The fustanella. What is it? And why it isn’t a Kilt

Foreword: I decided to tackle this subject because of one YouTube comment, which read: ‘Are the Scottish and Albanian people related? They share the Kilt and the pipe. And the name “Albannach”

Really?

Okay, I’ll be as brief as I can here; the term Albannach, is the name for a Scotsman in Scottish Gaelic, a language that pre-dates the country of Albania by around 1500 years, give or take when you recognize the region that would become Albania as emerging out of the Roman empire, the ottoman empire, the establishment of the Principality of Arbëror in the 1100’s, or their independence in 1912.


The name Albania is the Latin name for the country, applied sometime in the medieval period.


Alba, the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland, which lends itself to the name Albannach (Scottish/Scotsman), is older than the established Kingdom of Scotland by about 500 years. So no, Scotland and Albania are nothing alike, culturally or otherwise, simply for having similar sounding names, whose etymologies share absolutely no root word, or linguistic correlation with one another.


As for the pipes, Scotland didn’t invent them. Current evidence suggests that the Romans did, yet these were primitive single chanter/double chanter instruments devoid of tartan. The Great Highland Bagpipe is the Scottish variation of the instrument, and is somewhat recognizable for its radical design, of which, originated solely in Scotland.


Side note: Scotland is over 2000 mi away from Albania, and with the English channel separating the landmass of Britain and Europe by anywhere from 150 mi, to 20 mi. There aint no math to be done here folks. And as sure as I’ am that Albania’s a wonderful country, Scotland has nothing to do with it, whatsoever.

map

A brief history of the fustanella

Now, there a few scholars who say the fustanella is derived from the ancient Greek garment called a chiton, and if anyone reading this has read any of my other Defending-the-kilt type posts, you will know what’s coming next…that’s right, it’s a type of belted tunic…whodafunkit!

chiton

Moving on, the fustanella itself is understood by many, though not all agree, to have originally been an Albanian costume, introduced into Greek territories sometime around the Ottoman period; the outfit originating in the Toskeria region of southern Albania. The Fustanella was an outfit well-suited for use in mountain warfare, which was why it was worn by some of the indigenous soldiers of the Ottoman period, and also by the akritai of the earlier Byzantine era. Then, In the middle of the 19th century, Albanian guerilla’s abandoned their Turkish pants, to instead wear an outfit similar to the fustanella; the skirts of which, hung below the knees, with the hem gathered tight with garters, whilst tucked into the boots, creating somewhat of a bloused effect. Eventually, the garment was shortened into a kind of billowy, shorts-like skirt. This is the outfit worn by the modern Greek Presidential Guard; seen here:

greek-presidential-guard-officer-athens

For comparison, here is the Great Plaid, and the Kilt:

scottish

The ignorant observations of the privileged Englishman

So, where does the misinformed correlation between the fustanella, and the Kilt stem from? Well, for me, it’s fairly simple; the English (Of course it is) Now, let me explain.

An English traveler, by the name of, John Cam Hobhouse, wrote that ‘the Albanian speakers wore the Kamisa shirt and kilt, while Greek speakers wore woollen brogues‘ Other British, gentleman, travellers within the same region, such as Lord Byron, were enraptured by the Albanian garment, and described it as “the most magnificent in the world, consisting of long, white kilt, gold-worked cloak, crimson velvet gold laced jacket and waist-coat, silver mounted pistols and daggers

So, what we have here, is some toffee-nosed Englishmen who haven’t taken the time to research what it is the natives are actually wearing, and so simply refer to the garments as ‘Kilts‘ because that is their point of reference when confronted by men in skirts. What the natives were actually wearing, was a form of the, you guessed it, fustanella; not the Kilt. It’s as simple as that.

Why isn’t it a Kilt?

Well, one of the major arguments put forward by the casual observer to the contrary, refers to the fustanella’s pleats, and how they are the same as those found on a Kilt. Now both outfits are skirt-like, and yes, they do share pleating, yet remember, the progenitor of the Kilt, is the Great Plaid, which occasionally had pleating, which was then carried over to the modern Kilt; the keyword here is Modern (No one claims the modern Kilt is ancient); and I don’t think it’s all that much of a stretch to say that when the Great Plaid became the Kilt, the pleats were simply made uniform due to the warmth giving practicality of layered fabric; and out of a sense of Victorian uniformity.

Besides, the pleats are redundant in any argument, as children’s dresses have pleats, and so does that mean that little girls have ownership of the Kilt? Did they create it? Catholic Clergymen have pleats in their Choir rochet, hell, even an armchair can have pleats, so does that mean upholsters have ownership of the Kilt? Do armchairs? Don’t be fucking ridiculous. Anyway, so what if the fustanella has pleats, pleats aren’t owned by any one culture, and it stands to reason that many countries would have used some form of pleating in their clothing, as it’s good for layering up fabric so as to keep warm; its practical; common sense. By these peoples logic, the one descendant of the caveman who first discovered fire is now entitled to all the matches in the world…

Now, you could make the argument that trousers are trousers, and skirts are skirts, and so the Kilt is just another version of the concept of a ‘fustanella‘ Well, let me explain the differences, and why this is not the case.

Conclusion

The fustanella is not a Kilt, but a pleated skirt of wildly varying length that is sometimes tucked into the hem of a pair of breeches or boots; of a single colour, usually white or cream; and often, in modern times, worn above the knees like a mini skirt; especially by the Greek military who adopted their standardized version of the outfit sometime in the 1800-1900’s. Historically, it has even been worn above leggings, breeches, and trousers as a kind of light-weight, fabric fauld (Pelvis, hip and upper thigh armor) further separating it from the Kilt of Scotland, which is worn singularly with nothing beneath, or above. It is standardized; a Kilt is a Kilt, whereas the fustanella as a garment has no official, nor traditional set of rules by which it has to be worn.

That is the difference between a Kilt, and the fustanella. The Kilt is a Kilt; the fustanella can be worn any which way; long, short; with or without trousers; tucked into shoes; as part of a tunic arrangement; but never, ever, ever, on its own, otherwise it’s just a frilly white skirt.

But do you know what outfit can be worn on its own, and still be the same outfit? You guessed it, the Kilt; which is a standardized outfit whose origins are Scottish. The fustanella on the other hand, is a garment of many faces, and could be Greek, Baltic, Albanian, or even Turkish in origin. Seriously though, really? Does this actually look like a Kilt?

not-a-kilt

But what I don’t understand is why they don’t just call it what it is, and there are many names to choose from, for example; Aromanian: fustanelã, fustã, fustanã. Italian: fustanella. Romanian: fustanelă. Macedonian: fustan (фустан ) Whilst Scotland’s national dress already has a name: Scottish Gaelic; filleadh beag (Small Kilt) or, simply, the Kilt.

After all, you wouldn’t call an Aston Martin, a Yugo GV, even though they both have four wheels and an engine.

Cinead MacAlpin.

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Author: dioghaltas

Alba An Aigh, Soar Alba, Alba gu Brath. Wha sae base, as be a slave; let him turn an flee.