A folk costume (also regional costume, national costume, or traditional garment) expresses an identity through costume, which is usually associated with a geographic area or a period of time in history. Traditional European clothing often tells a story about a place and its people, and there is a wide variety between countries.
In modern European culture, clothing is similar to what you’ll find in most countries across the globe, but many countries make some kind of effort to preserve their heritage through clothing. In this post, we’ll take a look at many examples of traditional clothing in Europe.
Belarus – Traditional clothes in Belarus were usually handmade from flax, hemp, wool, and leather, which are suitable materials for the cold climate. A long linen shirt is a key part of the attire for both men and women, though women wear a long skirt over this shirt. Great detail often goes into the creation of men’s belts and sashes as well. There are regional variations in traditional Belarusian dress, and the countries of Lithuania and Poland have similarities in their traditional clothing.
Bulgaria – As with much of Eastern European traditional clothing, the traditional costumes in Bulgaria vary greatly by ethnographic areas. Something that sets traditional Bulgarian dress apart from other cultures is the use of symbols in the embroidery. These symbols are unique to the wearer and communicate things like status, personality, and family traits. Bulgarian traditional garb is the result of a mixing of Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian cultures thousands of years ago.
Romania – The different historical regions of Romania each have their own specific traditional costumes, though modern style clothes are worn throughout the country on most occasions. Today, traditional clothes are sometimes worn for special events, in more remote areas, and when celebrating fold traditions.
Russia – There are many different examples of traditional Russian clothing, though much of it hasn’t been worn regularly since the 18th century. There are differences between the clothing found in northern and southern Russia, and there are different articles for men and women.
One of the most striking pieces of clothing is the kokoshnik, which is a head covering that married women wore — covering the head was required for married women. The sarafan was a long dress worn by women that was often red, blue, or white. The rubakha was an oversized shirt that could be worn by both men and women and was included in most outfits.
Georgia – The chokha is one of the most distinct cultural pieces of clothing in Georgia, though it has traditionally been used throughout the Caucasus. It may have been first worn by the Circassian people. The chokha is a formidable piece of attire because it has storage space for rifle ammunition sewn into the breast of the coat. The chokha is still sometimes worn on special occasions in Georgia.
Ukraine – The most central component to most Ukrainian traditional wear is the vyshyvanka, which is a cloth shirt with ornate embroidery on the cuffs, neck, and hem. It is used in both male and female wardrobes. Accessories like belts, beads, jewelry, and headdresses are added to the costumes of females, which can display facts about her status. There are also folk dresses for women. The clothes that men wear are simpler and include cloth pants in addition to the linen shirt.
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Poland – Traditional costumes in Poland are now only worn by some on special occasions such as weddings, festivals, and national holidays. The headdresses are particularly ornate and are sometimes made of intricate flower displays. There are also many different types of dresses traditionally worn by women, the styles of which vary greatly between regions. Men often wear a type of waistcoat as well as a cap that can be ornamented with feathers or ribbons.
Czech Republic – The two main styles of traditional Czech clothing are the Western Style and the Eastern Style, but there are similarities between the two. Czech winter clothes were traditionally made of wool and homespun linen, while summer clothes utilized lighter fabrics.
Men’s clothing typically involved long trousers paired with a loose jacket, and women’s clothing included front and back aprons as well as a white blouse. The kroje is another traditional costume that originates in the region. There are different types of kroje that women wear for different occasions, such as weddings, celebrations, and everyday life.
Hungary – The national costumes of Hungary are interesting because they draw influence from both European and Slavic roots. A brightly colored skirt, white blouse, ornate white apron, and head covering are characteristic of the women’s national costume. The men wear an embroidered shirt, hats, leather boots, and sometimes a vest or waistcoat. There are four main ethnographic regions of Hungary that each have slightly different items of traditional clothing.
Slovakia – The Kroj, and embroidered traditional dress of Slovakia exists in many different forms depending on region and occasion. The social status, religion, preferences, and age all also have an influence on dress design. The 28 different regions in Slovakia are all known for having their own styles of traditional clothing. Wide skirts, embroidered blouses, and vests are typical of women’s traditional costumes. Men wear an embroidered shirt, hat, vest, belt, and high boots, although there are several variations of this costume.
