FROM GĦONNELLA TO HOTPANTS

What would our ancestors say about the way we dress today?

Back when I was child and I still lived in Scotland, my mother would always make it a point to tell me stories about Malta and its history. She would explain the importance of the Great Siege of 1565, how Malta was considered to be ‘the nurse of the Mediterranean’ during WWI, and how her grandmother used to wear the għonnella – or as some people may refer to it, the faldetta.

Since then, traditional Maltese clothes have always fascinated me, particularly the ones worn by the general population rather than the nobility. The first thing that always hits me when looking at photos and drawings from the past, it’s easy for us to think of our ancestors’ clothing as costumes.

Seriously, what were they thinking when they designed the għonnella? It looks absolutely bizarre. And why would men wear a colourful beanie-like hat made out of wool? Or the terħa – a girdle/belt?

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Here’s the thing. They were designed to be practical!

Take the għonnella, for example. Its sail-like structure helped capture the breeze during Malta’s unforgiving summers. Its design also allowed for it to fit closer to the wearer should they want it to, providing more warmth in the winter. It was actually a genial invention and garment. Plus, can you imagine how exotic our streets must have looked with women billowing in them?

And that weird-shaped hat that hung down the back of our forefathers’ heads? That was for warmth in the winter. It’s easy to forget that just 100 years ago, many people didn’t have electricity or gas heaters. Their bedding was also quite Spartan – no goose-feather duvets or electric blankets. And can you imagine working in the field in the midst of winter?

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Most of these things went out of fashion after the war, however – a time of unprecedented change for the Maltese, with greater influence from the outside world, independence and the advent of television and other technology.

That has slowly shifted us to today’s fashions, and while you may still spot a nanna wearing a scarf over her head, most women wouldn’t dream of wearing one nowadays. And that’s not all; better pay and a decline in the church’s influence has also got us to wear bolder outfits.

Would our ancestors approve of them? Hardly, but they’d have probably worn the same thing if they lived in this day and age!

 

Which fashions do you prefer? Today’s or those of yesteryear?

Let us know in the comments section below!

 

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