The Latvian national costume is basically the traditional festive outfit of peasants, craftsmen, fishermen, and other ordinary folk as worn in the 19th century, approximately up to the 1870s.  There were, of course, also work clothes, just like today, the outfit matched the season and weather.  

The national costume, however, is not just a certain type of festive garb: it is an expression of a nation’s sense of beauty, ability to form an ornament and put together colors, as well as knowledge of the craft. It embodies centuries-old traditions of making, adorning, and wearing the costume.

The Latvian national costume is a composite of a variety of festive outfits. There are many local varieties that are combined based on the five cultural-historical or ethnographic areas of Latvia: Vidzeme, Latgale, Augšzeme, Zemgale, and Kurzeme. It is possible that at the basis of the older, barely determinable distinguishing marks of the traditional costume are the outfits of Baltic tribes and Livs living in what is now the territory of Latvia. Yet in every historic period the various costumes have shared many features in common. The costume has changed over time, retaining something of the old and supplementing the new. The peculiarities of the costumes of a certain area became more pronounced over the long centuries of serfdom when the peasants were not allowed to move around freely.  The 19th century, particularly the 1860s also left their mark on the variety of the traditional outfits.

The basic element of the traditional costume is the shirt, which is an undergarment and an over-garment. Women’s shirts were long, coming down to under the knee and serving both as a blouse and a petticoat. Over the shirt, the women put skirts, bodices, jackets; whereas men wore a vest and a short jacket or a longer or shorter overcoat.  The full outfit was not thinkable without a headdress: a crown for girls from their teenage years to the day of their marriage and a hat or a headscarf for married women; the men’s hat wearing was not so strictly regulated. A part of the costume was also knit woolen or cotton lace socks and black flat heel shoes (in places – leather pastalas), for men sometimes boots. The shirt was closed by one small brooch or several ones, the big brooches were used to keep the cape in place. Another element was the woven belts.

The traditional costume or rather a stylized variation of it became a symbol of Latvian culture in the 1880s, as part of the national song festival. To this day, the traditional costume is an essential element of the song festival.

Anete Karlsone

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