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Folk costumes

Folk dress

Traditional folk dress has always been one of most representative folk culture elements. As women made most of the elements of their folk dress with their own hands, they thus determined the diversity and originality. They borrowed patterns and decorations, but they never copied them in detail, and they left traces of their originality on each item. It is known that many lasses sowed their shirt secretly so that theirs would be the most beautiful, when they would go out to the village dance, i.e., the “hora”. The secret to the widespread dress making for a large family was the women’s ceaseless activity. She would make by hand everything in all the stages that required much patience and craft, such as spinning, and weaving the huge rolls of linen and cloth, cutting all the pieces, doing the needlework and lastly embroidering with various techniques. The most beautiful shirts were those for a bride or bridegroom that were made over the winter at the feeble oil wick or kerosene lamp.

The folk dress in the Neamţ County observes the general characteristics of the old-tradition folk dress in Moldova, with some morphological and locally aesthetic characteristics.

The traditional woman’s dress is old in style owing to its components, i.e. the kerchief, the wool-woven skirt, the long shirt, the girdle, the fur-trimmed vest, the wool-woven overcoat, the hand-made leather footwear, and the woven bag. The differences were made according to the purpose: the working clothing were made of the cheapest and the home-made toughest materials (i.e., hemp and wool). Conversely, for the Sunday dress, women needed to buy more expensive materials such as thin cotton thread, silk floss, thin wool thread, silk, tinsel, beads, and spangles). The women still had to hand make the basic pieces – i.e. the shirt, the woven skirt, the girdle and the wool woven overcoat – and to skilfully decorate them, but they still had to buy from fairs or haberdashers, the black or embroidered kerchiefs with fringes, or the thin-woven coloured kerchiefs, the shoes or boots, whereas the fur-trimmed vest or sheepskin-coats were ordered for the skinners or furriers.  There were local and area differences with respect to Sunday clothes.

The cotton kerchief, woven with stripes or embroidery, widespread with the old Sunday dress of wives was extremely refined in the Roman area. It was elegantly worn on a high support, with its decorated long edges on the woman’s back. This special kind of wrapping of the head used to be highly aesthetic. The raw silk woven kerchief (“fişiu)” or wool ones, with decorated heads, that was worn over the white lace-rimmed handkerchief. The differences would mark the age: the older women would wear black kerchiefs and the young single lasses would walk uncovered – as a sign of their cleanliness and they would flowers in their plaits.

The shirt or blouse – crimpled around the neck and sown with streams of ornaments on the sleeves – was generally widespread, displaying a rich array of ornamental and chromatic compositions, embroidered in various techniques – cross-stitches, open work, on the inside, protruding, etc. In the villages along the Bistriţa Valley, the shirts or blouses were more sober than those worn in the hills where they were sown with dyed cotton thread or multicoloured wool, finished with beads and spangles, they displayed a colourful explosions (Pipirig, Bodeşti, Săbăoani, and others). These decorations were matched by those at the bottom of the skirts visible from under the wool-woven skirts.

The wool-woven woman’s skirt – a straight cloth wrapped around the body from the waist down – introduced local aspects by the various layout , colour, and technique used: the black one was the oldest, the one with “stripes and embroidery” – the most common, the “variegated” one – in the commune Piatra Şoimului, the one called “peşteman”, with its embroidered decorations – in the Roman area. Hence, this cloth skirt was an element that made the difference between various areas.

The belts and the girdles used to introduce new spots of colours, where red or the national colours were predominant. In the villages on the Siret Valley, women wore wool girdles with geometrical pattern and white bead on the rims.

The thick clothes were represented by the long overcoat, e.g. “suman” where made of frieze. They had folds and were decorated with black or coloured lace. The ones in the Roman area were more heavily decorated.

