Women’s chemises and blouses

Women’s chemises cămașă (pl. cămăși) were originally made of linen, hemp or wool and later cotton or silk homespun fabric woven using 2 heddles. Thicker fabrics such as wool or thick linen were used in most of Transylvania and Moldavia and thinner fabrics (thin linen, cotton or silk) were used in southern Transylvania, parts of southern Moldavia, Oltenia, Muntenia and Dobrogea.

The chemise (cămașă) was originally made of one piece of fabric and full length (cămașă lungă). There were two main types of chemises, straight (cămașă dreaptă) or gathered at the neck (cămașă încrețitâ). Both types were usually collarless but had ties or buttons to close the neck. Sleeves were usually wide and could be loose or gathered at the wrist.

Chemises were made from a single piece of cloth cut into rectangular and triangular pieces. The type of cămașă can be identified using three elements – 1) the type of head opening, 2) the cut and structure of the body and 3) the method of joining the sleeves to the body.

More recently in certain regions this was separated into a blouse (cămașă scurtă, ciupag, spăcel or ie) and underskirt (poală) in which case the underskirt was either a separate garment or sewn onto the blouse.

Straight cut chemise cămașă dreaptă

Straight chemise

Straight chemise

The straight or old style chemise (cămașă dreaptă sau bătrinească, or cămesoi in Moldavia), was worn by women of all ages in the Baragan plain and Dobrogea and by older women elsewhere. This is the same as the oldest type of men’s shirt. It is made using a single width of homespun fabric called a val, which is cut into rectangles. The main width forms the body, a round hole is cut for the head and a slit is made at the front. It has no shoulder seam. Each sleeve is made of a width of material and is joined to the main part at shoulder level. A small square of fabric (gusset) called a pavă or broască is inserted under the arm and side gussets were later added to give extra width. The older versions of the straight shirt did not have a collar. In Dobrogea and on the Baragan Plain the neck is edged with a narrow strip of fabric called a bentița and tied using two cords (baere).

Straight cut chemise with shoulder insetscămașă cu umeraș

Chemise with shoulder insets

Gathered chemise

The chemise with shoulder insets (cămașă cu umeraș) is a variant of the straight shirt. The basic cut is the same as cămașă dreaptă but a piece of cloth is added over the shoulders. A variant of this type is found in Maramureș where the two side gussets extend over the shoulders and the front and back pieces are gathered at the top edge, often using decorative smocking, making a square neck. One or more extra frills (volon) are often added at the neck edge, and square underarm gussets are inserted. The sleeves are made from one and a half pieces of cloth and are gathered where they join the shoulders and at the lower edge using smocking matching that at the neck edge, either into a cuff or open out to form a frill. Cămăși worn by younger girls may have several frills, including frills over the shoulders and wider sleeves. Blouses worn by older women often do not have any frills.

Chemise with yokecămașă cu platcă

Chemise with yoke (var1)

The chemise with a yoke (cămașă cu platcă) has two variants. The first type is found in south east Romanian – the Baragan Plain, Teleorman, and Tulcea. A rectangle of fabric is used to make a square yoke onto which rectangles of fabric are joined to form the front and the back of the blouse, and the two sleeves. Underarm gussets are inserted to give the blouse extra fullness. The edges of the yoke are decorated with embroidery.

Chemise with yoke (var2)

The second variant is found in the north west – Oaș, Țara Crișurilor. It is a later evolution of the straight chemise probably influenced by Slovakian and Ruthenian costume. In this variant a rectangle of fabric is used to make a square yoke onto which rectangles of fabric are gathered to form the front and back of the blouse. The sleeves are gathered at the shoulders and wrists, and either open out into a frill or were cuffed. The lower part of the cămașă – the poale, is made of rectangular pieces with added gussets. The neck opening is decorated with a frill in Bihor, collar in Salaj, or has a square neck in Maramureș. The seams are joined using ornamental stitches (cheiță) sewn with white thread. In Țara Oașului and Codru this type of blouse only replaced the cămașă cu umeraș in the early part of 20th century. The versions from Țara Oașului were the fullest with 1.5 or 2 widths of cloth joined onto yoke and very wide gathered sleeves. This style was based on town fashions in this area that influenced the style of traditional costume.

