougasia”, “bouhasi”). The “bougasi” was an
extra stripe of red valuable fabric that was sewn about two hands over the hem. It was sewn over
the “foustani’-“velesi”-with twisted white-yellow threads that shined on the dark color. This sewing
was called “zgargio” (“sgargio”, “sgarko”, “o sgargios”, “sgargo”, “gargio”) (Vagiakakos 1961:163-
164, Historical and Ethnological Company of Greece 1993: 112, 251, 252, Papantoniou 1978: 13-
14, Koutsilieris 1960: 174, Koukoules 1924: 307, Manolakos 1912-13: 676-678, Kassis 1980: 72).
Another stripe of red fabric same to the “bougazi” was sewn inside the “velesi” at the “bodogiouro”
and that was called “sopani” (“sopani”, “red sopani”, “kokkinosopano”) and when they danced they
raised the “velesi” so that the “red sopani” was visible. The whole dress when it bears these red
stripes was called “velesi kokkinosopano”. The “velesi” bore “blisedes and randitses so as the
poukamiso to be visible”. Around the waist a pin-striped silk belt was tied. Over the “velesi” they
wore a “kontogouni”, (“kamigiola”). Inside the “velesi” they wore the “poukamises” (the
“poukamiso”, “poukamisa” with large sleeves, the “fardomanika”) with embroidering at the chest
and at the sleeves. These were white made by woven fabric at the loom (Historical and
Ethnological Company of Greece 1993: 112, 251, Kassis 1980: 72).
The little girls wore a small simple dress the “pokamiso”. Only when they reached puberty they
made a “velesi”. Relevant is the following dirge:
when I was young
little with the “pokamiso”
grazing my sheep
at the Kariniatika mountains
my old man passed by (=husband)
riding his mule (Kassis 1980: 77)
According to the description of the wanderer John Calt "the garments of the women was a cotton
dress with blue or red finishing at the hem. At the head they wore a small red fez, wrapped with a
kerchief” (Simopoulos 1985: 523). J.Morrit (1794) also writes: “It caused deep impression to the
foreigners the beauty of the women, not only at Kitries but at most of the Mani villages. The
“Kapetanissa” wore light blue dress with golden embroidering, with a belt around the waist, and a
“kondogouni” without sleeves with velvet embroidering. Over all these she wore a dark red velvet
polish overcoat with wide open sleeves, also richly embroidered. On the head a yellow cap with
golden embroidering that looked like a crown. A kerchief made by golden muslin, fastened on the
right shoulder, passed over the chest and under the left shoulder, then went up at the cover of the
head, fell back and hung on the floor” (Simopoulos 1988: 604-605). Here we can observe, apart
from the presence of many westerly elements in the garments that were mainly due to the
relationship between the people from Mani and the people from Venice, the use of the green color
that is considered Islamic, its use was prohibited by the Turks for the Greeks. The people of Mani
though, wanting to show their independence, used widely this color, (Alexakis 1996: 129).
But in spite of any subjective or objective, positive or negative views that are expressed through the
tourist descriptions (Alexakis 1996: 121-152), we can observe basic features of cultural element
that is analyzed and that remain stable. In this specific occasion we distinguish the “kokkinosopano
velesi” and the characteristic cover of the head.
The older cover of the head was the “kefalogiouri”, inner green silk kerchief developed as a
diadem, and the all silk “bolia”, that wraps around it covering the neck and the shoulders
(Historical and Ethnological Company of Greece 1993: 112, 251, Kassis 1980: 73 and Korre-
Zografou 1991: 175). The usual decoration of the head is accomplished with the “gemenia”
(“gemeni”, “tsemberi”, “tsembera”, “tsembeiria”, “mantiles”). They also wore the “fakiolia”
(triangular kerchiefs) with or without “kentimata” and “bolies” with embroidering.
The color of the kerchief (“tsembera”-“gemeni”) and the way the woman wore it declared her social
condition (married, single, widow) and her emotional condition. The girls wore white or red
“mantila” or “tsembera”. So did the newly married.
The white and the red are the colors of joy, (Romaios 1973-74: 200-201, 212-213) and that is were
the wedding wish comes from: “the white and the red you should tear them”.
The girls that wore the white “tsemberes” so as to distinguish between the engaged and the free,
embroidered a “little red cross”. The white “tsembera” with the red cross was given by the father
or the mother in law to the bride, at the engagement. If the bride was mourning, only the mother in
law had the right to remove the mournful “tsembera” from the head of the bride, the
day of the engagement and to wear her a white, with the discrete red cross of the engagement.
