Serbian traditional clothing
folk costumes

Clothes represent a very significant cultural phenomenon related to the society in general, its certain groups, but also to an individual as well, their physical appearance and their personality as well. Clothes are cultural goods which testify to many elements and spheres of human society through history, starting from the first known civilisations up to date. Besides satisfying the purpose and objective to protect human body, clothes also represent something that is an inseparable part of integrity and identity of every single member of the society. We know and recognise one another through clothes and we introduce ourselves to other people with them. With the help of clothes, we single ourselves out from the rest of the world and, at the same time, we also make a part of the certain world, as well. Due to all this, clothes also have a significant role in mutual separation of certain societal groups, classes, above all, stratums within classes, then professions, guilds, ranks, up to the individual and personal separation of more different people within the same social group.

Folk costumes that the population of the certain area uses, fit into the picture of that area, they depict basic economic sectors and climate conditions, they reflect not only welfare of the broader community, but also property status of each individual and their family. Apart from that, folk costumes also keep evidence of all significant historic events that left some mark in their formation. Finally, folk costumes depict skill, comrehension of art and creative scope of these people, who have found, in this essential prop for life, a medium through which they have spoken from the depth of their being, in order to express the inclination for beauty in their own way and their own speech.

Natural environment, cultural and historical impacts and genuine creative spirit of the people are three factors that are always present in shaping of national costumes. Therefore, national costumes represent one of the most complex achievements of folk creativity. But the clothes that the people created through centuries have not only practical, utilising purpose and more or fewer expressed artistic menanings, but also comprise deeper meaning, that unreal, magic sense that artistic and practical components are very often subjected to. Above all, a way of clothing within a closed village community comprises certain rules which were established by historic tradition, rules that people strictly abided, with very rare exceptions.

Through these national, traditionally established rules, folk costumes acquire societal meaning, too, they become an indicator of social status of an individual in the village community, the folk costume is a visible, external characteristic of that status, a kind of identity card of each member of that community, primarily female members of that specific society.

Every phase of life, every event and important change in life, starting from childhood, through girlhood (maidenhood), engagement period and marriage, bridal period after the wedding, motherhood, adulthood and widowhood- all these periods can be reflected in clothing, anticipated and prescribed for a certain holiday. When we add ritual clothing, essential in certain customs to that, then we somewhat become aware of the richness of various types, kinds and varieties of folk costumes we are going to meet and the fact that this national treasure is an inexhaustible treasure still to be discovered, hiding values within it, yet to be met and comprehended.

A significant role in disappearance of folk costumes from everyday use played the fact that near the end of XIX century there was a breakdown of large family co-operatives into individual (single) families. Co-operatives used to have dozens, even a hundred household members, and all the work was done in an organised way and delegated between numerous members according to strict, traditionally established rules.

In such co-operative, female members were in charge of clothes making for all household members and the materials for making clothes were mainly manufactured in that autarchic environment. Women cultivated, manufactured and processed textile raw materials, took care of their spinning, dyeing, weaving of linen, fabric, even silk materials, and, finally sewing and decorating of the clothes for all household members.

After the breakdown of co-operatives, a housewife in a single family could not do this important assignment by herself any longer, she neither had enough strength nor time to fulfill this obligation along with other chores. Therefore, we can say that the breakdown of the co-operatives condemned folk costumes to die away. It was not the only reson that the folk costume died away. We cannot oversee one other important factor that also played a significant role in this abovementioned process- technlogical development. As a consequence of technological development, trade connections with the rest of the world became faster and easier, the world outside that narrow community. Instead of manufacture workshops, textile industry developed, giving full swing to trade, which found more and more consumers in rural areas for its products. It is understandable that folk costume did not undergo its last phase in the same way and at the same time in all our regions. Men rejected folk costume faster, while the female folk costume passed through several transformative phases and endured much longer and very rarely to this day. However, in places where folk costumes are still in use, they lost the purity of authenticity, beauty of manufacture and variety of forms. They are mostly worn by older people, which means that only their most modest version is used, already combined with more recent urban elements. Even if the old folk costume is still kept in chests, it is very often unknown how it was used to be worn. One particular problem for realisation of the whole old-fashioned clothing is footwear and headgear, which are very important for the final picture of every set of a folk costume.

The greatest part of preserved Serbian folk costumes known to us originates from the end of the XIX and the beginning of the XX century. Variety and richness of forms are evenly represented in both male and female folk costumes and each region is charateristic by specific folk costume. By the way of dressing, it was recognisable where people came from, and not only that, but in multi-ethnic environments it could also be distincted which ethnic/national or religious community the person belonged to.

In great diversity of pieces of clothing, besides specific forms of folk costumes from one village environment to the other, there are also very distinctive differences in clothing between urban and rural population. Urban clothing in the majority of Serbian ethnic areas mostly developed under Turkish-Oriental influence, and later on, in the cities of Pannonian and Adriatic regions, the clothing primarily developed under European influence. Urban folk costume of Balcanic-Oriental style, made of very expensive materials and rich golden and silver embroidery was of high quality craftsmen making. Rural folk costumes, however, until the beginning of the XIX century, regarding materials and shaping, were mostly a product of domestic and village industry. They were made by women, while certain parts of the costume was made by village craftsmen. Experience and tradition were passed on from the elders to the young generations. The very first glance on the diverse folk costumes reveals certain specificities in the fusion of functional, artistic and esthtetic characteristics of clothing of larger areas. Very similar or identical way of economy was defined by geographic area, but the historical, societal and cultural development also influenced making of certain garments within larger cultural-geographic areas, such as Dinaric, coastal, Central-Balcanic and Pannonian. In each of these areas, regarding the material for making and decoration of clothes that the region provided, tailoring forms and the way of decoration, as well as the tradition of clothing and cultural stratums, we can find characteristic types of basic folk costume occuring in many items of clothing and decorative versions.