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[fuhs-tuh-nel-uh, foo-stuh-]

Fustanella (for spelling in various languages, see chart below) is a traditional skirt-like garment worn by men in the Balkans.


The word derives from Italian fustagno 'fustian' + -ella (diminutive), the fabric from which the earliest kilts were made. This in turn derives from Medieval Latin fūstāneum, perhaps a diminutive form of fustis, "wooden baton". Other authors consider this a calque of Greek xylino lit. 'wooden' i.e. 'cotton'; others speculate that it is derived from Fostat, a suburb of Cairo where cloth was manufactured.


The fustanella appears to have evolved from the Roman toga; many statues of Roman emperors depict them wearing knee-length pleated kilts. In colder regions, more folds were added. Byzantine iconography depicts Akritan troops wearing a kilt resembling the fustanella.

There are numerous other theories. It is thought by some that the modern fustanella originated in the Ottoman vilayet of Yanya. This vilayet comprised much of the region of Epirus (today divided between Greece (Epirus (periphery) and Albania) and was inhabited by a variety of populations, including Albanians, Greeks, Aromanians, Bulgarians and Turks. The use of the garment was probably spread by klephtic bands via Epirus into the rest of Greece during the 18th and 19th centuries. Similar garments exist as part of the folk costume as far north as Romania and as far east as Syria, with nationalists on every side claiming the garment to be an indigenous creation. Similarities to historical garments in literature and on art objects make these claims difficult to prove or disprove.

One claim of an ancient link to the modern fustanella involves an ancient statue dated from the 3rd century BCE in Kerameikon (a part of Athens to the northwest of the Acropolis). Another claim involves a small figure from the 5th century BCE in Slovenia. Another one was found in the outskirts of the ancient Greek city of Epidamnus (modern Durrës, Albania). Yet another claim involves the statue carved in a niche in the Cave of Archedemos the Nympholept, near Mount Hymettus in Athens, which statue wears a fustanella-like garment and has been dated to c. 500 BCE. Archedemos, although living in Athens, came from the Spartan colony of Thera. This is why he carved himself wearing the Dorian tunic. The Dorian tunic was also a garment of Kouretes.


The garment is made from long strips of linen sewn together to make a pleated skirt. Some Greeks, such as general Theodoros Kolokotronis had almost four hundred pleats in their garments, one for each year of Turkish rule over Greece. The style evolved over time. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the skirts hung below the knees, and the hem of the garment was gathered together with garters and tucked into the boots to create a "bloused" effect. Later, during the Bavarian regency, the skirts were shortened to create a sort of billowy pantaloon that stopped above the knee; this garment was worn with hose, and either buskins or decorative clogs. This is the costume worn by the modern Greek evzones Presidential Guard.

While the image of warriors with frilly skirts tucked into their boots may seem impractical to a contemporary audience, it should be noted that modern paratroopers use a similar method to blouse their trousers over their jumpboots. Lace was commonly worn on military uniforms in the west until well into the 19th century, and gold braid and other adornments still serve as markers of high rank in formal military uniforms. Fustanella were very labor-intensive and thus costly, which made them a status garment that advertised the wealth and importance of the wearer. Western observers of the Greek War of Independence noted the great pride which the klephts took in their foustanella, and how they competed to outdo each other in the sumptuousness of their costume.


Today, the fustanella is part of traditional Albanian and Greek dresses, worn mainly by ceremonial Greek military units and Albanian folk dancers. Incidentally, the correct Greek plural is foustanelles (φουστανέλλες) but as with the (semi-correct) foustanellas, it is rarely employed by native English speakers.

Name in various languages

Native terms for "skirt" and "dress" included for comparison:
Language Kilt/short skirt Skirt Dress
Albanian fustanellë/fustanella fustan
Aromanian fustanelã
Bulgarian фустанела
Greek φουστανέλλα
Italian fustanella gonna
Macedonian фустанела
Megleno-Romanian fustan fustan
Romanian fustanelă fustă
Turkish fistan


External links

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