Greek Kilt Dancing Costumes

Figure 1.--Greek dance groups often use the kilt or foustanea as part of the costuming for male dancers.

A kilt like costume was worn mainly in the central and southern regions of Greece. The costume derives its name from the pleated white skirt (foustanela) made of many triangular shaped pieces of cloth sewn together diagonally. The foustanela was worn by the Greek fighters of the 1821 revolution and today it serves as the official uniform of the Evzones, Greece’s Presidential Guard, who can be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. The foustanela skirt consists of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. The remainder of the costume is composed of a white shirt with very wide flowing sleeves, an embroidered woolen vest, a sash worn around the waist, and shoes (tsarouhia) with large pompons.


Greek dance (horos) is an ancient tradition. And unlike many modern folk dance traditiions, there are written records datin back to ancient times. The Greek greats referred to it, including authors including as Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Lucian, and others. There are endless styles and variations variations from all the different styles and interpretations from all of the islands and surrounding mainland areas. Each region developed its own choreography and style to fit in with their own outlook and lifestyle. There was cross influences, but there was much less mobility in the anciuent world then is the case today. Dance exrpets report that island dances have a distinct smooth flow to them. To the north, the Pontic Gtrreeks developedv different styles. They lived in the Pontus, along the Black Sea coast on the shores of the Black Sea and in the Pontic Mountains in northeastern Anatolia. As the Ottomans pressed in on them, they moved east in anatolia or to Black Sea areas beyond Ottoman control (Russian Kars Oblast in the Transcaucasus and to Georgia. This occured in different waves (15th -early-19th century). Pontic dancing according to the experts is sharper. The variations are incredible. One expert suggests something like 10,ooo duistinct dances from all the different regions. There are also today pan-Hellenic dances, which have been recognized and adopted adopted throughout the Greek world. Some of the most popular are syrtos, kalamatianos, pyrrhichios, hasapiko and sirtaki.

Social Function

From ancient times, dance in Greece has had a social function. It served to bring the community togethe at important times of the year. This included both religious celelebrations and economic points--meaning seasonal agricultural times. Like most ancience civiizatiins, agricukltural was the rimary underpinning of the economy. Particularly important were Easter, the grape harvest, and patronal festivals. There were also family celevratiios, especially weddings. Tradition over time often mandated a defenite arrangement of the dancers. This often involved age. Greek dances are also performed in diaspora Greek community events and by international folk dance groups.

The Foustanela

The Foustanela costume was established by King Otto, the first modern Greek King. King Otto was actually a Bavarian. The Foustanela was created as the formal court dress in the middle of the 19th century. King Otto was drspatched back to Bavaria, but the Foustanela prevailed in the urban centers of Moreas (Peloponnese) and Roumeli (Central Greece). This dress was originally the military outfit of the Greek chieftains. The costume was soon modified by the men for holidays and other festive occasions. The outfit that is shown here has two jackets, the inner waist coat, the yileki, and a second sleeved short jacket, the fenneli, with the sleeves falling freely over the back. The material that was used for this version is wool. The embroidery is made of spun wool and the belt is of a fine leather work.

Figure 2.--This American boy wears the foustanea folk kilt costume for the annual Greek Day parade in New York held to celebrate independence from the Turks.


The Foustanela has changed in the meaning of detailed work, the length of the fousta, and, sometimes, the number of jackets worn. The sleeves have become decorative, resembling wings without the function of sleeves. After all the changes, it has become the standard Pan-Hellenic male costume used to the modern times.

National Symbol

After the liberation of Greece in the first quarter of the 19th century, all male costumes in the Peloponnese took the form of the foustanela. Extremely popular, this costume is now one of the world's most well-known traditional garment. Like the Scottish kilt, ot has become a symbol of Greek national identity.

Costume Elements

The Greek dancing costumes can vary from region to region. The most common elements are: white cotton shirt, foustanela (white cotton pleated skirt/kilt), boudouri (white underpants), long knitted white leggings (secured by gonatoures/garters tied below the knee, embroidered coat, fesi (cap), and tsarouchia (shoes) with pompons.

Folk Costuming

Most Greeks wear Western clothing, although traditional clothing continues to be worn in some rural areas, especially for folk events. There are two types of traditional clothing for men: on the mainland men wear a foustanela (skirt), while a type of baggy trousers called a vraka is worn on the Aegean Islands and Crete. The traditional Grecian costumes are the male's "foustanela" and the female's "amalia." They are beautifully handmade embellished with detailed needlework. The costumes consist of white blouses, vests, skirts, and even special shoes.

Personal Experiences

I was around eight or nine years old when I wore the Evzones costume or foustanela at our Greek Independence day celebration. It amounted to a short white pleated kilt. I wore white cotton tights with it. I wasn't too keen about the idea. However, there were a good number of boys my age and older also in the Evzone kilts, so I went along with it. Anyway my mother would have insisted on it even if I had objected. This was the only time I wore an Evzone costume. There were many boys and young adults wearing this costume. The young men were tall and masculine and in the Greek traditions were fighters. Just like the Scots, you didn't want to mess with them. I had to to give a poem about the days when the Greeks were subjugated by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. It was about the light of the moon showing me the path to go to Greek school. Apparently, the Turks prohibited the schooling of children in Greek and their culture. The schooling was done in the evening and Greece is very mountanous and the pathways were not a paved road. I can remember the first verse, in literal translation it said: "Oh moon oh moon, show me the pathway to school". I had to say this on a stage in front of several hundred in the auditorium. Actually that was what I was most concerned about. I was more worried about forgetting my poem which I had to say in Greek. Also, I was thinking about that big audience. There were Greek dances, both ring and couples. The best part the celebration was the food and deserts after the program. There were some great cooks, or better yet master chefs that knew their trade. That I always can remember. The only displeasure I had about wearing the foustanela was when we parked the car and had to walk about a block to the auditorium; however, I saw other older boys and young men walking in the same direction, so I was in good company.


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Cewated: November 9, 1998
Last updated: 8:21 PM 3/5/2019