Women wearing the traditional ghonella in Gozo circa 1950.

Women wearing the traditional ghonella in Gozo circa 1950.

As recently as 50 years ago in Malta and Gozo, one could still occasionally see the odd woman or two wearing the “Ghonella” sometimes also called the “Faldetta”. They were mainly elderly spinsters and members of an ultra-religious Christian sect known as “Il-Muzew” with male members being forbidden to wear neckties (seen as a vanity) and forbidden to smoke and drink alcohol (corporal vices).

The elegant form of the ghonella-faldetta.

The elegant form of the ghonella-faldetta.

However, the “Ghonella” had deeper aspirations going back to the time of the Knights (15/16/17th centuries) when it was coyly and decorously worn by noble and rich women as a sign of modesty at a time when female dress code required that every part of the body should be covered and only the face could be seen and this too was normally covered by a large hand-held fan.

Malta and Gozo girlie disco wear today.

Malta and Gozo girlie disco wear today.

In time the “Ghonella” was relegated to the common streets where it was converted to being totally black and resembled a mix of the Islamic “Burka” and the “Niqab” and was mainly worn by virgins and spinsters.

Strictly covered 70 years ago.

Strictly covered 70 years ago.

However, there was still the Victorian-style dress code for other women specifying that all bodily parts should be covered and that included men who wore a horrific full-length woollen bathing costume at the seaside that covered back, chest, trunk and everything else.

Welcome to disco wear 2016.

Welcome to disco wear 2016.

By the 1960s and 70s times however began to change, largely influenced by external factors but mostly Italian television and the often outrageous exhibitionism of Italian singers and stars. The change was gradual at first but gathering pace. Up to the mid-70s there was still extremely strict censorship of films and printed material. Because of Malta’s ties with Britain and the improvement of air travel, British newspapers became available in Malta on a same-day basis.

The 'faldetta', another name for 'ghonella'.

The ‘faldetta’, another name for ‘ghonella’.

The bikini was banned in the islands and a fleet of censors were kept busy 24/7 inking over each and every copy of newspapers like “The Daily Mirror”, “The News of the World” and later “The Sun” to cover pictures of bikini girlies. I distinctly remember one occasion in the late 60s when I wrote an irate letter to the Maltese PM because the censors had even inked over pictures of classic nude paintings in a (London) “Sunday Times” colour supplement.

Party time.

Party time.

At the back of all this staid and stunted “morality” were the Church authorities holding a great influence over the Government. This was finally broken in the early 70s with a change of party in Government, an altogether far more radical and left wing organisation and slowly but surely the facade began to crumble.

It's Saturday night.

It’s Saturday night.

An even greater blow to Church “morality” continued to be television, particularly Italian channels with female presenters not known for dress prudence and with programmes replete with sexy themes. Today of course it’s the internet and the multi social media available on it.

 Strictly othordox and above board!

Strictly othordox and above board!

The odd mini-skirt had already made its appearance in the mid-60s, but from the mid-70s onwards all traces of an orthodox dress code completely vanished. This too coincided with the development of the Paceville disco area and an increased proliferation of drinking holes – so different from two decades previously when a woman entering a public bar was classed as being “common” or a “prostitute”, and those labels applied to women smoking in public.

Binge drinking has become commonplace.

Binge drinking has become commonplace.

Hemlines and necklines plunged. Skimpy tank tops and even skimpier skirts and shorts ruled the day. Gradually, tattoos took the islands by storm. Visitors have often remarked to me how “astonished” they are to see Maltese female teenagers so “outrageously” attired. Discos are certainly not a place for middle-aged or elderly men with a dodgy heart!

The classic form of ghonella.

The classic form of ghonella.

If you want to invest in a profitable business in Malta and Gozo (to run on lucrative parallels with undertaking), open a fashion shop, or a hairdresser, a model agency, or a nail bar, or cosmetic massage parlour, or a tattoo parlour and start importing anti-wrinkle creams, breast enhancements and all the rest of the trimmings. You are assured profitable, ongoing trading.

 

The weather too has a lot to do with the conditioning that rules clothing. The hotter the weather the more necklines and hemlines plunge. That’s why I just love and always have, loved summer.

 

 

ALBERT FENECH

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.