Traditional costumes of Cyprus

Traditional costumes of Cyprus

Cypriot costumes have a conservative character, just like the popular art of Cyprus in general; the diversity and elegance is not absent though. Each costume is a complexed work of art, which implements various weaving techniques and decoration as well as the craftsmanship of its creators.

In relation to the costumes of the mainland Greece, the cypriot costumes are simpler and more unified because of the small geographical space. Though there are some local variations, in the kind of costumes and in details (colour of the fabric, the combination of the parts that make the costume, the lines of the costume, the decoration and the various additional parts of it.)

Γυναικείες παραδοσιακές ενδυμασίες

Οι βασικές παραλλαγές της γυναικείας ενδυμασίας είναι η αστική, η Καρπασίτικη, η Παφίτικη και η ορεινή.
The basic variations of women’s costumes are the urban, karpasitiki (from Karpasia area), pafitiki (from Pafos area) and the one in the mountains.

The traditional woman’s costume with ‘sayia’ (outside part of the costume, long with sleeves) is one of the most characteristic costumes of the cypriot country and it can be found in the two distant and isolated areas of the island; in Pafos at West and in Karpasia area at the East. This costume was preserved in both areas till the beginning of the 20th century. The ‘sayia’ from Karpasia had a straight cut with bigger side openings for a more comfortabel walking; whereus the ‘sayia’ of Pafos had smaller side openings but gained width by adding more pieces of fabric. Under ‘sayia’ they wear a long blouse and long underwear and a belt with a buckle in the waist. Many times the costume with ‘sayia’ was completed with the traditional cypriot ‘sarka’ (lit. flesh - short, fitter jacket).

The existence of ‘sarka’ in ‘sayia’ type of costume, in the oldest women’s costume of Cyprus, should question those who support that ‘sarka’ was imported to Cyprus at the times of Queen Amalia of Greece. What could have happened is that in towns-cities, at some point it was transformed and became urban. The ‘urban sarka’ must have taken its final form from fashion influences from abroad whereus remained in its original form in the areas of Karpasia and Pafos.

The rural costume consists of an outer long dress, made of cotton striped or checkered woven fabric; a blouse, a long underwear and low boots. On the head they usually put two scarfs; an inner one to hold the hair called ‘skoufoma’ and an outside one, in a different colour, which was tied in a bow on the side so that a small, silk lace made with needle called ‘pipilla’, could be visible. Many times they decorated the bow with natural or silk-made flowers.

The women who were not married, they all wear deep-red headband (in Morfou are it was olive colour) and the young women put silk, embroidered forehead bands that were decorated with natural or fake flowers. In official festivities, at the church and at weddings, they usually put on top of the headband, a white vail -usually made of silk- and its edge was usually embroidered with golden or silver thread, with colorful bangs. The woman’s dark-red fez was rarely worn. The dark purple ‘tsemperia’ (head scarfs) that we know today, were only worn but old women who were not grieving and not but young ones. The aprons were not part of the everyday costume of the cypriot woman. The silk-made, embroidered with golden & silver thread apron was only worn in festivities, in weddings and was a necessary part of the formal costume. The formal cypriot woman’s costume was ‘sarka’; a woman’s long-sleeved jacket, with wide sleeves and a square cut that was inspired from the ancient times. The word ‘sarka’ comes from the ancient greek word ‘σάρξ’ (sarx) which literally means flesh (meat). A blouse was always worn under ‘sarka’ because that blouse was made of silk or semi-silk thus was a see through fabric, making ‘sarka’ necessary to be worn so it can cover the chest area. According to ancient customs ‘sarka’ was made of dark, black cotton fabric and was decorated around the sleeve cuts and the back side with golden plated, silver thread, with shapes of leaves and other artistic shapes. Under ‘sarka’, a long skirt with pleats (folds) was worn and was secured to the waist with a cypriot woman’s belt with a buckle.

‘Sarka’ was considered even in towns-cities as the most basic part of the formal and wedding woman’s costume in Cyprus. It was part of the bride’s dowry and was worn for the first time on the wedding day, as this costume was only worn by married women. On the same day and by following the tradition, the bride was wearing the dark red, long, cotton skirt with with pleats (folds), which was called ‘routzieti’ (means red in modern greek) because of it’s colour. This skirt was secured, as mentioned before, the cypriot buckled belt as the ones that are around the icons of Panagia in the monasteries of Trooditissas and Chrysorogiatissas. Note that like the traditional wedding dress of the cypriot woman was not white but red, the vail was also red. The veil was a long red fabric, from the head to the knees and had stitched on the corners and on the sides real gold coins -whether possible.

