In the 19th century, town fairs became extremely popular in many European countries, including Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and so on. Large fairs were held 1-2 times a year and were huge. They were a place where different cultures, regions, ethnic groups, and traditions met and intermixed. Merchants traveled from one market place to the other and brought their goods, often imported. All these factors more or less influenced the local fashion and clothing traditions.
Sure, people depended very much on the goods brought to their homeland by merchants. Ordinary townsmen didn’t travel often to buy, for example, fabric or yarn or jewels elsewhere, so all they had were town fairs. If the assortment of fabrics was narrow, the whole village wore similar garments. Also, merchants brought fashion trends from one community to the next.
But in the early 1800s, people still estimated and honored the tradition in clothing. So, market places had a smaller influence on fashion than in the late 19th – early 20th century. This is when fashion trends became really important and even managed to change centuries-old clothing traditions somewhat. Women liked to get inspiration from pieces they saw on town fairs, so they incorporated some new elements in embroidery, often taken from other regions and cultures (which was, actually, a new trend). Ukrainian females started to use more imagination and creativity and less tradition.
At the same time, women didn’t have a lot of freedom of imagination at the time. They had to rather strictly follow the tradition of embroidering the clothes. So, they added small changes, but the main idea and pattern had to remain unchanged. Otherwise, a woman would have got disapproval from her relatives and neighbors, and respect from fellow villagers was highly important for any man or woman or family.
A town fair was a local festive occasion, beloved by everybody – men and women, adults and kids, old and young, rich and poor. Each villager could find at the market something special, whether it was sales or entertainment or communication, etc. For example, the best gift ever could be brought only from a town fair. It was treasured greatly and every woman dreamed about such a present. Mostly, it was jewelry, factory-made kerchiefs, fine fabrics, and other similar items.
We’ve already mentioned that town fairs brought entertainment to villages and towns as well as business. And one specific type of entertainment was fortune telling. The fortune-tellers attracted clients by guessing where they were from, up to a particular district or even village. A lot of villagers were frightened and amazed by such abilities, but it all is easily explained – in the 19th – early 20th century, the attire of a person could tell so much about him or her, including, of course, the region of origin. So, these fortune-tellers just knew the geography of Ukrainian folk dress very well, at least of the region where a fair was held.
By the way, people rarely bought clothes, they were used to making it by themselves. Only wealthy families could afford to purchase many garments instead of producing them. Of course, some articles of clothing had to be bought because they were too complicated to be made at home, so certain craftsmen produced and sold them. For example, these were some woolen outerwear pieces, shoes, industrially-made kerchiefs, etc.
Most often, people bought the raw stuff – fabric, leather, wool, threads, and other materials, which they later used to make clothes at home.
Fun fact! A lot of people, especially men in western regions of Ukraine, wore jewelry or some other adornments with small mirrors as an eye-catching element. Why did they do it? Maybe to look in it when you’re picking clothes? Actually, no. The real reason was to protect a person from the evil eye. The mirror attracts immediate attention, sometimes you won’t even notice the appearance of a person, you’ll just stare at the arresting embellishment. And so, people believed that those with an evil eye couldn’t concentrate enough to harm you.