Costumes

Costume is important in both Jamaican and St Lucian Quadrilles. There are differences in the details of costume between islands and regions, but common characteristics are:

  • Basis of the women’s outfits on 19th Century dress.
  • Use of Madras cotton in its range of colourful plaid prints.

Jamaica

Contemporary Quadrille groups tend to wear the Jamaican national dress for performances and presentations.

For women this consists of a light white crinoline and white blouse with an over skirt and headdress (the bandana) in Madras cotton – usually traditional plaid or in a combination of the Jamaican flag colours.

The men’s costume consists of a white shirt and black trousers with a waistcoat and foulardor cravat in colours matching the women’s costume.

St Lucia

When Quadrille is performed there are a number of different costumes worn dependent on the occasion.

The most usual for men would be a white shirt with black trousers and a red sash. Men may also wear bow ties, and waistcoats or cummerbunds made from the same material as the women’s skirts. For more informal occasions, they may wear tropical print shirts.

Women wear: a two to three layer white petticoat; an over skirt in Madras cotton (cut into a rectangular or handkerchief pattern and normally shorter than the petticoat); a white blouse; a sash on the left shoulder; and a headdress in the same fabric as the over skirt, called the Tête en l’air.

Madras

Slaves received an allowance of cotton for clothing. This camefrom the Madras area of India.

Beginning in the 16th century, the British owned East India Company turned Madras into one of its major cities of commerce, trading in such items as: cotton, dyes, and spices. In 1707, Scottish immigration to India began. By 1717, almost half of the East India Company’s workers were Scottish and, by the 19th Century, there was a thriving Scottish community. Its influence extended to the patterns of Madras prints, which resembled the plaids of Scottish tartan.

The Tête en l’air

The literal translation of tête en l’air is head in the air.

It is a headdress made of Madras cotton and tied in peaks at the top. It can be tied in different ways and tradition says that the number of peaks in the headdress signifies a woman’s marital status and availability for a romantic relationship.

St Lucia was a French colony and, as such, Roman Catholicism was its official religion. Slaves were baptised and allowed to marry. However, because of fear of uprisings, communication between slaves was severely restricted.As a result, enslaved women invented methods of non-verbal communication to announce whether they could be approached for courtship and marriage.

A headdress with one peak indicates that a woman is single. Two peaks mean that she is married. Three peaks indicate a widow. Four peaks mean that a woman is available and will accept anyone if propositioned.