The Beauty of Traditional Folk Costumes in Serbia

Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade

Explore the history of the Serbian people through their traditional costumes housed at the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade  


Serbia is a landlocked country situated in the Balkan peninsula, in south-east Europe. Geographically diverse, it boasts fertile plains as well as imposing mountain ranges. The majority of the population are Serbian, a South Slavic ethnic group, many of them traditionally practicing Orthodox Christianity, but Serbia is also home to many people who are part of other ethnic and religious groups. Several monasteries, as well as a Roman complex, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The local culture has been shaped throughout the centuries by many influences and this rich cultural diversity is evident in many aspects of life, not the least being traditional folk costumes.

Initially offering basic protection from the weather, clothing has evolved into a wide variety of highly aestheticized objects charged with symbolic meaning. Clothes were the individual’s way of communicating with the community, pointing out to his or her heritage and social status. Characteristics of the clothing were shaped, aside from socio-historical facts, also by the quality of the soil and weather conditions which made available certain economic activities, the products of which were the main source of all objects of everyday use.

Intermingling of mountainous cattle herders, agricultural populations, coastal folk, urban influences and impacts of the ruling classes of times past, have all determined the formation of clearly defined costumes. Use of varied materials, creation of different items, their diversity and layering, as well as the color schemes and ornament forms are all deeply in relation with political, economic and cultural influences experienced by the populations of Serbia and the Balkans.

Traditional costume
Shirt made of very fine cotton fabric of natural color. Composed of four panels. Tailored with shoulder straps and gathered on the back. Sleeves long and plain, ending in cuffs. 

Very fine cotton fabric of natural color. Composed of four panels and tailored with shoulder straps and gathered on the back.


They were worn in the regions of Šumadija, Belgrade Posavina and Belgrade Podunavlje in the 1880s.

It is home handwork, woven, sewn and embroidered.


The vest, or yelek – as the word was appropriated from Turkish – was worn among both rural and urban populations, regardless of sex, religion, or age, and it is widely spread throughout the region.The shape and size of the chest cut is determined by sex.

Female vests are more tightly cut, have deeper necklines, sometimes reaching half of the chest, with varied length. They are made of materials such as velvet, silk, cotton.

Male vests are usually cut close to the neckline, or slightly deeper, with foldable and button-able lappets, and made out of materials such as wool, baize or thinner cotton fabrics.

Such vests are adorned with epaulets and cords made of wool and filigree, sometimes also with embroidery made of woolen or cotton threads.

Ornaments are usually geometric, or floral and vegetable.

This vest was owned by Makrena Stevanović, mother of Petar Janković, who thinks his mother wore it when she was still a girl in the second half of the nineteenth century.


Skirt made of cotton fabric, ankle-length. Straight in the front and pleated at the hips and on the back. A transversal field with stylized floral motifs is made of sequins, silver threads, white cotton and multicolored wool in the bottom part of the skirt.

The longitudinal stripes are embroidered in black, red, green and blue wool. The lace executed in hemp thread and embroidered in white cotton. An integral part of the traditional women’s dress.


An apron is a form of uncut clothing which is essentially a rectangular piece of cloth tied around the waist with strings, covering the front of the body (or, both front and back).

In ethnological literature, the apron is associated with sexuality because it is associated with the need of hiding female reproductive parts, but also pointed out to forces of fertility by the usage of color red worn by young women and girls

In favor of these interpretations is the initiation of girls who receive an apron in the moment when the community perceives her as ready to enter the world of adults.

In some places, it was said for a girl fit for marriage that she has “tied her apron”.


Pants made of white rolled cloth called šube. Red and blue wool sewn onto the seams of legs and below the waist.

An integral part of the traditional Romanian men’s dress. Made by a tailor and decorated by a furrier at Uzdin in 1907. Worn by Petru Sekešan for festive occasions in winter. Such trousers were worn by men of up to 40 years of age.

Such trousers were an integral part of the traditional men’s dress. Made by tailor Milorad Pjanović for Radojica Pjanović, who wore them between 1950 and 1960. A tailor’s product of homemade cloth.


Sashes are one of the oldest elements of garment and were obligatory in all types of traditional Serbian costumes. They were worn equally by men and women in every age.

Depending on the geographical area, purpose (everyday or festive, ceremonial), as well as the wearer’s sex, their length, width, color scheme and decorations have varied.

In many parts of Serbia sashes were made out of wool, even when suits started to replace traditional costumes.

In Eastern Serbia, women have often – even in the second half of the 20th century – worn a sash immediately on their body, and then another over their shirt.

In the Takovo area, older residents kept old, weaved sashes as part of their burial clothes. People would even wear up to three sashes.

The sash underneath was believed to be able to keep them safe, and was usually the widest. This symbolism comes from the circular shape as drawing circles was believed to have a protective magical purpose.


Socks made of light brown and maroon wool.

There were an integral part of the traditional men’s dress, knitted with five needles

These socks were knitted from coarse homespun wool of red and black colors. An integral part of the traditional women’s dress. Motifs of multicolored wool are embroidered on the upper part of the foot and the lower part of the leg.

The upper part of the leg features three black stripes, below which are anthropomorphic figures – dolls with a belt comprising black geometric motifs.

Cloak made of home-woven cloth featuring white and dark brown square patterns.

It was an integral part of the traditional winter dress.

Credits: Story

The Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade was founded in 1901, when the Ethnographic Department was separated from the National Museum to become an independent institution. The inauguration of the first permanent exhibition of the EthnographicMuseum was organized on September 20, 1904, on the occasion of the centennial of the First Serbian Uprising.
During the first years of its work, the activities of the Ethnographic Museum were focused on the purchase of museum items and the presentation of the Kingdom of Serbia abroad. Items to be included in museum collections were collected during field research throughout the then territory of Serbia and the neighboring countries where the Serbs also lived.Since its founding until the present day, the museum has been dedicated to professional collecting and the study of museum objects and ethnogenetic processes, traditional material culture, social relations and family life, customs, beliefs and folklore. It has also been involved in the study of the features of Serbian culture, as well as those of other ethnic groups living within the region. In addition to collecting artefacts, since the 1960s, team research into the ethnographic areas of northeastern and western Serbia was introduced as a permanent activity of the museum. Research results are published in professional and academic journals and catalogues.
The EthnographicMuseum in Belgrade organizes temporary and permanent exhibitions. Eight permanent exhibitions and several hundred temporary exhibitions in the country and abroad have been organized so far. The eighth permanent exhibition, titled The Folk Culture of the Serbs in the 19th and 20th Centuries, was set up in 2001. Over the past twenty-two years, the International Festival of Ethnographic Film has been a regular programme organized by the museum. The museum also organizes workshops for children and adults, lectures, book presentations and concerts.

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