The “hares”, (the treats) at the wedding are coins, clothing and kerchiefs. In clothing the “velesia”
are included, while it is also customary the red or white silk “kalamatiano” kerchief as a wedding
present by the groom to the bride and among the relatives of the two families (Kalonaros 1934: 43,
Skokou 1889: 305 and Megas: 152-153). The following verses of a dirge show the offer of a
kerchief from the man to the woman before the wedding:
he asked me for his wife
he gave me a “lahouri” (=kerchief)
and a venetian coin. (Kassis 1980: 73, 77)
K.Romaios describes such wedding gifts referring to the ancient times and analyzing the modern
Greek wedding, but also burial customs of Mani he writes that: “…they are not simply modern
Greek, but definitely have their roots in the ancient Greek tradition and culture”. (Romaios 1973-
The married woman wore oily green or brown or “kladota gemenia”. The widow or “heremeni”
wore a black “mantila” ("mavromantila"). “The “alipi” woman-girl-little girl wears a light blue
“tsembera” and leaves uncovered a part of the hair that is above the forehead. The same woman as
an official “tsembera” she can wear the “lahouri” which is a red-pink kerchief or red as a yolk
leaving again uncovered the face and hair till the middle of the head. If she wore the “tsembera”
“gaza” (that is normally) she was calm. If she had a “fakioli” she worked tensely. The “fakioli” if
the woman didn’t work, was considered a sample of arrogance, malice and an attempt to show off.
If it was tight and wrapped with her “tsembera” covering almost all the head, it meant that she is
under very big depression and that she is tortured by heavy sadness. The old ladies used to do it like
this. Also the ladies of the dirge. Exception is made only for the leader of the dirge who takes out
completely the “tsembera” and pulls her hair. The “tsembera” is only taken out during the sleep, the
birth, the sickness and the dirge. When they dance they don’t take it off” (Kassis 1980: 72-73).
The strict form and the plain symbolic decoration of the garment of the women from Mani, reflects
the features of the closed society that created it. (H. and E.C. of Greece 1993:112).
To the various morphological types of the Greek garments it is added, at the end of the 3rd decade
of the 19th century, (H. and E.C. of Greece 1993: XXIX) those of the “costume of Amalia”. The
Queen Amalia altered the shape of the city clothes on purpose establishing, the costume of the
court, a dress that was a mixture of the bust from the “anderi” that was worn by the Greek aristocrat
women and of a western type of dress of that time. Naturally it was imitated by all the wealthy
ladies of the civic centers and later by the women of the villages.
This influence passes to all island regions. This dress along with the “kontogouni” or “zipouni”, has
survived in our days as the “costume of Amalia” (Papantoniou 1978: 16, Hatzimihali 1948: 15, H.
and E.C. of Greece 1993: 226). The influence of those garments in Mani is visible in the bridal
gown of the region. In around 1890, the usual dress of the bride was the ‘velesi” the
“kokkinosopano” and of the groom was the “foustanella”.
Οther testimony says that the couple came from powerful and formal families the bride bore the
“costume of Amalia” with a low fez and a tuft left on the shoulders, and the groom the “foustanella”
with a long fez, sign of a strong and powerful origin. Another testimony presents as a bridal gown a
combination of the traditional garments and the “costume of Amalia” as an old bridal dress. In most
descriptions we have the presence of the red fez and the blue tuft as well as the “kontogouni”. After
the decade of 1900-1910 the white dress with the white veil dominates.
D. and N. Stephanopoli, wanderers of Mani origin describe the bridal gown that they met in 1795-
97, when sent by Bonaparte for a mission in Mani: “The bride wears on the head a white veil
that surrounds the top of the head, passes under the chin, goes up again and falls back until the
middle of the leg. The veil, decorated with fringes made by the same fabric is fixed on the
head with a pin. Over the veil she wears a red fez. From her ears hang well made earrings. The
dress, a kind of cassock with no sleeves, has three rows of decoration at the hem: The lower
is red, the second is a white lace and the third is yellow and blue. Over this dress she wears a red
“hitona” with large sleeves. Her legs have no socks” (Simopoulos 1988: 756-757).
