Located over 5,000 miles from Paris and over 1,500 miles from New York, a little island that seems to float on the water at 17°55 North and 62°50 West. The island of Saint Barthélemy, casually known as Saint Barth, is quite small at just 24 km2 (eight square miles). The last census in 2007 revealed that there are 8,398 inhabitants, or a density of 335 inhabitants per km2. One of the things that makes the island seem more mysterious is its rugged shoreline encircled by sparkling white sand.

Considered one of the oldest volcanic islands in the Lesser Antilles, its dry, rocky soil is not suited for agriculture. Its fauna, while seemingly rare, has an unusual diversity: iguanas, land and sea turtles, and marine birds, from the pelican—mascot of the island—to the charming little hummingbird found in gardens. The flora grows as best it can, depending on the weather, as there is not always enough rain. Yet this does not inhibit the proliferation of multicolored flowers in the gardens of island homes.

The island has a tropical maritime climate. The air temperature varies from 80°F in the winter to 86°F in the summer, with highs of 90°F in July and August. The ocean temperature can reach as high as 84°F during the summer. St Barth does not have four distinct seasons like more temperate climes, but two different periods known as “Carême” and “Hivernage.”

Carême runs from December 1 through May 30, when the air is cool and the temperatures are lower.

Hivernage comprises the period from June 1 through November 30, and is hotter. The months of September and October represent the height of the hurricane season.

The population of Saint Barth remains very conservative, proud of its lineage. But don’t be fooled by false impressions: the inhabitants of Saint Barth seem reserved, yet are much friendlier than they appear.

Tradition is most important during important family events: births, baptisms, First Communion, engagements, marriages, or funerals.

During the 19th century, when the island lived its quiet little life, young men did not hesitate to court young women, but always discretely, as the eye of the watchful chaperone caught any signs of overdoing it.

Every joyous occasion was celebrated with a “ti-sec” shot of rum, a baked galette—the traditional St Barth bread, or a sweet potato pudding. Accordions, tambourines, and maracas were played and a neighborhood dance was quickly organized. Church mass, romantic marriages, and religious processions were occasions to wear your Sunday best or even put on a new outfit.

Today, the traditional island costume is worn only for the island’s Saint’s Day or other folkloric events. Until a few years ago, as one visited the various neighborhoods on the island, it was still possible to glimpse an occasional woman wearing traditional white pleated bonnets.From the “caleche” and the straw hat worn in Corossol and Colombier to the Panama of Cul de Sac, Marigot, or Vitet, each had a different style. The “caleche” or “Quichenotte,” a large white bonnet, was made in two different ways:

The “calèche à platine” was made with strips of pleated white fabric sewn together.
The “calèche à batons” had narrow pieces of wood inserted into the spaces made when the fabric was sewn to shape the bonnet.
There was also the “cape” (the only example of which is in the museum in Gustavia), a hood made of blue fabric for working and black for special occasions. All of this headgear served to protect the wearer from the sun as well as scratches from branches as they collected wood for cooking.

They were also extremely useful in keeping impertinent Englishmen and Swedes at a distance, thus the name “Quichenotte” (kiss me not). Straw hats would eventually replace the fabric bonnets.

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