Italy Ethnography Part I

By | February 16, 2022

The costume. – The traditional costume, which in most of Italy now tends to disappear due to the leveling of the general conditions of life, demonstrates, especially in clothes, the influence of different factors: climatic, religious, political. In various places, tradition traces its shape and other particularities (shape, color, ornaments, etc.), especially as regards women’s clothing, to ecclesiastical propaganda and other religious events. It is said that the women of Gallo, in Campania, wear friar cloth as a result of a vow made by the population when a chasm of fire opened in the middle of the town, threatening to swallow it; the women of S. Giovanni in Fiore, in Calabria, dress in black out of devotion to the great saint of the place, the abbot Joachim. The preaching of S. Bernardino is attributed, in Tuscia, the disappearance of the sumptuous women’s clothes, which were replaced with others of “monachino cloth” vulgarly “borgonzone”. The tradition, in some towns of Calabria and Sardinia, brings back to the hated noble law the use for which women, when leaving the house, fold the back sheet of the skirt over their foreheads.

But independently of these facts, which represent exceptional cases in the ethnographic chart of folk costumes, the choice of color, in the garments, obeys traditional norms, the origin of which is very ancient. According to one of these norms, the color of the brides is red; the color of single women, and especially of young girls, is green or light blue; the color of the widows brown or black. Local customs conform to it, as regards both the substantial part of the dress (petticoat, skirt), and some ornaments (ribbons, bows, braiding, strap, etc.), which stand as distinctive of the three categories.

In much of southern Italy, preferably in some countries of Campania, Lucania, Calabria, unmarried women wear a sky-blue skirt and braiding, and if married, a fire-red skirt and braiding. . Indeed the skirt is part of the gifts that the groom sends to his future wife on the eve of the wedding.

Where the ancient dress has decayed, the idea of ​​badges for single and married women survives. In some places in Trentino the girls tie a green bow to their hair, taking care to replace it with another red one when they get engaged or married. This rule or tradition is confirmed by a great variety of customs in almost all regions. The bride’s badges are, in Piedmont, the red handkerchief around the neck; in Lazio, the red satin mannequins with the jacket; in Campania (Casalvieri and elsewhere) the scarlet cloth; in the Lunigiana (Val di Magra) the red silk net, and so on.

Alongside the red color, which stands out as a gay note in the popular women’s costumes of Val d’Aosta (Gressoney), Irpinia, Lazio, Molise, Terra di Lavoro, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, there are in use by others. In some maritime countries the blue color is preferred (Istrian peasants from Muggia, Calabrians from Reggio, etc.); in others the thriller (Sabine women of a century ago; commoners of Buia, etc.); and in others white. In ancient times this color was the dress of the Friulian bride.

In addition to the color, according to Thefreegeography, the popular women’s dress is characteristic for its shape. The rarely short skirt, in many countries (Sardinia, Sicily, Calabria, Valsugana, Venezia Giulia, etc.) does not end at the waist, but forms a whole with the bodice or bust, and can be bell-shaped or large and small folds ( torches ,  cannellini ,  columns, ece.) and adorned with flaps and flounces. The latter are not without significance, so much so that, in the Val Dora, the social and economic condition of the bride is revealed by the number of scarlet cliffs. The torso, high or low, can be pressed at the hips, or on the chest or behind; taken up on the shoulders, equipped with braces, bib, which sometimes has the shape of a shield or heart; the jacket is small and open on the front; the apron, now square, now oval, now wide and now short, in canvas, silk, velvet or leather. In Sicily the black mantle is characteristic, used for married women. The clothing is completed by shawls, cloths, handkerchiefs, which are worn crossed on the chest or dropped in lace on the back, or knotted at the nape of the neck or under the throat. Noteworthy are the  panels of scarlet that the Ciociare wear in a triangle on their shoulders; the  spinolette  of the women of Grado; the  pezzotti  and the  mezzani  of Liguria; the  tiles  of Lazio; headphones from Piedmont and South Tyrol; hats from Lunigiana, wide-brimmed felt hats from Val d’Aosta; the mitria or tubas or turbans of Scanno; the zendado delle Veneziane.

The men’s dress is in decline more than the women’s one, and only a few vestiges remain of the ancient style of dressing of our commoners. Fundamental items are: the tight knee breeches, the doublet or waistcoat, the tunic, the socks, the locks or the shoes, the pointed cap or the felt hat. The color, the shape, the ornaments of the various garments that make up the dress vary from region to region, and even from country to country. The waistcoat stands out for its lively color, which is often red; the jacket and breeches are black (Istria) or blue (Molise, Lucania, Calabria, Sicily, eec.) or brown (Lunigiana). The Sardinian type is singular: the breeches, gathered at the waist, descend like a fan on the hips; the doublet is vermilion or purple or green; above it stands out a kind of white or black chlamys, mastruca , sleeveless, made of goat or sheep skin or mouflon. The Sardinian headdress, like that of the peasants of Southern Italy and Sicily, consists of a long black or blue cap. In Calabria once upon a time, and yet there are examples of it, the hard felt hat was used in the peasant class, adorned with straps falling on the shoulder, known by the name of  cervune  for its conical shape. In the Valsugana and other districts of the Alps, the mountaineers wear a pheasant feather on their hat.

Italy Ethnography 1