A description of a bridal gown, of a later time than that of the wanderers, that agrees with the
testimonies we have by I.Koutsilieris: “The bride wore a “velesi” which is a blue “hitonas” with red
decorations at the hem. That stripe, called “bougazi”, was removed in case of widowhood. The
riches “velesi” had a decoration at the chest. The bridal decoration was completed with a red fez
with a tuft, that was placed on the head of the bride after the coronation” (Koutsilieris 1960-
Again here we have reference of a fez with a tuft that, from what has been known, reaches the
beginning of the century. In spite of the influence that the “costume of Amalia” has to Mani, there
predominates the bridal “kokkinosopano velesi” and the differentiation is accomplished only
concerning the cover of the head. The “kokkinosopano velesi” along with the “bougazi” and the
“sgargio” were the symbol of joy. The unmarried girls, the “kalomoires” and the “hairamenes”
(joyful women that had a living husband or father or brother) wore it at the “hares”. Without the
“bougazi” they wore it at the “lypes”. The “sgargio”symbolizes the protector of the house. The
women, when in widowhood, don’t have a “sgargio” on their dress. They put it back when they
remarry. When a daughter loses her father, she puts it back when she gets married. When she loses
her brother while having other brothers, she takes off half of it (Manolakos 1912-13: 678). The
widows unstitched the “Bougazi” and threw it in the grave along with one of the wedding wreaths
to show that they bury their husband and their joy as well. In some Mani villages they don’t unstitch
it but they blacken it with black paint (Koukoules 1924: 307). Some women when they became
widows they took off the “sgarko” and threw it in the “rouga”. Here we observe a public declaration
of widowhood and the acceptance of a new social status and also the acceptance of a new social
role that the family and society gives them. (Alexakis 1980).
The relation between garments and burial customs in Mani is appears in the following testimony:
“Xesgargioname” (took off) the “velesi” and put the “sgargio” on the dead and said:
“When … was killed
I took my velesi”
and went out in the yard
and tore the “bougazi”.
With the ritual of removing the red fabric or blackening with black paint it is accomplished the
transition from one social status to another. From “hairameni”-“heremeni”, from “kalomoiri”-
“Bent your head forward
so as the wedding wreath to fall
jerk your fingers
so as the rings to come out”.
“… and take off the all red
and wear the black
the red belong to joy,
the black belong to sadness”
(Romaios 1973-74: 201, Manolakos 1912-13: 678, Koukoules 1924:307).
The demand of this dirge reveals to the woman the tough reality and the contrast between the past
and the present (Romaios 1973-74: 199-201).
For this burial custom in Mani K.Romaios writes: “… The funeral reminds me vividly of the scene
of an ancient drama in its archaic form, of the years prior to Aeschylus, when there was only one
protagonist. Around is the chorus of the wearing black women, and chants its tragic choral and in
the center of the circle stands alone the “hypocrite” obliged to conform to the
“adomena” (chanted) and to perform the commands” (Romaios 1973-74: 203-204).
The particular customs of joy and sadness are important from a symbolic point of view, because
they determine the position of a woman in the current social system. It is a part of a great line of
social compromises and reciprocities. The woman through the symbolic customs accepts and
compromises with the position that the society has determined for her and gets ready to play the
next role for which the particular customary ritual prepares her for. Then, since she has become the
one that expresses the custom, in turn she will impose the same role to some other woman when it
becomes necessary. Thus, she continues the ritual needs of every society by preserving for a long
time the customs.
The women’s costume has a significant meaning for the woman as it appears in the various social
manifestations and customs. They play a symbolic role in relation with the woman and the
customary actions as presented above. It may give a happy tone, when the analogous customary
action has a corresponding character and it may have a strict mournful character analogous again to
the customary action.
The symbol is not always recognizable, hides or covers things. The symbol language causes an
intense emotional stimulation to the man (Gikas 1982: 29). The form of the garment declares the
childish freedom, the happiness of puberty, the happiness of the family, the existence of a man
(husband-father-brother) that supports the woman and gives her happiness and social power and
some expression of freedom at the social places. The change in the form declares the change in her
social status-place of the woman. Happiness is followed by misery, death, separation, social
isolation. The “heremeni” woman, according to the customs, must remain within her house and
only if there is a need for work she could go out.
It has been found that symbolic customs can be preserved longer than other with legal or
economical character. The most common way for a symbolic custom to cease to exist is to change
the scenery or the general ritual for different and irrelevant reasons. For example changes of
persons, place, time, foreign influence, for every custom needs its own space and time to be held
and functioned (Alexakis 1984: 83). The change in the ritual consists of the change in the sewing of
the tape, the color, the change in the way they sing dirges and of the reference to the garment as in
the wedding not to present kerchiefs or “velesia” etc.
Today the costume of Mani has retained the elements that show its course in time and the role it
played expressing the experiences and the needs of the popular soul, determining the virtues, the
customs, the language, the popular justice, the popular dances, the songs and the popular art of the
region. The garment from Mani formed the local elements of the popular art and sometimes the
foreign ones, that it finally did not assimilate showing a course with traditional roots since the
ancient times and the Byzantion until this century. The final formation has the seal of the common
local acceptance. (H. & E.C. of Greece 1993: XXV).
