Ancient Hellenic and Byzantine Greek clothing were light and loose, made from linen or wool. Fabrics were arranged in supple folds and pleats, with excess fabric folded over the top and held with decorative pins, later replaced by brooches. Soldiers from the Greek War of Independence wore a similarly styled tunic underneath their leather and metal armour. Origins of modern traditional folkloric and military costume can be traced back to the sixth century B.C.
The white pleated kilt or “foustanella” which reaches to the knees is based upon the “chiton,” a loosefitting draped tunic of Ancient Greece that was girdled at the waist.
Pavlos Melas was a Hellenic Army general who fought for the freedom of Macedonia, the northernmost region in Greece, against the Ottoman Empire.
The uniform worn by these Greek fighters became known as “Pavlos Melas” in honour of their general. The traditional Pavlos Melas uniform has gone through only a few minor modifications in its detail and length since its introduction.
The Evzones, Greece’s Presidential Guard, have worn both the foustanella and the red fez or “fesi” since 1837 as part of their traditional customs.
The garments are worn in the Balkans, mainly in the northern region of Greece of Macedonia but also found on the mainland and central Greece from the distant north of Romania into the east, Syria.
The 400 pleats symbolise the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule, while the red fez is a remnant of the Turkish occupation. King Otto of Greece established the garb as the formal court attire in the middle of the 19th century.
The geometrically embroidered woollen vest or “fermeli” closes in the front and is made up of panels in blue, black or maroon that hang from the back. Underneath, a white shirt with wide flowing sleeves is worn with a sash that wraps around the waist. Legs are swathed in white leg coverings, similar to stockings, called “kaltses,” which are held in place with leg garters. The men wear shoes known as “tsarouhia,” decorated with pompons. On top of the head sits the red fez, adorned with a black tassel that hangs from the crown.
Today, folk dancers don the traditional Pavlos Melas costume when performing, to express not only national pride but historical importance when the dance recounts historical events. The maroon colour of the vest is worn by the Captain of the Guard. The Pavlos Melas is also the official modern military dress uniform of the Evzones. Every Sunday, on special occasions and at other national events, they wear this traditional uniform while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens.