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by Archaeology Newsroom

Hellinorraptai and Biedermeier: the Foustanella of Othon and the Costume of Amalia

In this article the creation of the foustanella of Othon and the costume of Amalia, the attire, that is, of the first royal couple, the Bavarian monarchs of modern Greece, that became the “national costume” of the country, is examined. Othon was initially encouraged to wear the foustanella -the famous white kilt worn by the chieftains of the Greek War of Independence-, in order, he, a foreigner, to be better accepted by his subjects; while his queen practically “invented” her costume for similar reasons. However, while the foustanella is accepted to be a more or less authentic expression of the Greek tradition, the costume of Amalia is regarded as an artificial, folkloric invention.

Yet, how accurate these judgements can be? It has been argued that the foustanella became very popular in the newly born Greek state, because it was chosen as the official uniform of the Greek army, although this adoption had been fiercely opposed by those who had considered it as a dress of Albanian origin, therefore unacceptable to be the national costume of Greece.

Amalia’s outfit, however, was not at first intended to be a national costume, but simply the courtly dress of her ladies-in-waiting. The stoli Amalias, as it came to be known, was a combination of the main European Biedermeier dress style with other components from the Peloponnese and the islands, Hydra for example.

Biedermeier was a romantic fashion trend in Germany and Austria during the first half of the nineteenth century, a popular style also expressed in music and furniture. It must also be added that in nineteenth-century Europe, Germany in particular, there existed a great interest in “traditional” or “folk” cultures, thus part of the royal couple’s concern for the “traditional” costumes of Greece may be related with their intention to create, more or less, a folk culture for their new country.

Even so, such “traditional” attires as the foustanella were destined to short live as daily wear, and they finally did in the twentieth century. Therefore, the disappearance of the Helllnoraptai, the tailors who specialized in traditional costumes such as the foustanella, since even the late nineteenth century, is an undeniable proof of the prevalence of the Frangika, the clothing of western style. Nevertheless, the initial appearance of the Hellinoraptai must be interpreted as part of the social and cultural changes that the Biedermeier style and its patrons introduced to Greece: the creation of the new state demanded the creation of a new national costume to go with it.