Gathered round neck chemise – Cămașă încrețită

Gathered neck chemise

Chemises gathered round the neck (cămașă încrețită in jurul gâtului or cămașă încrețite la gât) are worn throughout Romania except Maramureș, Oaș, and Bihor in the west, and the Baragan Plain and Dobrogea in the south east. This type of blouse can be seen on the monument at Adamclisi and Trajan’s Column, hence is thought to have existed at least since Dacian times. This form of chemise is also found in Slavic populations in Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine where it is know as Valah type

Lupșa, Muntii Apuseni

The front, back and sleeves of this chemise are made of rectangular pieces of homespun fabric. Four pieces are used for the body of the blouse, one for the front, one for the back and two for the side gussets with a V shape cut out to insert the sleeves which are joined in at neck in raglan fashion. This type of chemise also has a gusset (pavă) inserted under the arm to ease movement. Originally the neck was gathered using a cord called a brezărău. The oldest form of this blouse can still be seen in north Moldavia around Suceava, Botoșani, Neamț and Iași. This type of blouse is called “ie” in Bucovina and Muntenia, cămașă românească in Maramureș, Codru, Lăpuș, Sălaj, and cămașă mocănească in Baragan Plain, and Dobrogea.

The variations of cămașă încrețită are based on the width of the body and arrangement of the pieces of fabric making up the sleeves, and the width of these. The sleeves are either made of one rectangle of fabric joined to the body at the shoulders or with a separate small rectangle of fabric (altița) forming the upper part of the arm, to which the main part of the sleeve is joined at underarm level. Both styles can either have the sleeves gathered at the wrists (using a cord) or left open.

Gathered neck chemise with altiță

The oldest forms of cămașă încrețită have altița and were found in Vrancea, Bacău, Gorj and Vâlcea, Mărginamea Sibiului and Târnave, but seldom in the rest of Transylvania. More recently chemises from southern Transylvania and Banat were made without an altița, hence are known as chemises with sleeves to the neck (Cămașă cu mâneca din gât). One characteristic of these chemises is the sleeve gathered at or just below the elbow then opening out into a “flounce” called fodor. This is never found on blouses with altiță, where sleeves are open at the wrist ends or gathered into the wrist. Recent blouses from Mărginamea Sibiului have very wide sleeves made of 3 widths of fabric.

Chemises with twisted sleeves – cămașă cu mâneca răsuciță sau învârtită were a variant of cămașă încrețită which had sleeves made of a very long triangular piece of material with the point downward. The sleeves are worn twisted and creased to make them the correct length. This type has no gusset (pavă). Its origin is not know but it can be seen in prints and paintings of the upper class in Câineni Church in Țara Loviștei (1733), a portrait of Princess Tudosca Bucioc in 1640, and some miniatures kept at Mount Athos monasteries, on the monument at Adamclisi and Trajan’s Column and on Roman steles found on Romanian soil. This type of blouse was worn until 70 years ago in Vrancea, Muscel, Bran and Covasna.

Chemise with triangular altitsa (cămașă cu chieușcă) are found only in north part of Țara Vrancei and neighbouring zone of Cașin, Judetul Bacău. One form of chemise found in northern Bulgaria also has this triangular gusset.

Underskirt – poală (pl. poale)

Blouse with straight underskirt

In the past long chemises (cămașă lungă) were worn mainly in the south of the country, whereas the underskirt was more often separated from the blouse in Transylvania, Banat and Moldavia, although more recently the chemise has become two garments in most regions. Where the two garments are separate the underskirt (poală) or lower part of the female chemise is cut from the same piece of cloth as the blouse and gathered with ciupag (gathering) and tied with a cord or with a belt. It is then either joined to the blouse or worn separately.

Blouse with gusseted underskirt

There are two types of poale – straight and flared. Straight poale are made of 3 widths of cloth whereas the wider version is made of 5-6 widths gathered into wide folds or narrow pleats. In some regions these are creased by ironing – Sălaj, Codru, Arad, or pleated with very narrow pleats – Mărginimea Sibiului, Târnave, Țara Oltului. In Pădureni, Hunedoara the poale has extra gussets, with two rectangles of cloth forming the front and back of the chemise and tow oblique gussets inserted into the sides reaching up to hip level. In Maramureș cămașă lungă was worn with aprons (zadii) whereas cămașă scurta was worn with a patterned skirt .

Blouse with yoke and gathered underskirt

In the zones to the west of the country – Oaș, Sălaj, Bihor and Arad, the poală has been transformed into a fustă (skirt) which is made of white linen and gathered onto a waistband. The widest poale are found in Țara Oașului, where 4-5 m of cloth is gathered into a waistband.

Region Summary
Banat, Bistra Valley Underskirt is embroidered with geometric motifs representing plant and animal shaped elements.
Banat, Timiș Poală were separate from the blouse and were made of 6-7 widths of cloth. From the beginning of the 20th century in urban areas poală became a wide skirt (fustă) made of 5m of rich material, brocade, cashmere, velvet or silk.
Oaș Gathered skirt (poale) made of 4-5 widths of white linen, joined to a wide waistband. The waistband and hem are decorated in black woollen embroidery. Since 1980s these skirts have been made of factory produced printed floral fabric, and are worn with a matching apron.
South Transylvania
Mărginimea Sibiului Underskirt is pleated with very narrow pleats.


Published on 11th February 2018, last modified on 12th June 2018