The two dresses considered as national wear in Saint Lucia are the ‘Wob Dwiyet’ and the National Dress (also known as the Madras or Jip). Both possess colour and elegance.
The National Dress derives from the Wob Dwiyet, a grand, full dress that African slaves made, inspired by what their female plantation owners wore: la robe douillete.
Our National Dress consists of usually a white blouse – chimiz decolté (French chemise décolleté meaning a low-necked shirt) – and three layers of skirting. Notable features are red ribbon threaded into the lace hem of the undermost skirt – jip (French: la jupe) – and sometimes into the lace collar and sleeves of the blouse; and the bright, plaid fabric from which the topmost skirt is made, called Madras.
The National Dress is topped off with an elaborate headpiece. A large square of Madras fabric is craftily folded and starched to create ‘peaks’. The number of peaks represents the woman’s romantic availability: one means the lady is single, two represents married status, three denotes a widow or divorcee and four indicates, “I accept everyone who tries!”
Finally, the National Dress has a triangular scarf of satin fabric. It sits on the left shoulder, so that the apex falls over the left elbow, with the other corners tucked beneath the skirt’s waistline.
The costume is usually worn with a hairstyle of two low buns, or “pepper seeds” – multiple small buns all over the head held by hairpins – and red lipstick and black shoes.
Men do not dress as extravagantly as the ladies but they take pride in sporting national wear of black trousers and a white shirt. The outfit is accessorized with a piece of Madras or red cloth either as a belt, tie, sash or waistcoat. Black shoes complete the look.
The National Dress and matching male ensemble is the formal attire for quadrille dance performances.