The sheepskin or fur Sunday clothes were real adornments of the folk dress, at the beginning of the twentieth century. They were made by specialised artisans – men or women in the market towns of Piatra, Neamţu and Roman, or in various villages, e.g. Cârnu-Bicaz şi Sabasa – Valea Bistriţa, Ghindăoani, Bălţăteşti, Urecheni, Roznov, Dobreni – the Neamţ area. These artisans created items very specific to their area. The short sheepskin vests had black fur around the rims, knitted and embroidered in floral patterns, with wool, in sober and harmonious colours. Similarly, one could tell the village on the Bistriţa Valley by the short sheepskin woman’s overcoat. The longer sheepskin vests, with greyish fur around the rims and sown all over the surface in rich ornaments were extremely beautiful. The predominant motifs were the sun, the wild rose, etc. The collections in the museums in the Neamţ County display such exquisite examples. The sheepskin vests and short coats made in Roman were flared, with white and fur strips and geometrical, mostly red, embroidery on the rims.

Making sheepskin-clothing items is a craft that continues to this day in new forms that meet contemporary demand. Making fur hats and other clothing items is also developed (e.g. Grumăzeşti).

Footwear for the Sunday clothes was represented by shoes, ankle-high boots or knee-high boots ever since the end of the nineteenth century. They were bought in fairs or custom-made at the shoemakers in the towns.

To conclude, the traditional woman’s Sunday dress was richly decorated, more expensive and more festive. It enjoyed a high appreciation and admiration, especially from foreigners who travelled in this region.

The traditional man’s dress was by comparison uniform, plain, easy to make.

The working dress consisted in all-white archaic-type pieces, e.g. cotton-woven or sheep’s hair tights or frieze trousers, spun hemp or linen long shirt, with a girdle or wide belt over the waist, the hand-made leather footwear and shepherd’s hood. Sunday dress was made of higher quality material, richly decorated according to the local traditions and to the person’s age.

Men used to wear wide-rimmed hats in summer, bought in Transylvania, which the youth decorated with tassels, feathers, or flowers. In winter, they wore the greyish or black frieze hat or the fur or sheepskin one.

The shirt with crimpled or lap characterised the Sunday clothes. The decorations on such shirt were geometrical, mostly at the rims and along the seams, with black cotton thread and in various stitches, e.g. crosses, on the inside, or open work. Only the young men wore shirt with coloured stitched motifs – blue, green, and even many colours at a time.

The tights worn by the young men were made with thin wool with “ozor” technique, of significant lengths, as they were worn crimpled above the ankle, called “1001 crimples”.

The girdle was wider than the woman’s, made of wool, with simple or richly decorated “stripes”, mostly red in combination with black, green or yellow. On the girdles, men used to wear belts or tricoloured girdles. The tacked belt, called strip was made by artisans in Hangu, Ceahlău, Pipirig, etc. who had special designs made of stone where they would cast hot tin, to make wide-flowered tacks, fixed on the leather, decorated with rosettes and circles. They used to be extremely valuable items.

The sheepskin clothing were similar to the women’s. In addition, men wore the stuffed sheepskin vest and the long sheepskin overcoat.

Winter clothing included the sheepskin overcoat and the long frieze coat, brown or gray, with gussets black or coloured cotton thread decorations. The Neamţ area was renowned for the high quality of the woven frieze and such overcoats.

Ankle-high or knee-high boots – bought in towns – completed man’s Sunday dress.

The woven bag was a very important complementary item of the folk dress, as it was woven with decorations specific to a village. It represented a genuine visiting card of the peasant, e.g. chequered on the Bistriţa Valley, horizontally stripped in Urecheni, vertically striped in Piatra Şoimului, the embroidered one in Ghindăoani.

Nowadays, folk dress is still worn in church by some peasants in villages along the Bicaz Valley, but mostly members of folk dance ensembles and folk music singers wore them.

However, many elderly women in the Neamţ County villages still keep in the old wardrobe a folk dress their mother or grandmother made in respect for the hard work and love for the old tradition.


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