Name and description of item or character

This is the National Costume of Turks and Caicos.

The Turks and Caicos national costume is a fairly new one in the panoply of national costumes with its debut being made on the 1st June 2002. For the female the costume consists of a full shirted white dress with wide gathered and elasticated neckline, puff sleeves and finishes with a colourful sash that ties at the waist and a wide brimmed straw hat. On each sleeve there is a band of four colours and at the hem of the dress there is a band of another four colours.

For the men a loose short sleeved white shirt is worn which buttons down the front. On the right sleeve are the band of four colours which appear on the sleeves of the female costume, on the left sleeve are the band of four colour which appear on the hem of the females dress. Accompanying his ensemble is a pair of loose white trousers which are usually worn rolled up to the knee and a straw hat with a colour band around it.

The straw hats must be worn with the costumes as they are very much a part of the finished piece and there are strict rules about the order of the colours on the sleeves and hem of the male and female costume.

Event/ occasion item is worn

This costume is worn at national events and festivities.

Origin of item

The development of this costume came from the styles of clothing worn by past inhabitants and enslaved Africans. A quote from the creators about this costume states:

The National Dress of the Turks & Caicos Islands symbolizes the humble, hard-working life of our ancestors, who raked the salt ponds, toiled in the fields on the various plantations, and fished the oceans and harvested conch and sponges on our many islands. Its rainbow of colours boldly highlights our natural beauty and symbolizes the unique characteristics of each of our many islands. It should be worn with pride and dignity, as a statement of our love and respect for this wonderful country, not only by Belongers but by all who call the Turks & Caicos Islands home.

Designed by

The idea for this costume came from David Bowen, the current (2012) Director of Culture for the Turks and Caicos Islands. In addition to Mr Bowen; Valerie Forbin, Stanley Astwood, Brian Riggs, Nigel Sadler and Jackie Mulligan all made significant contributions to the costume inception.

Meaning behind design

On the national costume there are eight distinct colours. Each colour on the sleeves and the hem of this is representative of one or a few of the islands and cays and the symbols of national identity.

RED, the colour of the fruit found on the national plant, the Turks Head Cactus was chosen to represent the nation’s capital, Grand Turk as there was once an abundance of this cactus found on this island.

WHITE was chosen to represent Salt Cay. The colour symbolises the salt and the salt industry which was largely responsible for populating the islands of Salt Cay, Grand Turk and South Caicos.

ORANGE was chosen to represent South and East Caicos. The colour symbolises the Spiny Lobster and fish and reflects the fishing industry in the “Big South.”

TAN was chosen to represent Middle Caicos. The colour is taken from the raw material (thatch) that once covered the roofs of the houses. It is also used to make straw hats, baskets and brooms. Middle Caicos is known for the superior quality of native craftwork.

GREEN was chosen to represent North Caicos and Parrot Cay. The colour symbolises the fruit trees and other types of trees that flourish in these the most fertile of all the islands.

TURQUOISE was chosen to represent the islands of Providenciales, Pine Cay and West Caicos. The colour is reminiscent of the beautiful turquoise waters that surround the islands on which the famous Caicos fishing sloops sail.

PINK was chosen to represent the beautiful conch shell, flamingos and the numerous uninhabited cays that make up the chain of islands.

YELLOW represents the nearly unbroken 365 days of sun shining down on all the islands and cays.

It is very important for the true representation of this costume that the colours are displayed and worn in the correct order. For the female costume the colours yellow, red, white and orange must be worn on the sleeves whilst the colours tan, green turquoise and pink must be worn along the hem in that order. For the male costume the first four colours must be worn on the right sleeve of the shirt whilst the second four colours are to be worn on the left sleeve.

Materials used

Cotton and salt were the main industries on the Turks and Caicos Islands and they still have remnants of their cotton growing and salt raking past. For this fact alone the costume is made purely out of cotton as it not only seemed like the most suitable and appropriate material to use but also represents their history of being huge salt suppliers.

Information provided by David Bowen; Director of Culture Turks and Caicos