One of the best parts about watching dance performances at the Denver Greek Festival is the uniqueness of the Greek costumes that the dancers wear. Many of them reflect the region in Greece that the dancer’s family is from or a costume that is just visually appealing.
Of all of the costumes in Greece, there are two costumes that are considered the national costumes of Greece: the fustanella for men and the Amalia for women. These costumes have a rich history and reflect the story and struggle of the country.
The fustanella is a traditional pleated skirt-like garment worn in the Balkans. In Greece, the fustanella is worn in a shortened version by the Evzones (Greek soldiers). The fustanella didn’t gain popularity in Greece until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 as a uniform. By the end of the 19th century, the fustanella lost popularity as Western dress was introduced.
From the 1930s to 1960s, the fustanella film genre was popular in Greek cinema. The genre depicted rural Greece and the differences between urban and rural Greece. It idealized Greek villages, where the fustanella was an iconic image.
The fustanella has a large number of pleats, numbering from 200-400. It is said that the number of pleats represents the years of slavery Greece suffered under the Ottoman Empire. A fustanella is worn with a yileki (bolero), a mendani (waistcoat), and a fermeli (sleeveless coat). The selachi (leather belt) has gold or silver embroidery and is worn around the waist over the fustanella. The costume is worn with hose and tsarouhia, a clog-like shoe with a pom on the top.
The Amalia is a Greek folk costume created by Queen Amalia, who was the wife of Queen Otto from 1837 to 1862. The outfit was an attempt to establish a symbol of Greek identity. The Amalia was inspired by traditional elements of Greek folk dress combined with elements of Western European fashion.
Queen Amalia wore the Amalia costume on formal occasions, seeing as she preferred to wear Parisian clothing in her day-to-day life. When she wore it, she wanted the female court to wear it as well. The costume includes a long dress – called a foustani – inspired by a central European silhouette popular in Germany. It is worn with a bodice based on the model of the Greek traditional dress. The dress is open to the front to reveal an embroidered chemise. The kontogouni or zipouni is the short, tight-fitting velvet jacket worn over the foustani, embroidered with a gold pattern. The costume is accessorized with a red fez adorned with a tassel of braided gold threads.
Though the costume is not seen as a symbol of identity for Greece, it is still worn on Greek holidays, such as October 28 and March 25.
In April 2017, a museum opened in Kalamata, Greece that showcases Greek costumes curated from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The museum highlights different costumes from different regions in Greece in an interactive and enjoyable experience.
To see these Greek costumes in action, check out the dance performances throughout the weekend at the Denver Greek Festival.