The structure of Romanian traditional clothing – portul popular (Romanian), traditional costume (English), traditional dress (American) – has remained unchanged throughout history and can be traced back for many centuries. The basic garment for both men and women is a shirt or chemise, which is made from hemp, linen or woollen fabric. This was tied round the waist using a fabric belt, narrow for women and wider for men. The cut of this basic chemise is similar for men and women. In the past those worn by women usually reached to the ankles while men’s shirts were shorter and worn over trousers or leggings made from strips of fabric. Women normally wear an apron over the chemise. This was initially a single piece of cloth wrapped round the lower part of their bodies and secured by a belt at the waist, as is still seen in the east and south east of Romania. In Transylvania and the south west of Romania this became two separate aprons, one worn at the back and one at the front.
Men’s traditional clothing throughout Romania comprises a white shirt (cămasă), white trousers, hat, belt, waistcoat and or overcoat. Local differences are indicated by shirt length, type of embroidery, trouser cut, hat shape, or waistcoat decoration. In most areas shirts are worn outside trousers, which is the older style. This is a basic Balkan man’s costume largely uninfluenced by fashions from west or east. Hungarian and Saxon men living in Romania wear trousers with a more modern cut often made of dark material rather than white. This reflects their closer ties, and more frequent communication, with the west.
The outer garments worn by both men and women are similar, the main differences being in cut and decoration which depend mainly on the region of provenance. These garments are usually made of sheepskin, or felted woollen fabric, and decorated with leather appliqué and silk embroidery.
Traditional clothing worn on workdays and festivals used to be similar, the main difference being that the festive dress, especially those worn for weddings was more richly embroidered. In the past the headwear worn by the bride was especially ornate with specific local styles. In poorer areas basic clothing with little or no embroidery has always been worn.
The various pieces of costume have gone out of use at different times during the 20th century. The first item to disappear in many areas were leather peasant sandals (opinci), although these could be seen in poorer villages again in the years immediately following the fall of the communist regime. In most rural areas men’s traditional trousers were replaced by modern factory made trousers by the mid 20th century and in the post communism years jeans has become universally common. Traditional over garments became an expensive luxury, new garments only being purchased by people living in the very wealthy villages. As the traditional jacket makers in many areas have died few new artisans have been trained to carry on their craft.
However during our travels in the period from 1997 to 2005 we found that if you look closely in the more remote areas some older people were wearing items of traditional clothing. This can be for women a gathered black skirt or dark wraparound with a blouse of local cut either with or without a leather waistcoat. In Oaș and Maramureș young girls wear the local fashion costume on Sundays. This is normally made from brightly coloured material, in Oaș a dress, in Maramureș a skirt. Added to the local costume is the latest fashion in blouses and footwear such as white lacy blouses in Maramureș and platform shoes or stilettos, in both regions. Men usually have “western” trousers or jeans but may have a local shirt, or local shaped hat, although unfortunately the universal trilby is fast replacing these. Certain items of costume, specific to occupations, are still worn, for example men working in the forestry industry wear the wide leather belts (chimir), usually now over a T-shirt and jeans. In rural areas men’s traditional fur hats (caliciulă) are still worn in winter , and women often wear a printed woollen scarf, sometimes with a traditional straw hat over this when working in the fields in the summer.