The style of Bulgarian women’s dress is determined by the type of apron or tunic worn over the chemise. These garments can be divided into three main categories:
- One or two aprons tied around the waist made of a single piece of cloth, or two pieces sewn together vertically or horizontally, which can be gathered or pleated at the waist.
- Sukman – A tunic fastened at the shoulders, which can be sleeveless or short sleeved tunic.
- Saya – A tunic fastened at the shoulders but with an opening at the front, like a coat which can have long-sleeves, short sleeved or sleeveless open at the front.
The single or double apron costume is considered to come from the Slavs, whereas the sukman and saya costume are thought to have evolved from the sarafan. In certain regions a mix of double apron and sukman or saya and sukman costume were worn.
Single or double apron costume
This style of dress consists of one or two aprons worn over the chemise and tied round the waist. The chemise most often worn with the double apron costume is gathered at the neck and wrists and is called a burchanka. All variants of this style of dress are worn with a narrow woven fabric belt, knitted patterned socks and leather sandals (tsârvuli) or felt slippers.
Closed tunic – Sukman
The sukman is an sleeveless or short sleeved overdress with a low V or U-shaped neck. It is usually made of dark woollen material and decorated with braid. It is worn over an embroidered straight cut chemise (riza) and in most areas with a richly decorated apron. A waistband or narrow belt is worn over the sukman. Various types of waistcoats and jackets are also worn, and knitted socks, leather sandals or felted slippers or, more commonly today, shoes.
Open tunic – Saya
The saya is an open tunic (like a coat), usually with long or short sleeves. It is worn with a chemise which is usually called a koshulya, a waistband, a headscarf and a straight front apron made of one or two lengths of fabric with a vertical seam.
The fabrics used to make these traditional garments were home produced from materials available locally. Wool, hemp, flax, and later silk thread was spun and woven into fabric by hand, then sewn into garments which were hand decorated using thread dyed with natural colourings.
In certain towns, which were involved in trade with the orient and west during the National Revival period, the traditional linen or woollen materials were replaced by brightly coloured silks. The style of costume worn in towns such as Kotel, Panagyurishte, Koprivshtitsa, Sliven and Plovdiv reflected these outside influences, with both cut and decoration being strongly influenced by Ottoman fashion, for example the design on the women’s aprons worn in Kotel (white embroidery on a blue background) is supposed to have been brought back from Jerusalem.