Bulgarian traditional clothing – Народни носии Narodni nosii (Bulgarian), traditional costume (English), traditional dress (American) – are the garments that were worn in Bulgarian villages until the beginning of the 20th century. These garments were hand made in the villages using materials that were produced locally. The basic structure of the clothing worn by men and women for workdays and holidays remained the same for many hundreds of years, until urban influenced fashion and factory produced clothes became available. The garments that can be seen in ethnographic museums today date from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century which is the period when the most elaborate costumes were made. The costumes on display are often those worn for weddings, which had the most layers, and were worn with heavy metal jewellery. After women were married, and later were widowed the number of garments worn was reduced, with those being worn have little or no decoration. By the 1930s the strict adherence to the use of indictors of age in the structure of the garment worn died out.
Folk costume began to change in Bulgaria during the national revival period in the 19th century. In the urban areas the local traditional costume began to be replaced by new designs strongly influenced by Ottoman and later western fashions. These changes took place earlier for men than women and for different elements of the costume, and in the various layers of society. The earlier, fastest and most diverse changes took place in the town on the Thracian Plain between the mid-19th century and the 1920s. In more remote areas where life remained relatively unchanged, with stockbreeding and farming remaining the main means of survival, the clothing worn remained relatively unchanged until rural depopulation in the mid-20th century.
Bulgarian men’s costumes and women’s costumes can be classified into several categories, although there were not strict boundaries to the occurrence of each costume type, and the styles of costume worn in each region changed over time due to fashion influences and population movements. After Bulgaria was liberated from the Ottomans in 1878, many migrants from the Stara Planina mountains moved down to the Danube plains and took over farms abandoned by the Turks. This resulted in the double apron and belodreshnik (white men’s) costume being displaced from the foothills of the Stara Planina and parts of north east Bulgaria. In other cases the two costume types were worn side by side by women with the warmer tunic style costumes being worn in winter. Along the Thracian Plain and in the Rhodopes the single apron costume was worn for work in the fields in summer alongside saya and sukman costumes. It was also usual in the past for a bride to be taken to her husband’s village when they got married taking with her dowry of which her folk costume formed part. Later her costume was passed on as a gift to her daughter, who again might move to a different village when she got married.
A visit to the folk festival at Koprivshtitsa can leave one overwhelmed at the variety and number of different costumes that are found within a relatively small country. There are however certain rules which can help in identifying the region of origin of certain costumes, although some costumes can defy all these rules. It is important to recognise the difference between the ethnic village costumes, parts of which may be several hundred years old, and the modern performing group costumes. Performing group costumes represent the costume of a region and not that of a particular village. They are usually made from brighter coloured cloth and even sometimes synthetic fabrics. These costumes are mass produced using sewing machines in a workshop and are not hand stitched and embroidered by individuals in their homes. Detailed embroidery is also often replaced by simpler, but effective, braiding. The following detailed descriptions of costume structure refer to the ethnic village costumes.