Ethnic Folk Costumes: Europe


Figure 1.--A reader has forwarded this image of a girlk wearing a folk costuming. Notice that he little br0ther is dressed mormally. We are, however, not sure of the costume she is wearing. It may be Gernan or Swedish, hopefully one of our redes will be abke to identify it. This my even be an American image, one of the children of our many ehnic minorities dressed up in an ethnic costume.

European folk costumes are very diverse, but share a variety of common characteristics because of the common European historical and technological experiences. Most folk costumes are based on styles that were formerly widely worn. Just what is discarded and what is saved over time to become frozen as folk costumes is a usually poorly undrstood process. Our knowledge of costuming outside of a few civilizations such as Greece and Rome is limited. Thus we know little about the earliest forms of dress. It is likely that geographical environment and climatic conditions were especially important in this early period. We begin to know more by the medieval period. The dress of both men and women may have had originally a shirlike shape. Some of the underwear and upper dress might have been worn by both men and women. Not only do we know more about dress in the medieval era, but it seems that clothing began to acquire the garment forms and styles that we now recognize. In the early medieval period dress was affected by the basic materials, flax or hempen linen, drapery or fur. In lowlands clothing was rather loose and linen while in mountaineous regions it was more tight-fitting and besides linen, made also of wool and fur. As textile technology developed, especially by the 18th century home-spun textiles began to be replaced with industrial materials from cotton, wool and even silk began to be used. The new materials meant that many changes in forms and styles were possible. The variety of materials combined with increasing availability of colored garments to the averahe person resulted in many of the styles which are now seen as folk costumes. Another development which is now a major aspect of folk costuming is the appearance of embroidering technique (17th century) and the increasing availbility of reasonably priced colored cotton thread.

Regions

Usually ethnic dress didderes to an extent even n a single country. There are, hiwever, some regional similarities. The primary one we are aware of is the Balkans. There are several countries and ethnic groups located there and ethnic dress is partivularly probounced. Isolation from the rest of Europe beause of several cebturie of Ottoman control is a factor here as is the rugged mounteous terrane. Unfortunately we do not now enough about ethnic styles in the Balkans ro be able to identify them beyond Balkan styles. We have to rely on information associted with the image to identfy the country. The Balkans seems unique in this regards. Scandanavia is somewhat similar, but the ethnic divide is much simler, the Sammu and the Northern Germans.

Countries

The primary way of assessing ethnic clothing is by country. There are variations within countries even among the core national group. There are, however, some complications here. Many countries especially the larger countries have populations cosisting of many ethnic groups beside the core national group. This is especially the case for Russia. And often countries have minority populations from neighboring countries. And there are trns nationalethnic groups which are found in several different countries.

Austrian

We have just begun to collect information on Austrian folk costumes. There are of course similarities with German folk costumes, especially areas of southern Germany such as Bavaria. There are also similarities with Switzerland, another Alpine area. Hopefully an Austrian leader will provide some background information for us.

Croatian

Croatia is a small Balkan country that was formerly part of Yugoslavia. We have no information on Croatian folk costumes at this time, but a HBC reader has provided one example of a boy's folk costume. Hopefully our Croatian readers will privide some insights.

Dutch

Few small countries have played such an important role in history as the Dutch. It was the valiant war for independence from the Spanish that began Spain's long decline as a world power. The Dutch played a key role in the development of democracy and protestantism in Europe. The Dutch played an important role in the spread of European culture around the world through their merchant fleet which helped to finance the industrial revoution. Distinct Dutch fol dress is famous for baggy trousers, the original inspiration for knickerbockers or knickers. And of course the Dutch are also famous for wooden shoes although they were widely worn in France, Germany, and other countries.

English

HBC is unaware of much destinctive English folk cistume. We have seen Mummers plays and morris dancing in which white or cream colored smocks are often worn, presumably harkening back to the smocks worn by rural workers in the early 19th century. Mumers plays during Easter often used liturgically based colored smocks. [Peter Millington, "Mystery History: The Origins of British Mummers' Plays," American Morris Newsletter, Nov./Dec. 1989, Vol.13, No.3, pp.9-16.] Unlike some of the continental folk costumes, children are not commonly involved in the Morris dancing.

Estonian

We have noted Estonian boys and girls wearing folk costunes, but do not know much about it at this time. The ones we have seen seem similar to some Scandinavian and German folk costumes we have see. The boys wear 18th century black knee breaches with white stockings. This is the general pattern in European folk costumes which genrally seem to have become fixed, based on late 18th century styles.

French

France like many European countries has many regional and ethnic differences. While Americans may think of France as a homogenous country, there are in fact many regional differences in France with distinct ethnic costumes. I do not yet have much information on these regional and ethnic divisions.

German

Over 50 million Americans are of German descent--the largest ethnic group. This means that one in four/five Americand identify as being of German origin. The strong German influence has had a profound inclue on American culture and the American culture. The ethnic dress most associated with Germany is lederhosen, both short pants and knicker styles.

Greek

The Greeks are not one of the larger ethnic groups in America, but there are important centers of Greek imigration in northeastern cities. A kilt like costume was worn mainly in the central and southern regions of Greece. The costume derives its name from the pleated white skirt (foustanela) made of many triangular shaped pieces of cloth sewn together diagonally. The foustanela was worn by the Greek fighters of the 1821 revolution and today it serves as the official uniform of the Evzones, Greece’s Presidential Guard, who can be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. The foustanela skirt consists of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. The remainder of the costume is composed of a white shirt with very wide flowing sleeves, an embroidered woolen vest, a sash worn around the waist, and shoes (tsarouhia) with large pompons.

