Traditional Corfiot folk costume

Traditional Corfiot folk costume

Fashion, its history and development, is inexorably linked to social status and it has been long believed that dress indicates a person’s personality.

Historically, the main function of clothing was to protect people from climate conditions but it was also reflective of the personality or attitude that people wanted to present to their peers. Thus, a costume as a “social point” is an important source of information concerning the personal and social identity of people since it can be analyzed on a historical, financial, psychological, sociological and geographical basis.

Clothing reflects people’s attitude towards their social role. Therefore, social hierarchy and attitude are so powerful and restrictive in the final arrangement of traditional costumes that in the end the factors of comfort and practicality are obscured.

Apart from the factors of comfort, protection and social hierarchy, equally important parameters are the difference between the sexes and sexual attraction which although they become more and more essential in modern fashion, they should not escape our attention. In researching the folk costumes of Corfu and Diapontia Islands, this parameter is seen in the difference between the male and female costumes and the multiple variations of the latter. However, we will notice once more that the factors of an attractive appearance and comfort are obscured by social and cultural factors and this is clearly obvious through the observation and research on local folk costumes.

The long exposure of the Ionian Islands to influence from the West is reflected in the islands’ folk costumes which acquired a unique versatility and displayed variety, becoming interesting cultural shorthand as it enables us to examine the relationships between people because the clothing highlights their different social status and aesthetic choices under this unique western influence.

Nevertheless, one of the most significant conclusions derived from the research on the local costumes of Corfu is their remarkable originality and diversity. Different cultural elements blend and create a colourful combination of influences which are incorporated in the local culture. A typical example is the diversity in headscarf patterns which not only are different from region to region, but also vary in the villages within a particular area proving that the crafting of costumes was closely related to the conditions of the local means of production in close-knit societies which use the same social and financial resources and materials available in their environment. As a result, local costume is a “cultural shorthand” which was set through a particular space and time and does not radiate further than the influence of the family - the “domus”, according to the philosopher Lyotard. Nowadays, and within a postmodern environment where everything happens elsewhere and everywhere, this loss is tremendous if we measure it in terms of artisanship and inventiveness. Undoubtedly, this change is the result of extensive historical processes as seen in great social upheavals and technological revolutions. Fashion has a clear social function which covers multiple activities. It indicates a people’s status in a social system of a particular period and reflects their attempt to adapt to that particular social stratification.

The 19th century saw rapid financial, political and social changes which are reflected in that period’s fashion as well. The bourgeoisie became the dominant class and gained economic control and rural dress maintained traditional elements differing from urban clothing which was ruled by the decrees of their contemporary fashion.

Until the 70s, progress in traditional rural areas was slow in the close-knit village communities and as a result, change was slow in various cultural aspects. Therefore, we notice a slow change in folk costumes. It is therefore evident that the closed agricultural communities of Corfu suffered less from the uniformity caused by industrialisation (the poet Diomides Vlachos mentioned in his last lecture that in the mountainous and remote village of Perithia, people were not aware of the concept of money), they maintained the ancient ways that linked local production to the artisanship of costume contrary to the urban dress which was directly influenced by European fashions and lifestyle