The women’s garments of Mani retained in a strict way the traditional form of the former
generations as a subconscious heritage, confirming the continuity of this particular society and
these particular customs putting aside and rejecting any outer influence.
Note: (The information regarding the garment comes, apart from the specific bibliography, from on the spot systematic research and
from Manuscripts of the Athens Academy and the Folklore Study of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Athens and are
classified in my personal record as a part of the general systematic research that was held at this place.)
1. Alexakis, P.E. (1980), Families in the traditional society of Mani, Athens.
2. Alexakis, P.E. (1984), The redemption of the bride. Contribution to the study of marriage customs in modern Greece, Athens.
3. Alexakis, P.E. (1996), “Emeis kai oi alloi. Ethnoistorikes prosegiseis sta periigitika keimena gia ti Mani”, Records of a meeting
about the History of Mani (15th-19th cen.). By the Symbosium "Periigites kai epistimonikes apostoles: Martiries gia to horo kai tin
koinonia tis Manis”, (Gytheio-Areopoli, 4-7 November 1993), Athens, p. 121-158.
4. Vagiakakos, B.D. (1961), Maniatika A’, Ibraim against Mani, Patsilinakos, Athens.
5. Collections of Greek Costumes of the 19th century, (1989), Ekdoseis Tehnis G. Gezerlis and Co., Athens.
6. Gikas, S., (1982), Philosophical Dictionary, Felekis, Athens.
7. Historical and Ethnological Company of Greece, (1993), Greek Costumes, Collection of the National Historical
8. Kalonaros, P., (1934), Ethographika Manis, Dimitrakos, Athens.
9. Kassis, D. Kyr., (1980), Folclor of Mesa Manis, A’ Yliki Zoi, Athens.
10. Kassis, D. Kyr., (1982). The language idiom of Mani, Volume A’, Exoraistikos Sillogos Akrotainariton, “I Agia
11. Korre-Zographou, K., (1991), Modern Greek Headdress, Athens.
12. Koukoules, I.A., (1924), “Ek ton Ethimon tis Manis, i hira”, Malevos, nu. 42, y. 4th, Athens, p.307.
13. Koukoules, F., (1950), “Ta foremata”, Thessalonikis Efstathiou Laographika, Company of Macedonian Studies,
volume 1, p. 105-123.
14. Kouria, A., (1989), ” I parastasi tis ellinikis foresias sta haraktika ton Evropaikon periigitikon ekdoseon (15os-19os
ai.), endeiktikes episimanseis”, Ethnographika, P.L.I., &th, Nafplio, p.55-65.
15. Koutsilieris, I.A., (1960-61), “Gamilia Ethima tis Manis”, Laographia, vol. XIX, p. 158-182.
16. Loukatos, D., (1978), Introduction to Greek Folclor, Morphotiko Idrima Ethnikis Trapezas Ellados, Athens.
17. Manolakos, G., (1912-13), “Symmikta (Epikaira dimotika asmata)- Moirologion eis polemistin fonefthenta en
Bizanio”, Laographia 4, p. 676-680.
18. Megas G., “Zitimata Ellinikis Laographias”, Epetiris Laographikou Arheiou, p. 119-165.
19. Papantoniou, I., (1978), “Simvoli sti meleti tis gynaikeias paradosiakis foresias”, Ethnographika, P.L.I., 1st,
Nafplio, p. 5-92.
20. Papantoniou, I., (1983-85), “Oi topikes foresies sto Aigaio apo tin alosi mehri tin apeleftherosi. Mia proti
prosegisi”, Ethnographika, P.L.I., 4th-5th, Nafplio, p.29-44.
21. Romaios, K. (1973-74), “Agnosto archaiko “dromeno” teleftis”, Labyrinthos A’, p. 199-206.
22. Romaios, K., (1973-74), “I porfiri tainia stis epitymvies “Graptes stiles” tou Mouseiou Volou”, Labyrinth A’, p.
23. Stackelberg, V., Baron, M.O., (1980), Costumes and Customs of the Greeks at 1821, Introduction -Explanation by
Nikos Simiriotis, Bibliofilia, Athens.
24. Simopoulos, K., (1985), Foreign Travellers in Greece 1800-1810, Volume C1, Athens.
25. Simopoulos, K., (1988), Foreign Travellers in Greece 1700-1800, Volume B, Athens.
26. Skokou, F.K., Diary 1889, “Ithi kai ethima en Mani”, p. 299-311.
27. Tsarouhis, G., (1958), “Oi Moraitikes foresies se shesi me tis alles topikes Ellinikes endymasies”, Peloponnhsiaki
28. Hatzimihali, A., (1948), Greek Costumes, Volume B’, Mouseio
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