Romanian queens, princes, and princesses often preferred local folk costumes to universal European court clothes in the late 19th – early 20th century. There are old photos and postcards to prove that. Even when most European courts dressed by the latest fashion trends, Romanian royalty made embroidered clothing and traditional accessories the symbols of Romanian national identity and even the means to replenish the state budget – by exporting these authentic items to neighboring and far-away countries.
More than that, the Queen Elizabeth of Romania (1843–1916) made Romanian traditional costume the royal court attire in the 1870s. A lot of noblewomen and high-class women at the time wore the local folk dress for many occasions.
We would like to thank the Maryhill Museum of Art for the info used in this article.
Among dozens of Romanian traditional articles of clothes, there were very different items. Some of them were super simple and fit only ordinary villagers and the low class, but others were so ornate, festive, and opulent that you could easily see the royals and the cream of society wearing them. Let’s find out what garments were sophisticated enough for the most powerful and wealthy Romanians.
Embroidered shirts and blouses were probably the most popular and diverse clothing piece in many Eastern-European countries, including Romania. Everyone wore them in daily life and for special occasions. Most such blouses were handmade and hand-embroidered, each one unique. An embroidered shirt is perhaps the main symbol of Romanian identity, and so these pieces were used by both peasants and royals alike. The royal blouses could be more ornate, made from finer fabrics, and more skillfully embroidered, but the main idea, design, and traditional patterns remained pretty much the same. Romanian folk embroidery shirts looked (and still do today) so beautiful and eye-catching that royals never hesitated to wear them and present them to the members of other European courts.
Romanian queens wore garments adorned with traditional embroidery designs even with their Western-style court dresses. For example, such underwear pieces as a chemise could be inspired by folk shirts. At the same time, their cut and style were urban and contemporary (as in the early 20th century) rather than traditional. But the embroidery patterns were handmade and their placement was typical for the folk blouses.
Wrap-around skirt called “valnic”
One of many traditional Romanian styles of skirts is called a “valnic”. It is a woven wrap-around garment worn by women. It was typically made from wool and woven by hand. The design and woven patterns were diverse. A valnic was worn with an embroidered shirt and was always belted with a woven sash. The patterns traditionally were striped, checkered, floral, or geometric – a festive skirt was never plain.
Winter coat called “suman”
This ornate outerwear looks magnificent. And the members of the Romanian royal family very often are depicted in the early-20th-century photos wearing elaborately decorated suman. One of the Romanian queens even wore this coat during her coronation.
It is a woolen coat, usually white, loose-fitting, and adorned with a lot of embellishments (embroidery, braiding, etc). A suman is unisex, worn by both men and women. The length of suman can be different, but most often, somewhere around the knee-length (from mid-thigh-length to mid-calf-length). Interesting fact about these outer garments is that they were traditionally sewn and decorated by nuns in monastic ateliers.
All of the mentioned garments and a lot of old photos of Romanian royalty you can see in this video by the Maryhill Museum of Art. They are on exhibit right now, so you’re welcome to visit the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, WA, the US, and observe these lovely vintage pieces of clothing with your own eyes.