History of clothing elements

The traditional clothing that exists today, and is recorded on photographs and film, dates mainly from 19th and 20th centuries. There is very little evidence, except for a few paintings, showing clothing worn outside towns before the 19th century. In most countries the wearing of traditional clothing died out by 1900 due to the process of industrialisation, but in Romania folk costume has continued to be worn and to develop through most of the 20th century which is why there is such a wealth of information available today. Although over time the embroidery on Romanian clothing has become very detailed and elaborate the basic garments retains a structure which may date back to Neolithic or Bronze Age times, the original characteristics being retained due to the remoteness of large areas of Romanian.

Historical and documentary evidence of costume elements

Details of evidence from within the land which is now part of Romania and surrounding Balkan countries:

Period Document/Monument Details
Neolithic period
5500-2200 BC
Venus of Craiova The oldest iconographic evidence of costume within present day Romanian is considered to date back to Neolithic period with statuettes decorated with patterns similar to those found in Romanian costume. These include the ceramic figure known as Venus of Craiova, is  see Al. Tzigara-Samurcaș (L’Art du People Roumaine 1925).
Hamangia culture (4000-3000BC) Clay statuettes found in 1956 in the tomb of the Neolithic necropolis of Cernavodă, Dobrogea called “the thinker” and “woman sitting”.
Turdaş culture First prototype of an opinca încrețită /îngurzită can be attributed to the ‘piciorul de vas de la Turdaș‘ now in Cluj Archaeological Museum.
Cucuteni culture, Moldavia and Transylvania Representations of simple fabrics and knitted fabrics have been found on Neolithic pottery.
Bronze Age
1800-1150 BC
Migration of Indo European tribes to west Early Dacians
Zagreb stele Zagreb stele shows fotă worn with corner turned up under the belt. Suggestions have been made that the prototype of the fotă may be Illyric. Similarities between Dacian and Ilyrian costume indicate that the origin may be termed Thraco-illyrian.
Ceramic figure in Careii Mari museum in north near Satu Mare Bronze Age figure in Careii Mari museum shows necklaces, cloth made into a suman and distinct motifs on front and back similar to “brădut” on female shirts in some zones of Transylvania.
Clay Statuettes discovered in the Cârna necropolis, Dolj County, Oltenia (discovered 1950s) Number of statutes found in necropolis of Cârna on Danube show women wearing chemises and catrințe with waistbands, decorated with ornamental motifs. These belonged to the “urnfield” culture of certain Danubian tribes with Indo-European elements prior to the separation of the Thracians and the Illyrians.
Căşei, Transylvania Cojoc on stele found at Cășei in Transylvania.
Moldavia (Republic of Moldova) – sites of ancient fortified towns by the villages of Mateutsy and Poyana of Rezina District and Gansk of Kutuzovo District Jewellery from Thracian period including gold and silver neckpieces, ear-rings with droppers, decorated with grain-gold, blue glass-beads, silver and gold bracelets, fibulae (fasteners).
Iron Age
1000-800 BC
Kostelitz, Bohemia, Hallstadt Representation of an opancă without a peak on a clay vessel similar to the piciorul de vas de la Turdaș.
Dürrnberg, Hallein-Austria First representation of an opancă with a peak found in a salt mine in Dürrnberg.
6th C BC Bihac (Bosnia) Funeral stone showing a person wearing a opincă.
514-513 BC Herodotus Herodotus’ description of Getae at the invasion of Darius mentioned that the Thracian-Dacians used embroidery to decorate their clothes. He also makes the first mention of cojoc as he describes the Tracii, wearing “fox caps, tunics and long mottled fur coats (cojoace) with applications of leather” (Herodotus, Histories, VII,75).
1st C AD Roman poet Ovid, in Tristia Ovid , in exile at Tomis (Constanța) mentions the “pelliti Getae” the “fur clad Getae” the native who wore cojoc.
2nd C
AD 109 Romans & Dacians
Monument at Adamclisi in Dobrogea Tropaeum Traiani erected to commemorate Trajan’s conquest of the Dacians has 49, bas relief’s which show the Roman campaign. Dacians represented on it are wearing opinci, creased ițari (tight fitting and long & gathered trousers) and heavy sheepskin coats (cojoace). Women are wearing chemises and fotă. This demonstrates that these garments were in existence in Dacian times and hence have had a Dacian or earlier origin.
2nd C AD 113 AD Trajan’s Column in Rome Show representations of the Dacians who had come to negotiate with the Romans. The men can be seen wearing cloaks (gluga), creased trousers, and opinci, the women are dressed in a chemise with rounded gathered neck, with belt at waist in a different style to those on monument at Adamclisi.
5th C AD
Huns 375-453
Priscus, 5th C Byzantium historian Priscus, saw the Slavonic women in Attila’s palace embroidering fine linen with threads of various colours.
6th C AD Slavic invasions Moldavia (Republic of Moldova) Early Slavic settlement near the village of Trebuzheny, the Orgeyev District A bronze periapt-pendant, found during excavations dates from the 6th or the 7th centuries. This shows a man with his arms bent. He is clothed in a long tunic with a slit at the front and a belt at waist and high boots with tapered toes.
