National Ukrainian costumes came a long period of evolution from the ancient times until today. Historical epochs and events had a great influence on traditional clothing of this nation. We can divide Ukrainian fashion (not history) into two periods: costumes of Kievan Rus' epoch (9th-13th) and clothing of Cossack era (14th-21st). So, there were two different types of clothing, but they had some similarities (like embroidery, similar pieces of clothes, similar materials and so on).
National costumes of Kievan Rus'
The territory of modern Ukraine was the main part of Kievan Rus' in 9th-early 13th centuries. In Kievan Rus', there was, of course, national clothing. It has preserved till today, even now Ukrainians admire the convenience and naturalness of Rus clothes. In those ancient times, people made clothing of homespun cloth, linen or hemp canvas.
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Different costumes of Kievan Rus' epoch. Modern replicas of traditional Rus costumes
The main parts of costume were shirt, trousers, coat, cloak, hat, leggings, stockings and shoes. Poor people wore only long shirts with or without a belt, leggings and bast shoes (or walked barefoot). They used overdress only in winter. Rich people, the prince, and his nobility wore long shirts as undershirts, also they wore coats and cloaks, hats and boots. All pieces of clothing for rich people were beautifully decorated and rather colorful. Actually, poor citizens of Kievan Rus' didn't color the cloth for shirts. Only nobles wore clothes of red, green, blue, brown and yellow colors.
Traditional clothing of nobility in Kievan Rus'
The clothing of noble people in Kievan Rus' was ornated with embroidery (this tradition is still preserved in Ukraine), fur, precious metals, gems and different patterns on fabric. It looked much more delicate and high-quality than the clothing of poor people.
National men's costumes of Kievan Rus'
Men in Kievan Rus' wore knee-length shirt always belted, and tight pants named "porty". The shirt had very long sleeves to replace mittens. While working men pumped sleeves. Shirts and pants were made of homespun cloth. Noble people wore also silk or woolen trousers on top of linen pants.
As an overdress people used warm knee-length (rich people had it up to the ankles) coat named "svyta". This coat was made of woolen cloth, sometimes it was furred. Svyta was worn also with a belt.
Kievan Rus' archers. Men's costumes of Kievan Rus'
As a headdress men in Kievan Rus' used different hats: gabled, round, oval. Usually, hats were decorated with fur. It should be noted that men in Kievan Rus' wore rather long hair (to the collarbone). Short hair was the sign of slaves.
Shoes. In Kievan Rus' ordinary people wore bast shoes or simple boots, nobility wore beautifully decorated leather boots. Bast shoes fitted to leggings or stockings because it is very uncomfortable to wear basts barefoot. Boots didn't have heels but often had a bent toe.
National women's costumes of Kievan Rus'
Women in Kievan Rus' also wore shirts as a main piece of clothing. But their shirts were longer – up to the ankles. Women always belted their shirts, the same as men did. Rich women wore two shirts sometimes, linen undershirt and more delicate linen or silk shirt on top. Another part of women's (only married women) clothing was a kind of skirt, called "panyova". It looked pretty much like an apron, but it was worn with a cut in front. Unmarried women wore another piece of clothing on top of a shirt. It was called "zapona" or "zanaviska". And it looked like a dress, without sleeves and cut into 2 parts from waist to the bottom. It was belted as well.
Youth of Kievan Rus'. Young people in modern replicas of national costumes dance around the fire
There was no feminine overdress in Kievan Rus'. They used men's clothes svyta. But noblewomen wore a warm tunic or mantle as overdress. All the clothing for noble women was made of thin white or colored cloth, beautifully ornated, embroidered etc. Jewelry and fur were widely used.
Let's elaborate on the headdress of women in Kievan Rus'. Only unmarried girls were allowed to walk bare-headed. They used stripes and wreaths to decorate their hair. Married women had to wear different headdresses. For example, "povoynyk", a soft coif that covered all the hair. Also, they wore kerchiefs (named "ubrus") on top of povoynyk. In winter, they used hats made of cloth and fur.
Modern replicas of different traditional Kievan Rus' costumes
Just like men, ladies in Kievan Rus' wore bast shoes, boots and low shoes made of leather (named "porshen"). Bast shoes fitted to leggings or stockings and were the summer shoes. Very often women walked barefoot. Boots were used in winter and as festive shoes. Wealthy people wore beautiful boots, made of thin leather or high-quality cloth (painted in red, blue, green colors), and decorated with embroidery, pearls, and patterns on leather.
Traditional Ukrainian costumes of Cossack era
This period has transformed the national clothing of Ukraine, which is considered to be the traditional costume for this country until today. In the 20th century, such clothes lost their wide usage, but the 21st century brought a new wave of popularity for the Ukrainian traditional costume. In 2013-2014 young people in Ukraine often wear traditional embroidered shirts (and other pieces of clothing that have historical and symbolic meaning) every day.
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Ukrainian choir "Gomin" in national costumes
Embroidery is one of the main characteristics of Ukrainian clothing. The patterns of embroidery are different for different regions of the country. And they're also very symbolic. There are guardian patterns, patterns that tell a specific story about the owner of the shirt, patterns that bring luck and so on. Usually, white cloth is embroidered with red and black threads, but there are also some variations: white embroidery on white cloth, black on white, red on black, blue on white and colorful (red, black, yellow, green, orange, blue etc.) patterns.
