Traditional wedding costume and headdress of Europe

I have told you about traditional wedding costumes of India and Sri Lanka, about unique bridal jewelry of Indonesia, Nepal and Morocco. They are so beautiful, exotic and unique that honestly, the European white wedding dress seems a bit plain and boring. But...it has not always been like this. For most European countries a national costume in its most decorated form was worn as a bridal dress and some garment was added to indicate the girl as the bride, usually it was an elaborate headpiece. And what headpieces they were! A variety of colours, fabrics, textures and even precious jewels was used for bridal headdress.

Bride and groom from Bulgaria, vintage photo
Bride and groom from Bulgaria

In Bulgaria complicated arrangements of woolen braids and bunches of flowers were fastened between the bride's own hair which was plaited in a dozen or more braids. In parts of the Sofia region a bride would wear a huge halo of flowers and bunches of feather grass and her face were hidden by a curtain of numerous thin plaits hung with coins. And in Pleven region brides wore impressive halos of coins. A bridegroom would be distinguished by the white towel placed over one shoulder or around his neck and the posy of flowers or the wreath on his fur hat.

Bride from Bulgaria, vintage photo
Bride from Bulgaria. This and the above photo from here

Bulgarian bride in coin headdress
Bulgarian bride in a coin headdress. Photo found here

Norwegian bride in traditional costume
Norwegian bride from eastern Telemark. Photo source

In Norway the bride traditionally wore a crown. Usually made from silver or brass, crowns often were owned by a parish church or wealthy family. The bride’s family could rent a crown or make their own of cheaper materials. The "church" crown had virgin significance and was decorated with detailed silver work and gilt, chains and dangles which shined and jingled as the bride moved.

Norwegian bride, vintage photo
A bride from Hardanger, Norway, ca.1870-1920. Photo source 

Bridal crowns varied from district to district. Some crowns could be so heavy that they would have to be sewn into the bride’s hair in order for it to sit properly in place. The shape of the crown varied in different parts of the country; usually it was circular and worn like an ordinary crown, but in some places it was of a crescent shape and fastened under the chin like a bonnet.

Bride from Estonia in traditional attire, vintage photo
Bride from Estonia

The costume of the Estonian bride was gaily coloured and embroidered and she wore an impressive headdress. Shaped like a basin it was covered with dangling balls of coloured glass and bunches of feathers.

Bride from Transylvania in traditional costume and headdress

Bride from Transylvania in traditional costume and headdress. Photo source

Transylvania bride's headdress is covered all around with little metal plates. Each plate is adorned with a precious stone. The lower end is trimmed with a string of coins (gold, silver or copper, depending on one's wealth) and the upper part of headdress is filled (like a flower pot) with peacock feathers or artificial flowers.

Wedding couple from Germany in traditional costume of region

Wedding couple from Germany in traditional attire
Wedding couples from Germany, Black Forest region. Photo source

Bride from Germany in traditional costume and headdress
Bride from Schaumburg-Lippe, Germany. Photo source 

In Germany bridal headdress varied from region to region. In the Black Forest valley, for example, the headdress was large and decorated with hundredths of glass balls and beads, while in Buckenburg an emphasis was on flowers rather than beads.

Bride from Ukraine in traditional headdress
Bride from Ukraine. Photo source

In some regions of Ukraine brides used to wear huge wreaths of goose feathers. Each wreath was about a kilogram of weight. A velvet or silk band with bead flowers and golden decorations was a ritual complement to the feather wreath.

Bride from North Russia
Bride from North Russia

Bride from Pskov province, Russia

The wedding headwear of Russian brides descended from flower wreaths and at first it was a ribbon or a metal headband encircling the forehead and fastened at the back of the head. Later kokoshnik came to use as a wedding headdress. They were most often made of damask woven with gilt metallic threads or velvet with gold embroidery. The wealthy peasant class often decorated their kokoshniks with pearls and gemstones.

Bride from Makedonia in traditional costume
Bride from Macedonia, Neohorouda province. Photo  source

A traditional bridal outfit from Macedonia could weigh many kilograms and might consist of nine garments with quantities of jewelery: large silver buckle, silver belt, gold or silver coins necklaces.

Bride from Salamanca, Spain, wearing traditional costume and jewelry of the region
Bride from Salamanca, Spain. Photo courtesy Amalia Gonzalez

Bride from Salamanca, Spain, in traditional costume. Photo source

The main element of the bride's costume of Salamanca, Spain is jewelry as well. It features necklaces, pendants, medals, medallions, reliquaries, crosses and beautifully craved coral pieces. The headdress is pretty modest - a simple embroidered kerchief of fine linen or tulle covering the hair.
Luckily, nowadays many young people want to keep tradition alive and chose to wear traditional wedding costume for their big day.

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  1. wow Olga,

    Thanks for sharing about this. I feel honored when you said that Indonesian tradition wedding dresses beautiful as well. :)
    I really love the north Russian wedd dress :) and all European dresses are beautiful unique and fabulous tribal. I thought that you will wear one of them.
    Have a beautiful day!

  2. Great Post Olga. Very interesting and informative. Thx for sharing.

  3. Wonderful pictures Olga! The head piece of a bride in the black forest region in Germany I saw when I was a little girl. I asked my grand aunt whether I could get such a beautiful decoration too when I was grown up. She laughed and said " we will see".
    Also amazing are the aprons, particularly of the brides from Norway and Salamanca.
    Have a fine week, dear!

  4. What a fascinating post! I especially love the Hardanger outfit. Have you ever considered writing one or more reference books about folk costumes?

  5. What astonishing headdresses, so elaborate; they're amazing. I can't believe the lady from the Black Forest (in the second vintage photo) could keep hers on her head! The old photos remind me of going to the museum of immigration on Ellis Island, NYC. I found the photos of newly-landed immigrants, many dressed in their national costume to face the start of their new life, incredibly moving. I wonder if there has been a shift towards celebrating these traditions again. I am sure there was probably a time when young people wanted to distance themselves from the old-fashioned ways, but perhaps the pendulum has swung back again towards honouring the past.
    Thank you for such a fascinating post, Olga. xxx

  6. Thank you for sharing. This was one of the most interesting fashion blogs posts I've read so far. Weddings always provide a space for creativity and tradition. All brides are beautiful in their own way. Speaking of traditional bride wear, did you know that white wedding dresses weren't popular until only a century ago? Before they were bright red. Interesting, huh?

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  7. It's amazing!!! Ну и навороты :) -- английской лексики не хватает :) Thank you for your post. Very educational!

  8. Lindas fotos Olga, todos los vestidos y sus complementos son muy hermosos y con mucha tradición; me gusta bastante el del Norte de Rusia.

  9. Such a surprising group of costumes and headdresses!! Wonderful information. It shows us how similar and connected we are (or were) to cultural traditions of other parts of the world. I've shared it in my facebook page.

    Thank you!
    Leonor - www.ethnicadornment.com

  10. For 14 million years woman wore sacred clothing as she lead her people, tribe, clan and community. The religion came, and she wore it only once, at her wedding, which took away her rites, ceremonies, as sisters. When i see my slavic tradition clothing, wedding is the last thing i think of.