The Cretan costume has undergone several changes in its centuries of history, either through following the general way of clothing of each era or adapting to the provisions or prohibitions of the conquerors of the island .
The men’s traditional attire with the breeches, the vest, the “Meitani” and boots makes its appearance in the early 16th century, with various opinions about the appearance of the “breeches” as they were unknown in Crete before the conquest by the Turks. The festive attire of men of the island, sewed and embroidered special craftsmen called “terzides”. The decorative embroidery was done with deep blue or black silk twisted kordoneta (a type of lace) (never with gold ), called “Hartza “. The “Hartza” were made and sold by skilled craftsmen, the”Kazazis” or brought by traders and “terzides” from Egypt .
The official male costume includes: breeches, traditional socks, waistcoat (closed or open), “Meitani”, “Capoto” , shirt , belt, folding fez , or “turban”, asimomachairo (silver knife) “chain” and boots.
The striking feature of the costume is the breeches . In western Crete they call it “kartsa”, while in the eastern “sialvari” .However , in the whole island the plural terms, breeches or “salvaria” became dominant and with that they meant the whole costume .
The traditional Cretan festive shirt, woven , silk or cotton , is mostly white. The Cretans never wore black shirts in weddings, engagements, christenings, joys, celebrations and festivals, because it indicated mourning. Note that the modern habit of Cretans wearing indiscriminately black shirts has existed for only a few decades.
We ought to note that the modern knitted black silk turban, considered nowadays the traditional Cretan head cover, with dense fringes like tears, made its appearance in the second quarter of the 20th century in central Crete . It is said to have many fringes to show the many years of Ottoman rule in Crete and which symbolize, in their shape, the sadness and grief that caused the holocaust of Arkadi Monastery in 1866 .
A special feature of the costume is the asimomachairo (knife). During the Venetian times it was called “Bounial ” or “pounialo”. During the Turkish occupation it was called “Passalis”. The typical knife in the form it has remained until today was introduced in the late 18th century. The handle is called “manika” and appears in a variety of shapes. The most common form is that of the handle finishing in a fish-tail or shaped as V. The knives with dark horn handles are called “mavromanika”. The sheath of the knife in the official costume is called “foukar “. It;s silver and carved with the chisel. The silver foukari is very impressive and has high aesthetic value with rich decoration . It is the main male jewelry and denotes the social status and economic situation of the Cretan who wears it. It designates the “kaloseirous’ , i.e. the special persons. The silver knives were a sacred and integral part of the armament and battle gear of warriors. Great was also the symbolic value of the knife in the social life of the Cretans.
The introduction of breeches in Crete also brought a change in the dress of the Cretan woman, in the last quarter of the 16th century, towards the more masculine. So, the girls took from the clothes of the men the “Meitani”, which then was called “ziponi”.
Meanwhile, this season also had the sleeveless bodice, called “korpeto”. Shortly after, in the late 16th century, in the eastern provinces appears the “saltamarga” a spacious sleeveless cardigan,with completely open front, long, reaching to the hips. When later the “saltamargka” ended up in the stomach with a buckle, which made it look like a long “korpeto”, it was named “fermeli” . Note that the “ziponi” over the years was also called ‘kontochi” .
An integral element of the costume for the engaged daughter or married woman of western and central Crete is the “basalaki” or “pasalaki”. Also called “argyrompounialaki”. It is an “argyropoikilto” knife with silver “wretch” ( case ) , the male miniature knife. It is a traditional gift of the fiancé to his spouse, with many symbolisms, which lady thenceforth wears it in her belt.
The head cover for the Cretan woman is the silk scarf. When this was adorned with a transparent white veil, with sewn gold coins, they called it “chrysoplekto” . Throughout western Crete, except the silken scarf, they also wore a red fez with a small tassel covered with black tulle, which was called “papazi”.
During the second quarter of the 19th century in the western provinces the’ “Velio” also appeared, who was also known as “Fakioli” or “fatsoli”. It’s a little velvet cap in maroon color with black lace on the edges. The “Velio” was a sign of financial status of the groom, who offered it to the bride along with other wedding gifts. In eastern Crete the “Salpa” was worn, which is an oblong white cotton scarf. it is supposed to look like the skin of men . In Kritsa the “Salpa” is called “vel ” as well as “fatsoleto” or “fatsoli”, which should not be confused with the “fatsoli” of western Crete.
The main types of costume
The basic types of Ladies festive costumes of Crete, which arrived by the early 20th century, are: “Costume with ziponi and dress”, the “Sharjah” and “Kouda”. From these come many variations or local names, such as “Sfakiani”, the “Haniotiki”, the “Messaritiki”, the “Rethymniotiki” the “Kritsiotiki” etc. Several elements of the costumes are from the Byzantine women’s clothing of the 11th century ( belt, apron ).
Source: “The history and folklore of Cretan costume” by Ioannis Tsouchlarakis