Discover the ethnical heritage of Romanian peasant costumes as a symbol of regional identity.

The houses or the earth pots do not change if what fills (or inhabits) them disappears. Unlike them, the clothes become flabby in the absence of a volume “who wears them”. The costumes exhibited in the display cabinet is weakened, diminished. It is only a fragment of the assemblage made up through the relationship BODY-COAT. Our models are no graven image. They are volumes which preserve a part of the features of the body. Pure convention. Necessary convention. Without body, even the monk’s costume remains meaningless, since it is part of a programme of subordination. Horia Bernea

The exhibition

It presents a group of models dressed up in different costumes – from different areas, which do not take into consideration the real geographical vicinities – most of them feminine, balanced by the masculine bi-dimensional presences as they appear in the photos placed on the hall walls. Only in the moment when the visitor can see the assembly in its entirety, can he understand the structural coherence of the peasant costume, even if the chromatic-ornamental diversity is sometimes confusing.

What defines a costume from Romania?

A costume is a sign of ethnic identity, and therefore contributes to the existence of a language of forms, decoration and gestures, a language essential within an ethnic conglomerate such as the complex world of the Balkans.

The body-coat
Items of Romanian traditional costume. Three stages stand out in the evolution of Romanian folk costume. In the first phase, Romanian folk costume was defined in relation to the costume of neighbouring peoples, differing in styles and colouring depending on region. After this phase, the urban setting began to exert an influence, in the form of new, mass-produced materials, which replaced homespun textiles and encouraged serial production, but still preserving the tradition of folk costume. In the third phase, folk costume was gradually replaced with city clothes. 

Material used at the end of 19th century
Woman’s costume made of raw silk, blouse pleated at the neck, decorated with embroidery and crimps, and has skirts, a vîlnic and a zăvelcă. Remarkable for its vivid colours. Proximity to Dolj and Teleorman counties is evident in cultural influences and exchanges, expressed in the chromatics and decorative motifs in particular.

Early 20th century
Woman’s blouse from Hunedoara (Pădureni, Hațeg) had a panel and pleated sleeves. It was worn with black homespun katrinca, in two or four threads. Over the blouse were worn compact, multi-coloured waistcoats. Over the hips were worn metal adornments of coins, rings and keys threaded on chains. The headgear was a ceapsă, ornamented with rich, compact motifs sewn in black or black and red. Around the edge of the ceapsă there was a piece of white lace, sewn with a needle. Beneath the ceapsă was worn a cloth or white cotton kerchief, which extended below the cojoc behind, along the katrinca.

The headgear was a ceapsă, ornamented with rich, compact motifs sewn in black or black and red. Around the edge of the ceapsă there was a piece of white lace, sewn with a needle. Beneath the ceapsă was worn a cloth or white cotton kerchief, which extended below the cojoc behind, along the katrinca.

The blouse falls within the typology of blouses with patterns over the elbows, here called “forms over the elbow.” The flounced sleeve is crimped, and on the chest there is a trapezoidal ciupag.

In the first quarter of 20th century
The vălitoare is a disc-shaped headdress with a kerchief hanging down at the back. It can be seen in portraits of boyar ladies (jupînese) to be found in mediaeval frescos, such as the portrait of Jupîneasa Anastasia in the church of Humor Monastery.

Used as a head covering, kerchiefs of oriental origin spread from the boyar class to the peasantry and became widespread in peasant costume.

Making a kerchief was painstaking work, the same as producing the raw silk thread, and became an occupation and highly skilled craft in the Danube Plain in particular, but also in the sub-Carpathian Muscel and Gorj regions.

Doina din Gorj

Last quarter of 19th century
The ends of the head scarf or kerchief can hang down either at the back and front or at the back only, or it can wrap around the woman’s head, with one end passing under the chin, winding over the top of the head and hanging down over the opposite shoulder. However, there are also numerous variants of these more or less stable styles, depending on the region and in accordance with the specific local costume.

End of 19th century
A specific style with the hair tied in a bun over the nape of the neck, on which rests an iron ring covered in cloth, called a mecheț, placed on the crown of the head. Young women then wore a ribbon of gold or silver coins, and on top a large, richly ornamented raw silk kerchief, with one end folded over the crown of the head in such a way that one corner hung over the middle of the brow.