14th C Middle Ages Frescos Medieval costume of rulers and nobles represented in a large number of frescoes in churches & monasteries e.g. Mălâncrav in Sibiu, (mid 14C) Curtea de Argeş (1384), Căliu (NW of Craiova) etc. Frescos in Curtes de Argeș show women in cămașă with altița and pleated vâlnic.
1358 Chronicon Pictum Vindobonense Oldest pictures of medieval Romanian folk costume in two miniatures in Chronican Pictum dating from first half of fourteenth century and showing the battle of Posada (1330). Shows peasant archers wearing belted white shirts, trousers (ițari), leather shoes (opinci), shepherds cloaks (sarice).
15th C
Ottoman invasions
Documents re existence of trade guilds – customs records, economic statistics, marriage contracts, membership diplomas. One document mentions existence of a number of noteworthy Cojocari in villages. “Guild members of snuff box makers, Cojocari, shoemakers, in towns of Transylvania and in Moldavia, which make trade with neighbouring countryside”. Membership diplomas of furriers’ guilds list guilds in Suceava, Iași, Siret, Roman, Brașov, Orăstie, Bistrița, Câmpulung, Târgoviște, București.
1402 Embroidered altar cloth, Putna Monastery Euphima, a Serbian nun, daughter of Vojihna, together with her daughter Euprasijka embroidered an altar cloth for Putna Monastery (Bucovina) in gold thread.
1488 J Thurocz – book Cronica Hungarorum (Vienna) Engravings in J Thurocz book Cronica Hungarorum.
1553 Serbia – Hans Dernschvam “Women in Morava district wore shirts with neck, front and sleeves embroidered in woollen thread in many colours”. Church embroidery in gold thread and twisted silk.
1556 Badges of Jewellers Guild in Brașov Badges of Jewellers Guild in Brașov show women in costume.
16th C Antonius Wranacius Sibenicenisis Dalmata – De situ Transilvaniae, Moldaviae et Transalpinae Contains data regarding Romanian costume.
1536-1538 Cronica evenimentelor moldovene între 1536-1538 “Moldavians are stoutly attached to their clothing and whoever adopts the clothing, the dress or any such things from the Turks or from any other nation suffers capital punishment”.
1541 Georgio A. Reicherstorf – Moldaviae quae olim Daciae pars – Vienna Contains descriptions of costumes.
1560 Pigafetta re Serbian costume Pigafetta says women in Bela Palanka on the Nišava wore the sleeves, necks and skirts of their blouses embroidered with all kinds of remade wool and silk.
1640 Book by Valentin Frank leader of Transylvanian Saxons Contains a drawing of a Romanian shepherd in belted shirt, tight cioareci, fur cap and cojoc.
1666 Johannes Troester – Das alt und neue Teutsche Dacia – Nuremberg Describes youths going to the hora in pleated shirts embroidered with barburi (M shaped pattern), he also describes the glugă, opincăs, & velitură.
1656-1658 Franz Babinger: “Conrad Jakob Hildebrandt’s Dreifache Schwedische Gesandtschaftsreise nach Siebenburgen 1656-1658, Sibiu 1937 A Swedish traveller commented on women’s beautiful patterns on their blouses.
1662 Laurentio Toppeltino – Origines et occasus transilvanorum – Lugduni Contains costume data.
1716 Dimitrie Cantemir – Descriptio Moldaviae Contains information on Moldavian costume.
1722 Map of Oltenia drawn by Austrian Friedrich Schwantz Detailed map of Oltenia, illustrated by peasants and townsmen in costume.
1730. Trachten Cabinet von Siebenburgen Shows a peasant carrying a leather jacket (cojoc) richly decorated in different techniques and women from Mărginimea Sibiului wearing a cămaşă with altiţă on shoulders and coat (şuba înfundată), with belt over aprons, and opinci.
1733 Church murals Mural in church of Câineni, Țara Loviștei known as “Jupâneasca Sânziana” shows cămașă with altiță and long “twisted” sleeves.
1750 An anonymous text published in Budapest This mentions gluga and includes cioareci in the Valach costume.
18th (and 19th) Mural pictures on architectural monuments in 18C Haine de dimie, are seen in murals in churches in Râșinari, Sibiu 1752, church in Viorești, Vâlcea 1801, churches in Lelești and Pojogeni, Gorj 1834 etc.
19th C Carol Popp de Szathmary Watercolours showing costumes from all ethnographic zones.
First half 19th C French and Italian artists – Valerio, Lancelot, Doussault, Raffet, Bouquet, Prezziosi Drawings, engravings and watercolurs drawn by artists who travelled through Walachia and Moldavia. Many seen in collection of Lia Stoica.
Mid 19th C Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907) Painted many pictures of Romania peasants, one of most famous is “Țărancă din Muscel”.
Mid 19th C Nikola Arsenovic (Macedonia) Costume illustrations made by Nikola Arsenovic suggest that Macedonian costumes already heavily embroidered but Serbian and Croatian less decorated than they later became.
1929 George Oprescu “Peasant Art in Romania” “The national costume is still fairly common. It is tending to die out more especially in towns and along the railways. The habit has been lost in whole regions” e.g. area between Danube Plain and București.
Published on 11th March 2017, last modified on 25th February 2018