Madras: A Quick History of Creole Fashion

Madras: A Quick History of Creole Fashion

Picture credit: Saint Lucia Tourism Authority

As it is Creole Heritage Month and Jounen Kwéyòl (Creole Day) is fast approaching we thought it would only be appropriate for us to tell you a little bit more about the traditional Creole dress.

The origins of the Creole madras date back to pre-emancipation days when slaves would wear colourful dresses during feast days.  In the late 17th century, slaves were forced to wear the uniform or livery of the estate to which they belonged. This was usually a grey, blue or brown one-piece item made of chambray and was originally worn as a wraparound or sarong.  This later becoming a simple tunic known as a 'trois trous'with holes for the arms and head, and a rope worn around the waist as a belt.

On Sundays and holidays, slaves were able to wear what they wished. Using the money they gained from selling produce from their small plots of land, they were able to buy colourful cloth. On feast days and other special occasions, free women and slaves would dress in the colourful clothes, which is now known as Creole dress.

Made from a design believed to have originated in Southern France, the Wobe Dwiyet is the formal national dress. The Wobe Dwiyet consists of:

  • A full-length outer dress with intricate pleats and a sash from the back of the bodice
  • A long petticoat made of lace, satin or lace trimmed cotton
  • A scarf, called a Foulard worn around the neck and shoulders which is attached to the front with a broach
  • A custom-made headpiece called Tête Casé with a peak at the front called a provocacion.

The Madras named after the fabric it is made from, also called the Jip or Jupe, is the less formal national dress. A traditional five-piece costume, the madras was originally created from the Wobe Dwyiet. The Madras consists of:

  • A white blouse, known in French Creole as a “chemise décolleté” finished with Broderie Anglaise and red ribbons running through its neck and short sleeves tied to a bow
  • A long, ankle length white cotton petticoat bordered with lace and red ribbons
  • A short colourful skirt made from the madras material,
  • A headpiece known as the “Tête en l’air” or “Tèt anlè” also made from madras material, which can be tied in a ceremonial fashion or tied showing different peaks, each representing the romantic availability of the person wearing it: One peak meaning that the woman is single, my heart is free, two meaning that she is married, three meaning that she is divorced or widowed and not available and four meaning that she is available to any who tries.
  • A red triangular scarf (Foulard) which is pinned over the left shoulder

Near the end of the 18th century, the Indian cotton known as ‘muchoir madras’ became popular with Creole women. This material eventually replaced the white head kerchief and Creole women began to use it for their scarfs (Foulards), and skirts (Jupe). This was also when ribbons became a thing of fashion and were added to the lace of the sleeves and neck of the chemise. While it used to be quite long and reach halfway down the calves, the chemise became shorter until they eventually fashioned it as a blouse and ribboned petticoat.

The madras costume is now traditionally worn during national activities such as Independence Day, National Day and Creole Day (Jounen Kwéyòl). It is also worn when dancing the Quadrille (kwadril), a European inherited dance which has been adopted by the country as the national dance of St. Lucia.

So as you can see there is a very interesting history surrounding the Creole dress. Both the Wobe Dwiyet and the Madras have been recognised as symbols of St. Lucia and other Creole countries and are held in high regard because of their historical significance.

This is what has led the Culture Club Shop to launch a brand-new product line!

Culture Club Shop x Creole Collection Launch
With Chef Robbie LIVE on Sunday 30th October @ 3pm

Last Sunday 23rd October the Culture Club Shop launched our Creole Inspired capsule Fashion Collection in celebration of Creole Heritage Month and Jounen Kwéyòl!

This week we want to focus on everything Creole Food & Fashion. On Sunday 30th October we will be hosting an Instagram LIVE with renowned Saint Lucia culinary creator, Chef Robbie!

Chef Robbie will share his thoughts on Creole cooking and how we can continue to enjoy the delights of the amazing tastes that bring our Creole history to the present day.

Join us to discover the secrets of cooking amazing Creole dishes, as we share cooking demonstrations, tips and our favourite Creole foods.

Chef Robbie

Visit our website to get your own Creole inspired fashion and accessories!
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