Vlasca Iesi Mandruto Pana-N Prag

The way in which the kerchief was tied around the head differed from village to village. In general, women who tied their hair tightly to the nape, in two plaits, over which they placed a small cloth bonnet (căiță), tied below the chin, wore their hair completely covered. To the forehead was tied a ribbon decorated with beads. Over these two items was worn a loom-woven cotton kerchief.

The Năsăud cojoc is recognisable for its characteristic flame-red embroidery, as well as its ornamental tassels. However, the hanging tassels—sometimes in too dense a fringe—conceal a decoration full of surprises: polychromatic embroidery and in particular appliqués of white leather, embroidered with white thread of exquisite artistry. Specific to Năsăud is silk embroidery, red for women, which is highly floral in design, arranged in bouquets and wreathes in given areas, with spaces in between.

Specific to Năsăud is silk embroidery, red for women, which is highly floral in design, arranged in bouquets and wreaths in given areas, with spaces in between.

First quarter of the 20th century
The components of folk costume are a unifying element, both in women’s and men’s costume. Women’s costume is characterised by the same components: the same blouse worn directly against the skin, tied in the middle by a broad waistband, and tailored rectangular items clothing the body from the waist down. In the women’s costume from the Buzău region, a fotă swathes the body, in the costume of the Apuseni Mountains, there are aprons at the front and back, and in Hațeg a coat of pounded frieze covers the blouse and the lower part of the body.

Besides men’s felt hats, in some ethnographic regions of the country there are also women’s hats made from black felt. These are widespread in the sub-Carpathian regions of Muntenia, particularly in Muscel, but also in south and south-east Transylvania, in Olt Country, and in Covasna. The women’s hats were of course decorated. Worn directly on the head by girls and over a kerchief by women, the felt hat was abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century. In Muscel women’s costume was distinctive for its felt hats, worn by both women and girls.

The shirt, pleated around the neck, does not have a collar; the collar pleats are edged with a red bar and supported by a band at the base. The ornamentation of the shirt follows the classic pattern of embroidery, crimp, festoons down the arm.

Hora De La Marsa

A characteristic note is lent by the partitioning into squares of the streams in the embroidery, with each square representing an independent motif, usually positioned obliquely.

The “corner” entered women’s costume in the second half of 20th century as early as the beginning of the 20th century: a triangular shape, made from mass-produced material, with lace at the edges. Such items were first used in everyday costume, and were later also worn on feast days.

Beginning of the 20th century
This old costume falls within the category of the apron at the front and catrință at the back, and consists of head kerchiefs, a blouse with skirts, an apron, a catrință and a waistband. The women wore their hair combed into two pigtails tied on the crown of the head, a headscarf or vălitoare—a raised, circular cloth bringing, made up of 30 to 35 closely packed handmade crimps, fashioned by specialised women. Placed on the head, at the back the tail of the headscarf is embroidered in typical colours.

Invartita Sibiu

Half of the 20th century
A typical head kerchief, a blouse, vîlnic, red waistband and girdles. The girdles and waistband seem secondary, usually being made from a small quantity of wool, but they played an important part in the traditional costume as a whole. The women’s girdles introduced an element of prohibition and at the same time marked the connection between the vîlnic woven from coloured wool and the white blouse.

Turkish influence
Within a single region such as Dobrudja there is a huge variety of folk costumes. Turkish costume, for both men and women, is based on shalwars, made from fine cloth and decorated with arabesques of silver and gold thread. The salwars combine with long, broad waistbands, made from sheer fabric, embroidered with specific decorative motifs. The feregea is a distinctive traditional item: dark in colour and without ornamentation, it was used to cover the head and the entire body, in keeping with the precepts of the Koran. The women wore clothes with bright prints, with multiple accessories, such as clasps, girdles, and buttons, made using filigree and engraving techniques.

