Mar 24, 2012

Greek Black: Powerful Symbol, Impeccable Style

"When I finished primary school in Distomo I had to go to the Gymnasium in Livadeia. At the time, traveling by bus from Distomo to Livadeia was too long and lasted three hours. When my father and I got off the bus in the morning, I saw 10 girls in colorful skirts. I asked him: '' Why do the girls wear such colors, father?" I had hitherto never seen a woman or a girl NOT wearing black in Distomo, because of the Holocaust in 1944" recalls Thanasis Panourgias, Distomo's mayor today, then only a young child.

The testimony reflects the nightmare of the Holocaust June 10, 1944 in Distomo, where 223 people -including elders, women and children- were massacred by the fourth Constitution of Police SS in retaliation for the losses the Germans had by partisans of the 3rd Constitution of the 34th battalion of ELAS (National Lberation Front).

old lady in Crete

Black was (and still is) synonymous with mourning in Greece. For a very long time, there was always someone in the family mourning for the loss of other members; be it from famine, or war, or hostile acts related losses (the Civil War, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus) ; or some of these combined. The longest time of continuous peace in Greece has been a mere 48 years (since 1974). This is why there are so many little old ladies clad in black attire, all wrinkled up in folklore pictures circulating all over the net; they still mourn family members lost in Nazi atrocities  most  likely.

Manos Katrakis

The tradition in villages was that if you lost your parents it was customary to wear black for at least 40 days (though many opted for a lot longer); if you lost a spouse, habitually for 7 years (or as long as you considered yourself a widow after that); and if you lost a never got out of black, you wore it for life....

papa-Noufrakis (the priest head of Orthodox Mass at the St.Sophia in 1919 in Istanbul)

Black is also the colour of choice for the clergy. From head to toe. Solemn and in accordance to the suffering of the grieving parish. Every parish had their own grievers, you see. 

Cretan attire

Mourning sometimes gets to an almost nationalistic level. The classic Cretan attire is consisting of black shirt (morning for the losses in the Cretan war against the Turks), beige or midnight blue jodhpurs ("vraka", a classic rider's pair of pants), black boots and a black crocheted handrkerchief tied on the forehead (the "sariki"). The tassels on the latter are representing tears for the Greek holocaust at Arcadi monastery.
[I have to say, despite myself, I find the effect very virile-looking.]

Black looks exceptionally good under the intense sun, against the white houses and the blue sea (as does white) or the grey of the rock. This is probably why it ended up defining Greek style. All the other colours gain an added intensity under the sun, sometimes to the point of blinding. You just can't go wrong with black.

Elli Lambeti in A Girl in Black (1956)
dance performance En Attendant
dress by Elena Troulakis
Dress by Elena Troulakis

photos via,,,,,


  1. Anonymous01:58

    Whoa! I never knew that piece of history and/or that that massacre had happened in Greece! That is tragic. Thank you for the history lesson. I always wondered about the black dresses that I see on the elderly women in Greek photographs and even postcards. Now I know.


    1. You're welcome, I guess :-) (Not a pleasant subject, but...)

      There's a long list of Nazi atrocities in Greece if you're interested (link to wiki):
      Nazi atrocities in Greece
      All of them, btw, NEVER given war reparations by the German state (As a gesture of good will at the end of the war on the nation's side there were no demands made, as a favor to our ally, the USA, who also -needs to be said- didn't demand reparations themselves. Later, they were not given, even though there were demands on them and they were officially admitted as war crimes)

      I have been to Kalavryta village ~where every male present from 12 onwards was machine-gunned by a Nazi fire squad (and the women & children locked in the school and set on fire!) and the mass graves memorial is heart-stopping: hundreds of oil-lamps burning inside a crypt...

      In Distomo the Nazi savagery was such that babies were bayonneted in their cribs, pregnant women speared in the belly, elders tortured and shot, children skinned alive. It was truly barbaric.

      It's fascinating to also see how the Nazis treated their Italian "allies" troops at the massacre of Cephallonia. This is the central plot in the Louis de Bernières's novel "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (if you haven't read it, the book is far superior to the -rather nice, if not 100% faithful- film starring Nic Cage and Penelope Cruz).

      You see, this is why there is so much bad blood now that Germany is taking over the fates of Europe again. There are still elders who remember...

      It's a people who have greatly suffered, the Greek people. It's even evident in our language. But that's fodder for another post soon ;-)

  2. Anonymous03:23

    Not pleasant indeed. I don't even have the words to articulate what happened to Greece and others that were victims of the Nazi's. I will look at the link(s).



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