The beauty of Estonian folk costume
The beauty of Estonian folk costume
Estonian folk costumes vary quite a lot and can be grouped into four major regions. South-Estonians were the most old-fashioned. For example, in the region where the Mulgi dialect is spoken, even in the 19th century people wore traditional clothing that hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. Women wore wraparound woollen skirts, tied kerchiefs, linen shirts of a primitive cut, and embroidered woollen hip-sashes on top. Both men and women
wore black woollen long-coats decorated with red ribbons or cords. The Orthodox Setus, residing in the South-East corner of Estonia were quite peculiar – for the abundant silver jewellery as well as for the Russian folk culture influence in their clothing.
Southern-Estonians kept their traditional geometrical embroidery in white linen yarn, also in red yarn as of the end of the 18th century. The people in Northern-Estonia used a wealth of colours. Linen clothes were decorated with lavish and usually multiplecoloured floral embroideries in low stitch. The most characteristic women’s garment in North-Estonia was a sleeveless shirt and a fluffy short blouse which barely reached below the bosom – midriff – which was worn on top of the shirt. A new fashion starting at the end of the 18th century of the vertically striped skirt spread quickly and started to take over the customary single hued one. Only selected regions refrained from this fashion but in most areas the pattern had specific stripe colours and rhythm. The embroidered linen headdress (coif) started to fade from fashion in the late 18th century and women started to wear silk-fabric covered pot-caps, which had a cardboard support and tow padding. Nowadays people don’t like to wear these pot-caps with
folk costumes very much and look for examples of embroidered headdresses in the museums – these are naturally more comfortable to wear. It’s hard to imagine how one would, say, milk a cow or dance wearing the pot-cap. But they did!
Western-Estonian women were especially eager to come up with new hat styles. Each parish, and in some places even each village, had its own style. These women also liked to embroider and, as time went on, all the more luxuriously. Shirts and headdresses were decorated with embroideries, later women started to embroider floral patterns on skirts, too. Silver chains were worn on the neck in several lines with silver coins attached
Across the sea on Muhu island, the floral embroidery and stripe fashion from the mainland women was adopted. Instead of the black pleated skirt they started to weave unique coloured – orange-based, later yellow-based striped skirts and they made the skirts considerably shorter. Little boat-shaped headdresses, embroidered shoes, knitted cardigans and many other items make the Muhu folk costume clearly distinctive. In Saaremaa women wore long narrow-lined smocked skirts, high embroidered headdresses kept in shape by cardboard, knitted bobble hats. But still each parish had its own specific and unique ornament and style. In one parish, Mustjala, they didn’t even smock the skirt but made it fall waving in four directions. On Saaremaa like on the small Muhu island women started to wear
striped skirts in the second half of the 19th century but theirs were totally different – in dark colours with two-three different coloured thin stripes.
On the Hiiu island all four parishes had their own costumes. Copper chains hanging from a leather belt falling on the hips, woollen fabric braided into the hair and falling on the back like tails, skirts sewn to the waistcoat and smocked or richly laceornamented midriff can be seen as common for all these parishes.
Woollen overcoats and men’s suits form a more general picture, especially because of the colours used. In general they were sheep-white or sheep-grey in the South, black in Middle-Estonia, indigo-blue in the North, sheep-brown in the West and on the islands. But in the very West on the Sõrve peninsula on Saaremaa island they were again grey. While women’s clothing was different by parish, variations in men’s clothing were much lesser, but the men were also more receptive to what they had seen in other places. The men had errands in town, they had to transport goods, they had more contact with strangers. Perhaps they didn’t want to look like peasants when going to town.
Only the proud Mulgi men wore their black woollen long-coat decorated with red cords as late as in the beginning of the 20th century even though they used to wear it over a modern suit.
Women on the small Kihnu island still weave their striped skirts on the looms at home and consider the skirt a comfortable garment for everyday activities.
Kihnu men’s blue-white knitted pullovers with geometrical patterns and red hems that were to provide both warmth and good luck on the sea have nowadays transformed into one of the most popular and people’s favourite traditional garment.