Ukrainian folk dress has developed and been refined over the centuries, absorbing multiple years of experience and assimilating the best traditions. This process evolved with the influence of historical, social and cultural factors.
Until the middle of the 20th century, the national costume consisted of a long embroidered shirt along with a belted fabric for a skirt, fabric to cover the torso, outer wear, headdresses, shoes, belts, and a variety of jewelry. The process of putting on the listed elements followed a clear sequence and makes it possible to talk about multi-layering.
The main component of traditional clothing is a shirt that is worn directly on the body. Until the middle of the 20th century, it was made of home-spun hemp or linen cloth. A thin bleached cloth was used for sewing shirts used on the holidays, and a correspondingly thicker and darker fabric was used for everyday shirts.
At the end of the 19th century, the most typical examples of belted clothing, depending on the region, were woven fabrics which were wrapped around the body as a skirt, summer jackets, wraps, aprons. They were mostly made from home-spun wool. At the beginning of the 20th century, in most territories of Ukraine, skirts made of factory fabric supplanted the ancient archaic elements of belted wraps.
A woven or plaited woolen belt was a mandatory item of Ukrainian national clothing. It performed the function of affixing the belted cloths, and it was also given a great symbolic value.
Cheres (leather belt) Cheres (leather belt) (1901/1951) by UnknownNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
In some mountainous regions, men's leather belts called a “cheres” (which had from one to six buckles), and which were decorated with metal chains and buttons, were widely used.
Clothing that covered the torso in the form of leather vests (called a keptar) was an archaic element of the clothing of Ukrainians of the Carpathians, Zakarpattia, Bukovyna and Western Podillia, and was worn by both women and men.
Sleeveless vests sewn from factory-made fabrics and worn in the central, northern and eastern territories (corsets, waistcoats) were a fairly late element of folk clothing. These became widespread in the 19th century under the influence of European fashion and quite harmoniously complemented the overall of folk costume.
Wedding flower crown Wedding flower crown (1950/1960) by UnknownNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
Traditionally, unmarried girls in Ukraine wore their hair in braids. There were also girls' headdresses in the form of a small wreath or ribbon. Wedding wreaths, which in each region had their own characteristic features, were noted for their great splendor and beauty.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, there was a consistent tradition of covering the head of married women. In almost every territory of Ukraine, there were namitkas — ancient towel-like headdresses made of linen or hemp. There were dozens of ways to tie them around the head.
Ochipoк (women's headdress) Ochipoк (women's headdress) (1901/1920) by UnknownNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
In many regions, an ochipok (cap) — an ancient cap-like headpiece — was worn under the head covering. But by the end of the 19th century, the namitka and ochipok were replaced by factory-made kerchiefs.
Girls and women used many necklaces: coral necklaces, mother-of-pearl necklaces, necklaces made with glass beads, coins, beaded collars (wide necklaces/“gerdan” and chokers), as well as crosses). This is far from a complete list of neck jewelry, which Ukrainian women exquisitely combined with earrings and rings.
The outer clothing of Ukrainians — jackets and coats — were sewn from woolen cloth and sheepskins.
Women's leather boots Women's leather boots (1901/1951) by UnknownNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
Shoes were made from animal skins or tree bark. Wealthier people wore boots and shoes.
Women's embroidered shirt Women's embroidered shirt (1901/1920) by UnknownNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
The decoration of clothing, in particular embroidery on shirts, is a centuries-old culture that has created its own original and unique patterns in each region. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, there were more than 200 embroidery techniques.
By looking at the ornaments and the cut of the embroidered shirt, it was possible to determine where a person was from, because, despite some designs appearing throughout Ukraine, there were narrowly localized features characteristic of one or several localities. Different regions of Ukraine have developed their own, special range of colors for embroidery over the centuries.
For example, the predominance of the red color was typical for the northern regions.
In eastern Ukraine, red and blue colors were usually combined in embroidery.
The central regions of Ukraine were characterized by a white palette.
Western regions of Ukraine were characterized by multiple colors.
Transformations in the national clothing of Ukrainians took place throughout the progress of history. Changes accelerated especially in the 20th century, particularly in the 1920s and the 1930s. Due to industrial development, home-spun linen and hemp cloth were used less and less, and in the urban environment, the fashion for stylized embroidered shirts and blouses inspired by folk fabrics spread.
Men's embroidered shirt Men's embroidered shirt (1950/1960) by UnknownNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
In the 1920s and the 1930s of the 20th century, women in western Ukraine began to embroider national symbols onto their shirts. The trident, which was the coat of arms since the days of Kyivan Rus, enjoyed considerable popularity, along with the Galician Lion, as well as the combination of yellow and blue colors, which are the colors of the national flag.
This phenomenon marked the centuries-old struggle of Ukrainians for independence and restoration of statehood.
During the Second World War, peasants often buried valuable clothing, especially embroidered shirts, in the ground in wooden chests to protect them from the Soviet and German invaders.
After the Second World War, a wave of popularity for stylized embroidered shirts, imitating Ukrainian folk shirts, swept through the republics of the USSR.
In the 1970s and the 1980s of the 20th century, embroidered shirts became a mark of "nationalism" for the authorities - at that time, an embroidered shirt was a manifestation of being a part of "Ukrainianness", and an expression of national identity.
Photo. A group of peopleNational Center of Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum"
Folk clothing moved from the village to the city, and became the basis for the formation of ethnostyle as a whole, giving impetus to the creation of exact copies of elements of folk clothing.
In various years, traditional Ukrainian embroidery became a source of inspiration for creating fashion collections for Ukrainian and foreign designers, in particular for Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Gucci, Valentino, and many others.
The restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991, the events of the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity gave impetus to the revival of folk clothing. At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, the country's interest in the finest examples of folk clothing increased, and led to its reproduction both in authentic forms and in stylized forms.
Elements of national dress have become a marker of national identity and an expression of regional belonging. Folk clothes are actively used during folklore and ethnographic festivals and holidays.
During this current time of the russian war in Ukraine, the embroidered shirt has become a marker of “what is ours is now foreign”. For having an embroidered shirt, the russian occupiers can put a person on firing squad lists or subjected to torture or repression.
For Ukrainians today, as one of the main elements of national clothing, an embroidered shirt is not just a part of one's wardrobe, it is the spirit of the nation, a connection with generations past and a symbol of the struggle for freedom.
Research and text: Volodymyr Shchybrya
Project curator, copyright and exhibition design: Yuliya Novoseltseva
Historical advisers:Tetyana Poshyvaylo, Petro Honchar, Viktoriya Kutsuruk, Myroslava Vertyuk
Proofreading: Yuliya Patlan
Translation: Nadia Tarnawsky, Hanna Shendryk
Selection of exhibits: Oleksandra Storchay, Hanna Koshmanenko
Photo: Anastasiya Telikova, Dmytro Maksymenko
The material is licensed under Creative Commons NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)