Denmark – Danish traditional clothing dates back to the mid-18th century, when clothes were often made from yarn or flax at home. As with traditional dress in most other countries, there is some significant regional variety in the clothing of Denmark. The traditional folk costume is called a folkedragt in Denmark, and today it is mostly worn by folk dancers
Faroe Islands – In the Faroe Islands, traditional dress such as the føroysk klæði is still worn on special occasions and for celebrations. The Queen of Denmark, for example, wears traditional Faroese clothing when she visits the islands. The clothing is also worn for weddings and other festive events.
Greenland – The traditional clothing in Greenland was once worn on a daily basis and served practical purposes, but has since become a decorative costume that people reserve for special events. Pearls and nicer fabrics have been introduced to the garments, items which were not traditionally part of the costumes. Some occasions on which people might wear traditional clothing in Greenland are holidays like Christmas, Easter, weddings, the first day of school, and sometimes birthdays.
Estonia – Estonian traditional clothing has many similarities with the traditional costumes of other European countries. Linen shirts and woolen skirts are common elements of women’s clothing, and trousers, knit socks, and embroidered accessories can be found in male clothing. The best-known Estonian clothing is probably the rahvariided, which translates to “clothing of the people” in English.
Traditional dress was not worn while the area was under Soviet control, but the national costumes have seen a resurgence since the 1990s. Something that’s special about Estonian traditional clothing is that each region has its own specific patterns and styles.
Finland – Every region of Finland has its own specific design of the national costume, and they all date back to the 17th or 18th century. The style of clothes one wore in Finland depicted the social class of the wearer, and there were even laws prohibiting those of lower class from wearing clothes that were too sophisticated. A meeting of eastern and western cultures can be seen in Finnish clothing.
Iceland – The Icelandic national costume is called the Þjóðbúningurinn, and there’s even a National Costume Authority in the country that regulates the proper construction of traditional clothing and provides education. There are five different types of recognized costumes for women and three or four for men. Some of these were the traditional daily wear in Iceland, while others were designed specifically as ceremonial costumes.
Ireland – Not much is known of traditional Irish clothing before the 12th century. Some typical items associated with the country’s traditional garb now include the Aran sweater, Irish walking hats, and the leine, which was a sleeveless tunic worn by both men and women beneath mantles. Another clothing item worn by men was the inar, a jacket that was inspired by Norse influence in the region.
Norway – The bunad is a colorful traditional Norwegian folk costume that is worn in Norway by many people on important days like weddings or for folk dances. The female version of the bunad is more popular than the male version, but both are made of wool, tight-fitting, and outfitted with metal buckles and jewelry.
The bunad you’ll see on the streets of Norway during the country’s national holiday are of a style crafted in the 20th century and do not closely resemble what was worn hundreds of years ago.
Sweden – The name for traditional costumes in Sweden is sverigedräkten, and it historically varies from region to region. Since 2004, however, one version has been made the official national costume. It was worn by Queen Silvia of Sweden on the National Day of 1983 and became popular as a result.
The traditional dresses women wear today typically feature the country’s colors: a white blouse is paired with a blue skirt, a yellow overskirt, and blue and yellow embroidery. Traditional costumes are less common on men, where suits are favored instead.
England – England is one of the few European countries that does not have an official national costume. There are, however, some interesting traditions in the country. The Pearly Kings and Queens, for example, were the leaders of street vendors during the Victorian era. They got the name because they wore buttons resembling pearls on their hats to display authority. This is a role that is traditionally passed down in the family, and people now occasionally wear outfits covered in buttons to show their status, though now it is usually to raise money for charity.
A more recognizable example of traditional British clothing might be the Yeoman Warder, or Beefeater, uniform. This is a position that is supposedly held by people looking after the British crown jewels and prisoners at the Tower of London, but they are effectively a tourist attraction and function as tour guides.
