Though a small area roughly the size of West Virginia, the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland, known as Carpatho-Rus’, boasts a wide variety of folk costumes. In Carpatho Rus’, almost every village has its own unique costume style, embroidery patterns and use of colors.
While costumes can be a reflection of influences from other cultures in a border territory like Carpatho-Rus’, the greatest determinant of costume is geography. What the area is like in which one lives heavily influences how one dresses – what materials are available locally, what is one’s concept of personal space and what the weather is like.
Let’s first talk about other influences. For instance, among the Carpatho-Rusyns, those living in Spish and upper Sharysh Counties (today in Slovakia) lived alongside German immigrants who came to mine the area and make glass. They brought with them lace making, brocade and the batik process for putting patterns in cloth. All of these are used in some of the Rusyn costumes of those regions.
Now let’s discuss weather. Rusyn who lived in the high mountains needed warmer clothing than those in the lowlands around Kosice, Trebisov and Michalovce(all today in Slovakia). The lowlanders grew flax and made much of their clothing from its refinement – linen. Highlanders relied on wool as a clothing staple- based upon the need to stay warm.
A key determinant in not only choice of fabric but also style of clothing and color was topography. Among the Carpatho-Rusyns, those living in the lowlands of the Danubian Basin (today Slovakia, Hungary and the very southwest tip of Ukraine), have wide and open costumes. Men have wide bodied shirts with wide sleeves and wide, fringed pant legs. Women have broad skirts with large pleats. Color in these areas includes a wide array, with a lot of use of red, blue, purple and black.
For Rusyns living in the high Carpathian Mountains in the East (today in Ukraine) where there is little room and therefore , the concept of little personal space(the space right around you), costuming cuts close to the body. Women’s skirts are tight and unpleated. Sleeves are long, tighter fitting, and the neck of the blouse is close and high. A woman’s costume is without frills. It is beautiful but practical in a place where it is harder to grow flax for linen and where sheep’s wool is the least expensive and most plentiful clothing material. Men’s costumes are likewise close fitting and mostly made of wool. The colors that predominate here are much earthier – red, orange, brown and green.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of Carpatho-Rusyn folk costumes is their embroidery. Regardless of village, every Rusyn folk costume sports some type of embroidery as its ornamentation, with particular patterns used in particular regions. These patterns were not chosen by Rusyn peasants as something “pretty” to adorn their clothing. They are ancient mystical patterns which , like Amish hex signs, were meant to ward off evil or assure the wearer certain things –a bountiful harvest, good health, or a host of children! One familiar with Rusyn embroidery can look at the pattern on a man’s shirt or the trim of a woman’s skirt and know what region or county within Carpatho-Rus’ the costume comes from.
The costumes of the Carpatho-Rusyns, so detailed , ornate and colorful, are one of the gems our distinct Carpatho-Rusyn culture.
Written by: John J. Righetti, C-RS President. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copuyright 2003 John J. Righetti, Carpatho-Rusyn Society