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Euromed - Costumes of the Mediterranean

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About Euromed - Costumes of the Mediterranean

The sun’s rays, blazing the heat and light of the meridian, mark out a land of a nities in the southern half of Portugal. The Alentejo and Algarve regions are part of this realm of intense light, bright colours, broad horizons and high temperatures for most of the year. By the sea as well as further inland. The sensory opulence exuded by these surroundings is not, however, enough to hide the memory of the hard work of the people of this land. The idea of toiling from sunrise to sundown had an unusual semantic precision in these parts.

That’s what the Alentejan harvesters would have told you, their harsh routine made all the more intense for a large part of the year by the persistently high temperatures. Protection from the cruel sun therefore became a fundamental concern among these indomitable women absorbed in their duties. Their heads were covered with a hat in the ‘Braga’ style, with a wide, upturned brim and a cheerful ribbon and posies of owers or ears of corn, worn on top of a patterned cotton cloth, crossed under the chin. The thickly woven blouse was protected by a shawl. During the harvest, skirts were pulled up to the knees, tied around the legs with cords or pins, making them into shorts that made it easier to work. They wore tall calfskin boots, but also leather shoes.

This footwear was not so di erent from that worn by the men whose job it was to guard the cattle on the wide plains. The boots of Alentejan herders were covered by leather gaiters. Combined with chaps, made of the same material or sheepskin, on their legs, and calfskins over their torso, they had the necessary protection against the extremes of the climate, both in summer and winter. This was the camou age under which they wore thick trousers and pleated shirts. Their heads were protected by felt hats with wide brims. A cane and blanket were essential accessories for long days roaming the countryside.

Also subjected to the torments of the burning sun, intensi ed by the glow re ected in the raw material they were gathering, the salt collectors of the Algarve dressed in a way that would protect their bodies from the combined aggression of the sun, the salt and the luminosity emanating from it. This was good reason for them to cover their heads and faces with a bioco, a kind of hooded cloak aimed at shielding the face, leaving only a small gap for the eyes. On top of this they would wear a hat, on which they carried heavy esparto grass baskets containing the salt. With a light-coloured blouse, these workers’ out ts were distinctive for the way they arranged their skirts, rolling them up to their knees to facilitate their movements. Their hands were protected by old stockings turned into gloves, but they went barefoot.

This custom was replicated by many of the shermen of the region, combined with the habit of rolling up their trousers. A checked annel shirt and bright colours were the norm. Cap and neckerchief completed the out t. Those who went to the high seas and stayed there for long periods had other footwear requirements. Boots had to be sturdy, be tting the robust clothing prepared for maritime exertions: shirt, coat and trousers of wool or annel, often worn under an oilskin, and on the head, a hat of the same material, the sou’wester.

Samuel Alemão