Greek Costume Stamps

In 2007, I got to go to Athens (the real one in Greece — we have one in Texas too but it’s not quite as famous) on very short notice.  Usually when I get to go along on one of my husband’s business trips, we only stay somewhere for 3 days, but this time we got to stay almost a week.  I didn’t have time to do any research before we left, so we just wandered around, hitting all the usual tourist activities.

Soldiers parading in traditional dress.

Soldiers parading in traditional dress.

(I also didn’t have time to learn any Greek, and that made at least one shopkeeper angry, so I am sad to say that I gave support to the stereotype of the ugly American*.  But I did learn to say “efkharisto” [“thank you”] very quickly. **)

In the flea market of Monastiraki, I bought myself a little album of stamps as a souvenir.  I don’t collect stamps but the pages looked like little patchwork quilts and I thought I would use them for inspiration.

Just lately I looked at it again, and realized that there was a set of stamps showing regional costumes!

Stamps from the early 1970s, showing regional costumes.

Stamps from the early 1970s, showing regional costumes.

Here are some of my favorites:


This looks like white and red embroidery on black cloth.

I would love to know if this shows embroidery or weaving.

The apron looks like weft-faced weaving to me.

My favorite -- she is drop spinning!

My favorite — she is drop spinning!

Now if you just have to have a set of these for yourself, there are several for sale on the usual auction sites, going for a grand amount of a euro for the whole set!

I have always been more into household textiles like rugs, blankets, and towels, than into traditional costumes.  I always assumed that the different styles just evolved from the Middle Ages onward, but according to the book Rural Costume, that is not so.

Although there had been for some time a few distinctive regional dresses, or features, such as the head-dresses of the Basques, the costume of the North Holland people and their cousins, the Amager folk of Denmark… the costumes which could be assigned to one particular village or religion or status did not blossom into their full glory before the middle or even the last quarter of the eighteenth century.  Only then were the better-off peasants in a position to indulge in “infinite variety” and richness of design and materials, though this was mostly apparent in the gala dresses for Sundays and feast days.

Complete freedom from tied service to landlords, the buying of their own farms, and the abolition of sumptuary laws were… the causes of these changes; the people were then left to buy as their pockets, taste and village fashion dictated.  When a costume was regional, what you might wear and how you might wear your dress and its details was more or less rigid.  Nevertheless, new details were introduced by young men and girls…But the basic garments remained unchanged.

To be fair, this book is from 1970, so new research could have been done since then, and it does not include Greece, so maybe things were different there.  But it does seem to fit in with lots of textile history books that I’ve read, that point out that it took exploration, trade, and the Industrial Revolution, for people to be able to accumulate enough extra stuff that they could be expressive with it.

Now what I wish I had bought were the vintage linen sheets I saw, with beautiful red embroidery.  If I ever go back, I will look for them!

*In my defense, I do speak pretty good Spanish, and some French and German.  I did not know how to say that in Greek though, so the shopkeeper just had to draw her own conclusions.

** In the Lonely Planet phrasebook I bought, how to say “thank you” does not come up until page 74!  Following such phrases as “Can I stay at your place?” “Where can we hire an uncrewed boat?” and “I should never have let you near me!”  Maybe that is why those Lonely Planet people are lonely.