National Ukrainian men's costume
There used to be a tradition for Ukrainian men: they shouldn't take off their shirts in public. Often even their children have never seen them without a shirt. It was considered unacceptable. So, the main part of men's traditional dress in Ukraine is an embroidered shirt. Another required piece is trousers. They can be simple like a porty in Kievan Rus' which is made of linen cloth. Or more festive like a sharovary which is made of colored cloth, percale or silk. Sharovary is a kind of trousers which are very wide, belted on the waist and collected at the bottom near the ankles. Usually, they are red or blue. Ukrainian Cossacks wore sharovary because they were considered to be the most convenient pants.
Ukrainian boys in national costumes
Men wore sharovary either with the shirt tucked into it or narrow trousers with the shirt untucked. They always wore belts. Belts also were different. Some of them were very wide and long, sometimes several meters long, and were used with sharovary, others were narrow linen or woolen, named "krayka" meaning to belt a shirt. Also, wide belts were made of leather and called "pas" or "cheres". They were worn by people in Carpathian regions.
There were a lot of different kinds of overgarment in Ukraine. For example, "svyta", "kobenyak", "keptar", "kozhukh". Let's find out the difference between them. Svyta looked like modern a coat (it had many variations), was made of wool, and chiefly it was white. Kobenyak is a coat. It was rather wide because men often wore it over the other outerwear. And there was a hood to hide the head from rain or frost. Keptar is a short coat without sleeves, it looks like a waistcoat. Usually, it is made of leather and furred. Also, keptar can be embroidered. Kozhukh was similar to the keptar, but it had sleeves and was much longer. It was always furred, sometimes embroidered. Kozhukh could be made of leather, wool or cloth.
Ukrainian Cossacks are training
If you're going to talk about shoes in national Ukrainian costume, there are several variations: "postoly" (very comfortable closed-toe shoes, made of leather), "lychaky" (bast shoes but they were popular only in a few regions), boots (high, up to the knee, leather or cloth shoes, with or without heels).
Headdresses. One of the main indications of a Cossack is their hair-do. They shaved their heads leaving only one strand on top of the head. Right where the 7th chakra is. This Ukrainian tradition is very old. Cossacks got their power and energy from the universe with help from that strand of hair. It was considered to work like an antenna.
But Ukrainian Cossacks also wore many other hairstyles.
Traditional Ukrainian clothing, typical for Carpathian region
There were also a lot of different types of headdresses. Mostly ordinary people wore wool hats in the winter and straw hats (called "bryl") in the summer. But wealthy Ukrainians also wore furred hats and hats made of cloth (e.g. silk) and leather, caps with earflaps and so on.
National Ukrainian women's costume
Ukrainian women's costumes divide into 2 categories: costumes of married women and not married girls. The marital status of a woman influences the clothing much.
Unmarried girls in Ukraine wore more colorful and bright clothing, the decoration and patterns were larger and brighter. Girls also used much more jewelry. And they wore their hair uncovered, with wreaths, ribbons, and flowers in it.
Ukrainian girls and women in traditional costumes
Traditional Ukrainian women's garment consisted of an embroidered shirt, a skirt called "plakhta", an apron called "zapaska", a belt, sometimes shoes (often Ukrainians walked barefoot) and a headdress. A shirt could be short or long, up to the ankles. If the shirt was short, it was worn with a skirt (but it was uncommon among ordinary people). The long shirt was worn with plakhta and zapaska. This clothing was popular not only among ordinary people but among wealthy Ukrainians as well. Also, the long shirt could be worn without any skirts, just belted. Women used the same belts as men did.
Women's overgarment in Ukraine also was pretty much alike to men's outerwear in Cossack era. Women wore coats (called "svyta" and "kozhukh"), fur-coats, coats without sleeves (called "keptar"). All that clothes had a very little difference from men's overgarment. Sometimes only decoration was different. For example, waist area was pointed by embroidery or other decoration elements.
Collection of vintage Ukrainian embroidered shirts in the national center of folk culture "Ivan Honchar Museum", Kyiv
Ukrainian women wore different kinds of shoes: "postoly" (comfortable leather flat shoes), boots, flats, and heels. There were everyday shoes and festive shoes. Everyday shoes usually were comfortable, not very beautiful, and didn't have heels. They were made of leather or cloth. Festive shoes were rather beautiful and bright. They were made of thin high-quality leather, decorated with embroidery or painted patterns, and they had wide not very high heels. Usually, everyday shoes were black, and festive shoes were red (the most popular color), brown or green.
Vintage Ukrainian embroidered shirt
Ukrainian women paid great attention to their hair. As we said earlier, unmarried girls used to wear their hair loose. They wore ribbons, wreaths of fresh or artificial flowers, of leaves and wheatears. Sometimes they braided their hair in one or two braids.
Married women always hid their hair. They wore different headdresses. The most popular was "ochipok"; this headdress had a lot of different forms. It sits tightly on the head and has a lacing on the back. Ochipok was made of linen cloth, silk, gold-cloth etc. It could be round, oval, cylindrical, with a wide top and so on. Another popular headdress was "namitka". It is a piece of white cloth 1,5-2,5 m long and 0,6-0,7 m wide. Women used to wear namitka in many different ways, every time they could make another headdress with a help of it. Also, Ukrainian women often wore different hats, and not only in winter. There were furred hats, hats made of linen and silk. One of the most popular was a hat called "korablyk", it is a round tightly fitting hat with much longer ends, that are sticking up in the front and back.
Vintage Ukrainian embroidered shirt
Ukrainian women, despite their age, liked jewelry very much. Traditionally they wore necklaces of coral, gemstones, glass beads and metal. Often girls and women wore coral necklaces with coins (called "dukachi") or small metal balls. Young girls used many beading threads, married women wore mainly only one thread.