My husband Rosemond is always ready to take part in local events. He helped run the island's volleyball league for at least 10 years, he marches in the carnival parade, helps organize our annual film festival, and has been a member of many non-profit associations. His most recent exploit was taking part in a little fashion show of traditional Saint Barth clothing, organized by ASCCO (a local sports and cultural organization) as part of this month’s Swedish Week festivities. Rosemond played two roles: a chic man in town (as compared to a rustic man from the countryside) and the father of a bride at a wedding. I knew what he should wear for each role as I had just translated the text written by librarian Angèle Gréaux, president of ASCCO, describing the clothing. He needed a good hat, so we went into Gustavia and picked up a new Panama hat at Le Comptoir in the Carré D’Or. Then we bleached his white shirt (for the wedding role) and he borrowed a black sport coat from his father. With a blue striped shirt for the chic man, and a pair of black trousers and black loafers, he was ready to go. The women’s clothes are an interesting glimpse into the island’s past: long dresses with aprons and pleated white bonnets, or blue cotton dresses and straw hats. The long dresses and bonnets are the same kind of clothes the women of St Barth wore for generations, and there is still a very traditional great-grandmother in Corossol who still dresses that way. Eventually the bonnets gave way to straw hats, made from palm fronds on the island. Once again in Corossol, the older ladies still make these charming hats, and at one time, the men of St Barth took these hats to other islands as one of the few items the island had to sell, along with salt. Anyone who has visited the salt flats in Saline can easily see how hard it is to chip away the salt. But for many years, the men and women of St Barth worked in the flats, starting early in the morning to beat the hot sun. The outfit in the fashion show that shows how a woman would dress for this difficult task includes fabric bags that cover her arms and legs to protect from the burning of the salt and sun. Looking at the young women of St Barth today, you’d be hard pressed to pick a “local” from her Parisian counterparts. Over the past four decades, as the island opened up to the outside world and fashion boutiques populated the island, the women turned away from their generations-old traditions and stopped dressing like their mothers and grandmothers. But it’s fun to see them wear the traditional garb for special occasions, like this little fashion show, and other island holidays. Not that anyone expects them to dress like this for real anymore, but it’s a nice reminder of what life was once like on the island of Saint Barth, when getting a new straw hat was a special occasion.
More to come,