Danube Virtual Museum

Traditional Costumes

Clothing in the Danube Area

Favourable geographical and climatic conditions along the Danube through Northeastern Serbia greatly influenced the varied picture of people's traditional life. Sheep breeding, farming, fishing, and gold washing were the basic and additional economic activities specific to the population of small areas: Požarevačka Morava, Stig, Brаničеvo, Iron Gate/Đеrdаp, Klјuč and Negotinska Krajina.

Besides the natives, the population consisted of Serb settlers from other parts of Serbia and other nationalities, such as Vlachs from neighboring countries. A diverse background, socioeconomic conditions, influences and cultural complexity are mostly visible in the language and clothing. In the 19th century, several types of traditional costumes could be found in this area, mixed with the clothing from hinterlands and wider regions of Southern, Central and Western Serbia, and transitional forms and influences of civil fishing from cities and towns.

A variety of clothing is mostly reflected in the women's traditional costumes, hairstyles and manners of covering the head. Among the oldest headgears are trvelji - a pair of specially done and decorated plaits of natural hair, wool and tow. Trvelji, like many other archaic forms, were prohibited by law, under the pressure of the government, and therefore stopped being customary. In Pоžаrеvаčka Morava, a specific type of traditional costumes was added headgear called konđa with a kerchief – a wooden pad covered with a towel or a scarf. In addition, the main part of the traditional costume was a long shirt richly folded in the neck and sleeves, a traditional Slavic cut and a distinguished element of Pannonian type of traditional costumes. Over the shirt, a zubun- a long sleeveless gown made of white cloth, opened at the front, a distinctive traditional costume of Central Balkan and Dinaric type. Zubun from Požarevačka Morava was decorated by a unique way of applying tiny pieces of red cloth in the form of complex composition. This visual technique was applied by the artisans and craftsmen in the process of making leather parts of kоžuh - a sheepskin coat, which eventually replaced the earlier used zuban. An integral part of this set is also a long skirt, visually adjusted, modelled on the city clothing, to the traditional costumes of each area.

At the same time, a rear apron stopped being a part of standard Serbian traditional costumes, while only a long front apron was still in use. The system of wearing two aprons is a common element of all ethnic groups in this area. Also, different shapes and dimensions of aprons were precisely differentiating traditional costumes of Vlach Carans and Vlachs Ungureans. Bigger or smaller aprons with woven geometric designs edged with long fringes of coloured wool, were typical of Vlach Ungurean traditional costumes. Certain headgear, such as forms of one-horn and two-horn caps with konđa, crowns, strips and towels are found only in the traditional costumes of these ethnic groups. In men's clothing, however, this difference was not very big. The clothing is characterized by elements of white home-made cloth, worn in slight variations in winter or all year round. Common elements of clothing in this area are also parts made of leather and domestic animal fur, such as opanci (footwear) and šubаra – a fur winter male hat in different sizes.

Clothing in the Danube region in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century reflects natural, historical and social circumstances that defined this area as a central, and in cultural and historical terms, most dynamic area of the Pannonian Basin. Multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism are its most important characteristics and both are manifested in the culture of clothing and in the existence of different variants of the Pannonian-type traditional costumes, numerous national costumes and European civil clothing with the Baroque and Romantic era elements.

The traditional clothing of the Serbs was the most numerous, but there was also plenty of clothing specific to Croats, Hungarians, Bunjevci, Šokci, Slovaks and Ukrainians, as well as over forty other nations and ethnic communities within the territory of Vojvodina, Baranja and eastern Slavonia. These groups have shared the fate of this historic area for centuries, and on the left and right banks of the Danube, from Bezdan to Zemun, have characteristics of the Pannonian type culture of clothing.

According to the basic features, clothing of the Pannonian type are uncut clothes manually sutured using domestic linen, hemp or cotton cloths. Within their households women - young girls and married women, produced ingredients - grown and processed vegetable and wool fibres for making woollen cloths and fabrics. They also, using these materials, made (sewed and embroidered) clothes for the whole family. The main parts of men's and women's clothing /national costumes are shirts and underpants for men and shirts /skirts and aprons for women. Clothes were formed by assembling and crimping flat half cloth, using the shape of a body, and then forming rich folds, pleats and hem. Borders and prominent places on the clothes were decorated using various techniques of white and coloured embroidery, while the clothes worn on formal occasions were ornamented with gold embroidery. In winter time, the cotton clothes were complemented with wool clothing, both homemade crafted, as well as with fur and leather crafted garments. Some parts of fur clothing (a rain coat, kоžuh - a sheepskin vest, a jacket) were worn, as a privilege and status symbol of the wealthy, on special occasions throughout the year.

The way of dressing of the rural population depended on the nature, primarily farming, and Pannonian way earning. Later this shifted to economic and social status, national, regional and denominational affiliation. Therefore, very important functions of traditional costumes, except the safety as the primary function of marking the economic, national and regional identity, were also marking family and personal identity. Certain items of clothing, such as women's headgear - upper garments, sheepskin vests or cloaks, and the use of certain colors - especially red, blue and green, were used for marking and emphasizing national identity. Ornamenting sheepskin vests with mirrors and the use of certain embroidery motifs were the elements that gave clothes a magical function. The primary function of national costumes, as clothing exclusively for special occasions, was a display of ethnic identity as well as aesthetics.

In the Pannonian type of traditional costumes, archaic elements are present, such as obojci – foot wraps, opanci- footwear, woollen skirts, konđa, as well as decorating the young with flowers. These archaic elements originated in the steppe nomads, old Slavic and Slavic heritage. Elements of the Hungarian, Slovak, German or European civic culture depicting the newer social status were also present. Dominant cultural, historic and fashion styles that had a significant influence on the way of clothing of broader social class, resulted in the existence of European cultural elements made by direct adaptation or copying. Elements taken from the Baroque era -the design and cut of certain articles of clothing, the use of luxury materials, decoration method, embroidery motifs, as well as from the Romanticism - fabrics, patterns, black colour, hairstyles, seemed to prevail.

In contrast to the diversity in clothing of the rural population, where multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism in the Danube region were fully expressed, the civil class clothing was more uniformed - existing differences were due to the class background and financial status. The way of clothing of the civil population in the major urban centers, such as Petrovaradin, Novi Sad and Zemun, as well as in smaller urban areas such as Apatin, Bаčkа Pаlаnkа, Vukovar, Ilok, Sremska Kamenica and Sremski Karlovci (similar to the rich class of the rural population), was in accordance with fashion trends of the time. Clothing, footwear and accessories were to the latest Parisian and Viennese fashion, or its variant in Pest, purchased in the bigger urban centers or commissioned by fashion catalogues (purchased goods were posted even to bigger villages). Very often, fashionable clothes were made by local seamstresses and milliners, very popular in the late 19th century.


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(Text: Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade)