The karabela garment is the most famous piece of Haitian traditional clothing. The name “karabela” usually refers to a dress worn by women during traditional folk dances, but it can also refer to the comparable garments worn by men. The karabela dress is Haiti’s version of the Afro-Caribbean quadrille dress, which is popular throughout the Caribbean.
The karabela dress, like the male’s counterpart lightweight shirt or shirt jacket, is generally composed of cotton or linen. As of 2014, these outfits are still occasionally worn at Haitian weddings, but they are otherwise considered folk costumes.
The karabela dress is a modern adaptation of the garments worn by common Haitian women in the 18th century as everyday wear. It’s worn when four couples do the quadrille dance, a style of square dance brought from Europe. The karabela garment is also known by other names in other Caribbean countries. In Jamaica, it’s known as the quadrille or bandana dress, in Suriname as the kotomisi, and in St. Lucia as the kwadril dress.
Other traditional Haitian apparel emphasises the use of light textiles, particularly cotton. Even for formal events, men’s trousers are often made of cotton, and shirts are frequently short-sleeved.