Scotland – Scotland is famous for the kilt, which is a traditional piece of clothing worn by men and women. It is a skirtlike piece of clothing with a tartan pattern, and there are several different varieties. Another important piece of traditional Scottish attire is the plaid, which is a piece of cloth that is draped over one shoulder. Both the kilt and plaid are made of wool and have the tartan pattern. This style of clothing originated in the 17th century and is now mostly reserved for special occasions.
Wales – The female version of the traditional Welsh costume is more recognizable than what men wore, and this is because men typically dressed themselves like the men in neighboring England. A tall black hat is one of the key features of women’s traditional wear in Wales, and it is paired with a long, woolen dress called a gown or bedgown.
Albania – Albanian traditional clothing includes a wide variety of styles and garments. Influences on traditional clothing date back to classical times, and there is a great deal of regional variation within the country. Some of the older population still wears traditional clothing on a daily basis in rural parts of Northern Albania, but the vast majority of the population wears modern clothing.
Much of the traditional clothing in Albania draws on symbols and styles used by the Illyrians. Some of these symbols are eagles, suns, moons, and snakes. There are a variety of headdresses worn by both men and women, as are skirtlike garments. Men also wear ornate belts and vests, and women also aprons or shawls.
Andorra – Two essential items of the Andorran traditional costume are the barretina, a traditional Catalan cap, and espadrilles, cloth sandals. The traditional clothing is fairly similar to that found in Catalan dress, and this is because there are many Adorrans of Catalan descent. Women wear long skirts, often with flower patterns, as well as a blouse and black, fingerless gloves.
Croatia – Inspiration for Croatian national costumes dates back to pre-Roman times. Traditionally, tunics were made from homespun flax and hemp to make heavy garments for everyday wear, and lighter materials were used to make costumes to be worn on special occasions. The modern national costume for Croatian women includes a white blouse or dress and an underskirt, accentuated with colorful themes and lace trimming.
The men’s traditional costume usually includes loose trousers, a shirt, and sometimes a decorative vest and/or jacket. Men also often wear a cap, the size and style of which varies by region.
Greece – It’s necessary to distinguish between ancient Greece and Greece of the modern era when talking about traditional clothing. In ancient Greece, the chiton and peplos were two of the most common garments for men. They were each rectangular pieces of fabric with holes cut out for the head. The difference between the two is that the chiton covered part of the arms and the peplos was sleeveless.
The most recognizable piece of more modern traditional clothing is likely the fustanella. It’s similar to a kilt in that it is skirtlike and worn by men. It was worn by soldiers in Greece’s war for independence and is still worn by Evzones, members of the Presidential Guard.
Italy – Some Italian versions of the traditional European costume are Italian folk dance costumes and Roman clothing. Women folk dancers wear very colorful embroidered skirts and bodices along with ornate hats that are decorated with flowers or fruit. Men wear simpler clothes that also feature embroidery and metal buttons. Both of these costumes are derived from peasant clothing in the Middle Ages.
One of the most famous Roman pieces of clothing is the toga. It consisted of a long cloth, usually made of white wool, that was draped over the shoulder and around the body. It was usually worn over a tunic. Although the toga may have originally been worn by men and women, the stola, a female version of the toga, was eventually created.
South Tyrol – This northern Italian autonomous province features traditional dress that is more similar to Austria than Italy: the tracht and dirndl. Different colors and patterns are used in different parts of the region. Women wear aprons with a blouse and bodice, and men wear lederhosen, hats, and ornate belts.
Sardinia – Every town has its own traditional costume design, but they all pull influences from Spanish and Moorish cultures. Bright colors, artistic embroidery, and high-quality fabrics are all typical of the traditional clothes on this Mediterranean island. The types of clothing worn can communicate the wearer’s place of origin as well as their social status.
Sicily – Sicilian traditional clothing is now mostly only worn for special events where folk traditions are celebrated. This type of clothing for women involves a long skirt made of cotton and linen, a belt, a blouse, a petticoat, and an apron. One of the most famous elements of traditional Sicilian men’s clothing is the coppola, a small hat.
