dressing for life: the story of sardinian women who only ever wear one garment

The dresses are handmade in adolescence, and altered over a lifetime to serves as a secret code marking births, marriages and deaths.

by Wendy Syfret
10 February 2017, 12:11am

For a lot of us, keeping an item of clothing around for a decade renders it a relic, more suited for a glass cabinet than our wardrobe. But for a handful of women living in the most isolated villages in central Sardinia, a dress lasts a lifetime. In her short film Desula, filmmaker Andrea Pecora explores how for these individuals, the traditional garments they made for themselves as teenagers are worn for the rest of their lives.

The handmade dresses are reversible: the plain side is worn facing out for everyday, and the decorated reverse side is worn for special occasions. Speaking to National Geographic, who featured the film, the director explained the dresses serve as a form of social code: "The baby girls, in their first days of life, already wear the costume. Growing older, of course, they change it, but somehow it is always the same dress in the sense [that] the code embroideries are permanent."

Over their lives, the garments are altered to represent different stages, "It's more red and beautiful when they get married, darker red when bad things happen to them—the loss of a child, for example—and black if they become a widow." In case you were wondering, she did note that some women may have a second working dress to be worn when washing the main item of clothing, that's never seen by anyone else. Maybe keep that in mind the next time you feel like you don't have anything to wear. 


Text Wendy Syfret

national geographic
film maker
andrea pecora