Beginning of the 20th century
In the villages of Suczawa, where Hutzul motifs and chromatics were highly prized and their influence was unmistakable. Traditional women’s costume in Ukrainian and Hutzul villages begins with the blouse (ie), which has a skirt (soročika), embroidered with flax thread, and is every woman’s pride. The predominant colours are red and orange-yellow, while in Romanian versions the chromatic is primarily black and white. Unlike most of the ornaments on Romanian blouses (ii) from Bukowina, whose strokes look as if they are painted, the decoration on Hutzul blouses looks chiselled.

Învâtita Ucrainiană (Ukranian Dance Tune)

End of the 19th century
In the Saxon community, older women traditionally wore a Haube: a black velvet hood minutely embroidered with coloured floral motifs and adorned with beads, which was tied beneath the chin. In German there is an expression: unter die Haube bringen/kommen, which means to marry, since after marrying, the woman changed her headdress from the Borten or lace cap to the Haube or embroidered hood.

A rich heritage
In various periods and regions of what is now Romania, ethnic Swabians, Lipovans, Hungarians, Szeklers, Saxons, Ruthenians, Roma, Ukrainians, Turks, Tartars, Jews, Armenians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, Italians, Czechs, Croats and Slovaks have settled. 

Half of the 20th century
They plied various trades: functionaries and shopkeepers (Aromanians), merchants (Jews and Albanians), soldiers (Albanians), craftsmen (Saxons), and made their contributions to culture and art.

Hats for men
In the past, men, regardless of age, covered their heads. The cap or hat was taken off only when a man entered the house or church or during mourning. The sheepskin cap (căciulă) was usually black and lined with white fur. 

Second half of the 19th century
The shape of the căciulă was determined by the system of tailoring, but was perfected using a wooden mould, on which the căciulă was stretched after it was finished.

On feast days and special occasions such as weddings and baptisms, hats were adorned with bouquets of flowers, beads in the form of bands, large woollen tassels, laces of gold thread, peacock or pheasant feathers, brass chains.

Beginning of the 20th century
Costume made up of a headscarf, zăvelcă and opreg, a shirt pleated at the neck, and girdles. The shirt stands out for its large size and rich ornamentation, with broad sleeves, longer than the arm. In the ornamentation of the sleeve, the system of embroidering the upper sleeve is preserved, but is much enriched and expanded, until it covers almost all the free areas.

Beginning of the 20th century
One of the most spectacular styles of Romanian folk costume. It falls within the typology of the fotă (homespun skirt), and is one of the most richly ornamented kinds of fotă. Queen Elizabeth and Queen Maria, as well as all the women of the Royal Household, wore this type of costume at the beginning of the 20th century.

Braul Pe Sase Muscel
Costume as a sign of ethnic identity
Also contributes to the existence of a language of forms, decoration and gestures, a language essential within an ethnic conglomerate such as the complex world of the Balkans. The Aromanian costume is a perfect combination of refinement, elegance, sobriety and practicality. The costume falls within the category of “major” artistic phenomena and is perceived and defined in the same terms as art: form and colour, in other words, using the tools and vocabulary of art history.

Half of the 20th century
The wool was processed at home, and the clothes were made by tailors (araftsa) from the cloth. For feast days and in summer, the women ordered clothes made from velvet and silk.

Ornamentation typical of the Romanian population as well as other ethnic groups.
Youth is marked by brilliance and colour, but as they grew older, members of traditional societies gradually gave up ornamentation and vivid colours, accepting the note of temperance characteristic of Romanian folk art in general.

Second half of the 19th century
The blouse was the most important item of female folk costume; it was what structurally bound together the costume as a whole. Romanian folk costume is inconceivable without the blouse. In fact it clothed the whole body, and in this respect it was both an undergarment and at the same time an outward adornment.

The blouse pleated at the neck was made from four pieces of cloth: two for the front and back, and two for the sleeves. The neck opening was made simply by pleating the four pieces of cloth, using a flax or hemp thread, called a brezărău. This shirt has a structure identical with those worn by the Dacian women on the Adamclisi monument.

Credits: Story

Curator: Cosmin Manolache
Translator: Alistair Ian Blyth
Text: Horațiu Silviu Ilea

Photo: Marius Caraman and Alice Ionescu
Music: Ethnophonie, supported by Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş Foundation
Communication: Iuliana Bălan

Credits: All media
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