Kosovo – As with neighboring Albania, there are many different examples of traditional clothing in Kosovo, though much more is known about the clothing women wore than how men dressed themselves. Many of the styles were influenced by the Illyrians that used to live in the area, and many shapes used in the designs are symbols of health or fertility. Red is a color that can be seen in much of traditional Kosovo clothing.
Macedonia – There are at least 70 different types of traditional clothing that were worn by Macedonians. These differences were based on regions, but all varieties use red, black, and white colors as well as geometric patterns. The gold embroidery on the national costume is the color of the gods, and the red symbolizes the Earth and fertility.
Malta – Malta has a long history to draw from when it comes to traditional clothing, as the island is thought to have been inhabited since at least 5900 BCE. The għonnella is one of the best known elements of traditional Maltese clothing, probably because of its striking appearance. It is a combination of a headdress and shawl that forms a wide arch over a woman’s head and is usually black in appearance when worn today.
Montenegro – In terms of European traditional dress, the clothing worn in Montenegro is considered by some to be among the most beautiful. It plays an important role in the cultural identity of Montenegrins and has historical significance tied to the country’s fight for independence. Bright colors and gold embroidery are some of the typical characteristics of traditional Montenegrin costumes.
Serbia – The šajkača cap is the Serbian national hat. It was worn by men in the Serbian countryside, but it was also adopted by the šajkaši soldiers that helped protect the Austrian Empire from the Ottoman Empire — this is where it gets its name.
Opanci are footwear traditionally worn in Serbia. They are made of leather, don’t have laces, and have a distinct horn shape in the toe. The design of this horn shape varies based on region.
Portugal – Each region of Portugal has its own traditional clothing, but there are some similarities. For women, the costume typically consists of a long skirt with bright red and white patterns and short leggings. Men wear sombreros and waistcoats.
Slovenia – Until the 19th century, there were many different types of traditional clothing in Slovenia, and they varied by region. This clothing was worn for special events and holidays. Today, the national costume is recognized as the Gorenjska noša, and it’s worn by folk singers and dancers or during ethnic celebrations or for tourist entertainment.
Spain – The traditional clothing of Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors, who inhabited the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years. The capes, ornate dresses, and jewel-adorned clothes of Spain then influenced many other countries in Europe. Today, each autonomous region has its own national costume, and they’re worn for special occasions. The bull fighters costume and that of flamenco performers are probably the most recognized traditional costumes of Spain.
Austria – The tracht and dirndl are the traditional clothes. Tracht is the word used to describe any piece of clothing that resembles traditional rural dress in the region. The dirndl is female clothing and consists of a close-fitting bodice and an apron of a different color.
Belgium – The strong influences on language and culture in Belgium from France, the Netherlands, and Germany also have an impact on the traditional clothing of the country. While there are several types of national costumes in Belgium, one of the most famous is that of the Gilles. These costumes include wax masks, suits stuffed with straw, and sometimes large ostrich-feather hats. The costumes are symbolic of bourgeois men during the reign of Napoleon III.
France – Every region has its own specific design of the national costume, and these are worn at festivals and ethnic celebrations. The black beret is one of the most iconic pieces of traditional French clothing, and it is still worn regularly by some men in more rural areas. Headdresses, velvet, and lace are all elements that can be found in many of the different regional varieties of traditional French clothing.
Germany – Every region has its own specific design of a national costume, but the dirndl and lederhosen are the basic elements for women and men. Lederhosen means “leather trousers,” and they’re short leather pants that men wear. They were historically worn by working-class men and are accompanied by wool socks, rustic shoes, and oftentimes suspenders. Different styles of jackets and hats are worn depending on the region.
Netherlands – The klompen, or traditional Dutch wooden shoes, are an iconic piece of traditional clothing from the Netherlands, but there are many more examples of traditional dress in the country. Some of these are the kraplap, a piece of starched cloth draped over the shoulders, and the klepbroek, a type of men’s trousers.
Switzerland – Every canton has its own specific design of a national costume, and they’re representative of work clothes that were worn in the past. The clothes a person wore traditionally signaled their place in society. Today, these clothes are worn for special occasions and to celebrate heritage. Given its location surrounded by other countries, the traditional clothes of Switzerland draw on many influences outside its borders.