Rhodes, the largest island of the Dodecanese, was not important only during antiquity, but continued to play a crucial historical role also in the Byzantine age. In the early fourteenth century it was occupied by the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who sought a new base of operations in order to regain the Holy Land from the Ottomans. The settlement of the knights and many merchants from the West changed the physiognomy of the island. A new local aristocracy emerged, active mainly in the towns, which developed a Franco-Greek taste. This new situation naturally affected the life and culture of the island. Its influence can also be established in the dressing habits of the inhabitants, which are documented in religious wall-paintings and especially in representations of donors.
The major dressing characteristics on Rhodes are the following two: The preference, with only a few exceptions, of the Greeks for the Byzantine attire; and the evolution and variety of this costume, comparable, however, to that of the Venetian-ruled Crete or of the Frankish-ruled Cyprus, although the western influence is sometimes more obvious on the costumes of these islands. Needless to say, that the remarks mainly concern the attire of the nobility and not that of the everyday, hard-working, people, whose type of dress remains unchanged, dictated by age-long functional needs.
A basic feature of the medieval costume is a series of dresses, worn the one above the other, with wisely cut openings, through which, not only the variety, quality and decoration of the garments could be directly observed, but also the social and economic status of their bearer could be evaluated. On the basis of the aforementioned donors’ representations four garments can be established as standards: the undershirt and the cloak for women, the undershirt and a variety of coats for men.