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Men’s traditional costumes

The basic part of the man’s costume is the multi-pleated ‘vraka’, which dominated the in the Greek islands. The fabric was usually cotton weaved (called ‘dimito’) which was dyed at the local dye-masters in all tones; from dark to light blue and black. Depending on the age and the area, there were variations to the line (cut) of ‘vraka’ and to the size. Along with ‘vraka’, a shirt is worn a dark, cotton, striped one for everyday use and a silk one for the Sunday or festive costume.

The jacket is either without sleeves (called ‘gileko’) or with sleeves (called ‘zimpouni’). It is made in the same way the woman’s outside costume is done, with colorful embroideries the decorate the festive-formal costumes; the ones used for everyday use, are usually darker in color and simpler. The urban ‘gileka’ and ‘zimpounia’ were made black woolen fabric and had very elaborated and rich embroideries with metal, threaded wire. On the waist there is a black girdle (called ‘zostra’), worn by the eldest or a silk, colorful one worn by the young men and/or the groom (called ‘palapoulouzin’). The farmers wore heavy boots with spikes and in the cities they wore lighter boots (called ‘frangopodines’) or normal shoes (called ‘scarpes’). Bibliography: Εθνογράφος Ελένη Παπαδημητρίου. Οι Κυπριακές φορεσιές. Πελοποννησιακό Λαογραφικό Ίδρυμα, 1991. [ ]

Each area of Cyprus had its own distinctive everyday use costume, with its own characteristics in terms of color, fabric and decoration. Despite on what we think today, cypriot men were not wearing black ‘vrakes’ in their everyday life but during summer they wore lightweight, white ‘vrakes’ and the rest of the year more stiff and in blue color just like the Cretan men. In the countryside the ‘vrakes’ were dark blue; black ‘vraka’ was the official costume of the cypriot man and was only worn during festivities and at the Sunday’s church liturgy.

The black ‘vraka’ was the official costume of the groom. In the cities and in big villages in the lowlands, the ‘vraka’ had to have as many pleats/folds as possible because as much fabric someone was using, it was a sign of being wealth. In the rural areas, ‘vrakes’ were shorter. In the cities they were not always wearing the long black boots like the farmers but either white light boots or even low shoes with colorful, long socks. The man’s shirt was either silk or semi-silk; its cut was similar to the womans blouse, with wide sleeves which were either folded and secured or made with pleatson the lower part. The only difference with the woman’s blouse is that it was shorter and was secured at the neck. In the area of Karpasia, at shoulder height they used to add to the stiches, long and narrow crochet-made stripes that were decorated with colorful beads. In the same area, beside the red fez there was also the white, laced cap; but in contrary of the fez this was worn without a head-scarf and it looked, size-wise and in terms of design, like the old Phrygian cap and headband that often seen in many ancient cypriot greek-phoenician statues.
The same cap that the men in Karpasia wore, was the same 7200 years before. Over the shirt they wore a colorful ‘gileko’, which’s color, cut and design variated among regions. They also wore simple jackets with or without sleeves, round or wide or even ones that were tight; color variated here as well. The greeks of the island avoided live and subtly colors, the big designs and especially the yellow color and remained to the simple, humble, island’s colors, with woven fabrics; that was the same for men and women.

Groom’s wedding appearance

As we mentioned above, the groom’s costume was made of a black ‘vraka’, which was similar to the one used for Sunday’s liturgy, although it was made with more caution and detail. Groom’s shirt was made of silk and embroidered; the ‘gileko’ (vest) was made of velvet and there were lines of buttons. What the foklore dancing groups today wear, is the groom’s vest. The rest of the people attending the wedding, were not wearing this velvet ‘gileko’ with the beautiful embroidered designs on the front and the back but they rather wore plain jackets. The groom should never wore jacket though cause that would be inappropriate. If the groom was from the rurals he wore tall, black boots; if he was from urban area, he wore low-cut shoes with or without socks.
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