Hungarian

Hungary until after World War II was a largely agrarian country. We believe folk styles were still widely worn in the country side, especially before World War I. Hungary until 1918 was governened by Austrians. There was a constitutional change in 1867 when a dual monarch was established for the Empire. I'm not sure at this timre how this affected folk fashion. We have, however, few real details. We do note that there was not one Hungarian national folk costume. Rather there was a wide variety of folk costumes. We note the Gyermeksvábbál school in Hungary which incourages its students to dress up in folk costumes.

Irish

The Irish are one of the most important ethnic groups that have made modern in America. More than 30 million Americans identify as being Irish Americans, more than one out of every 10 Americans. Like Scotland, the kilt is seen as ethnic folk dress and is worn by Irish pipe bands and step dancers.

Italian

Italy like almost all European countries have very important regional differences. There are, for example, many impotant differences between north and south. Some of these differences reflect the fact that Italy after the fall of Rome was often ruled by a number of small republics and kingdom. Some areas were unfer the control of neighboring countries, including Austria, France, Germany (Holy Roman Empire), and Spain. At this time we have very limited information on Italian folk costumes. Hopefully our Italian readers will assisst us in this area.

Russian

Russia even after the disolution of the Soviet Union is a huge country which still includes many disperate peoples and nationalities. The consideration of ethnic dress is somewhat complicated because many regions of the former Soviet Union and Tsarist Russia have noe separated from Russia and formed 15 independent countries. Even so the ethnic traditions of many remain a part of Russian history. One example is the cossacks, the highly independent, some would say predatory horsemen of the Russian steppe and causcases. Today the former range of the cossacks is more in the Ukraine and newly independent Cucasian republics, but continue to be strongly associated with Russia in the popular mind.

Scottish

The Scotts were one of the important ethnic groups founding modern America. As part of the United Kingdom after the Act of Union (1705?), the Scotts had free access to the American colonies. The English of course were far more numerous as Scotland is a relatively small country. Scottish immigration to America increased significantly as the English move to supress the Clans and Scottish culture. Immigration reached high levels after the brutal supression following the Battle of Culloden (1746) and the implementation of the enclosures. Scottish immigratiion was relatively small compared to the title wave of immigrants reaching America in the 19th Century. America, however, had a much smaller population in the 18th Century, only about 3 million at the time of War of Indpendece (1775-83). Thus the Scotts that arrived in America played a major role in the evloving American culture that proved to be the foundation of the national ethic. Of course the ethnic dress most associated with Scotland is the kilt.

Serbian


Slovakian

Slovak folk costumes appear to be based on clothing worn by the ordinary Slovakian peasant in the 18th or ealy 19th century. Slovakia was largely an agrarian region controlled by an Hungarian nobility. The towns were of mixed ethnicity while the rural areas prediminately Slovakian. Male folk costuming in Slovakia as is generally the case of folk costuming did not differentiate between men and boys. Costumes were normally linnen which in the 19th century began to be replaced with cotton. Men and boys wore breeches, a shirt with wide sleeves and a a kind of apron. There was also a kind of drapery dress consisting of narrow trousers and a shirt with cuffs on the sleeves. Embroidery is an important decorative element of Slovak folk costumes. Embroidery was especially important in western and central Slovakia. There were many loval styles of embroidery. Decorative weaving and application was more common in eastern Slovakia. A patterned blue and white print textile was especially popular. The varying regional preferences are not fully understood. Variations in social and economic development were probably factors. Economic factors such as general prosperity were reflected in e both costuming and decoration.

Swedish

We do not yet have any information on Swedish folk costumes. We do note a portrait by Swedish artist Carl Larsson of a rural scene probably in the 1890s where two brothers seem to be wearing outfits influenced by folk styles. Interestingly their mother and sister are not wearing clothes that show any folk influence. Hopefullu our Swedish readers will provide us some background on national folk costumes.

Unidentified countries

We have found some photographs of European ethhnic costumes that we cannot yet identify. Insome cases te country is known, but the specifif details are unavailable. In other cases we do not even know the country involved. Hopefully our European readers will provide some insights to help identify these images.

Trans-national Ethnic Groups


Celtic


Gypsies

The Gypsies or Roma as they preferred to be called are nomadic people found tgroughtout Europe since 15th century. They are believed to have at least in part originated in India and speak an Indo-Iranian language known as Romany. The Roma have resisted assimilation. They are generally seen as traveling in caravans and made a living through trading. There impacy was especially important in Hungary and Romania as well as various other parts of the Audto-Hungarian Empire. They were targeted by the NAZIs in the Holocaust dring World War II. The most typical dress is the brightly woman's colored outfit. omen suit. There is not an actual traditional children clothes. Often children wear old clothes and go barefoot. In folk festival they wear very colored clothes.

Jewish

Hasidic Jews have maintained their identity in many countries, although they have been influenced by local clothing styles. One HBC reader mentions the Hasidic boys of Antwerp. Their clothes are dark/black. They are the only religious/ethnic group in Belgium/Holland whose boys stand out and are immediately recognizable by their clothes. Of course also by their 'peyes'. HBC has a fascinating early image of Hasidic boys in central Asia during the early 20th century.

Lapps/Sami

The Lapps or Laplanders are the indigenous population of northwester Europe. They currently number about 60,000 and are concentrated mainly in Norway, in part because iof supressiin and restrictions in movement in the old Soviet Union. They call themselves the Sami. The language is completely different than Norwegian. They speak a Finno-Ugric language. The Lapps are believed to have originated in central Asia. They were not originally an Arctic people, but have been pushed to the limits of habitable land in the northern extremities of Europe by the later migrations of more numerous Finns, Goths, and Slavs. Their folk dress is strongly affected by living in the northern extremities of Europe.






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Created: 11:08 PM 3/12/2012
Last updated: 11:08 PM 3/12/2012