Traditional costume of Belarus by region

Traditional costume of Belarus Western PalesseSummer male and female costumes, Pinsk district of Brest region, Western Palesse

The territory of Belarus is subdivided into six historical and ethnographic regions with specific features of traditional costume. Besides, costumes from different districts of the same region have their unique and characteristic features and vary in their decoration and ornament or in the way of styling. But the basic pieces are similar on the whole territory and let's have a look at them first.
Historically traditional clothes of Belarus people were almost completely made of home-made fabrics and decorated with woven and embroidery ornament. Flax and hemp were cultivated on the farms and widely used for making clothing along with wool and leather.
The basic component of both male and female costumes is a long linen shirt. Women wear a skirt over the shirt which is made from woolen, half-woolen or linen fabric and has different names - andarak, spadnitsa, yupka. It is constructed of several pieces of cloth sewn together. The ordinary type is sewn from three, four or six pieces that are gathered or pleated into the waistband. The paniova, the earliest type of skirt, consists of pieces of cloth, often four, which are attached to the waistband but unsewn at the sides.

Festive dresses of girls, Pruzhany district, Brest region, Western Palesse

And apron, fartukh, is an obligatory element of married women clothes. The cut and appearance of Belarussian aprons are similar to those of Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Polish aprons. The apron, usually made of linen, has a waistband. It can be constructed of one, two, two and a half or even three pieces of cloth and its length normally matches the length of the skirt.
White festive aprons from southeastern areas are decorated with woven or embroidered designs. On the northwest, aprons were used only for work and are embellished modestly or not at all.
Sleeveless vests are a later component of the folk costume. In some villages they were not used at all while in others they were worn only by older women. Elsewhere, they were a necessary element of girls' apparel and were included in the dowry. They have various names: kobat, shnurowka, harset. Vests are fastened at the front or slightly to the side with buttons covered with the same material as the vest. Usually brightly coloured purchased fabric was used decorated with embroidery or appliqué work.

Belarus folk costume Eastern Palesse
Festive costume of a girl, Luki village, Homel region, Eastern Palesse

The traditional male outfit is very similar to that of other Slavic people. Pants (partki), a shirt (kashulia) and a belt are the basic garments of the Belarus peasant. The typical male shirt was made of homemade linen of poorer quality with sleeves of two types: straight for everyday or with cuffs. The shirt typically reaches the knee. It is worn outside the pants and tied with a belt or sash. In some areas of the country, predominantly in the west, shirts were worn tucked into pants.
Male attire is neither as brightly nor as richly embellished as women's. Only the collar, front opening, cuffs and hem of the festive shirt have woven or embroidered ornamentation. Thy typical pants were again made of poorer quality linen while festive pants were made of thinner and finer wool.
Much attention was paid to a belt in a men costume. Every man owned several belts used for different occasions. They were plaited, woven or less often knitted. Traditionally a purse for small items was often tied onto it.

Festive male and female costumes, Kalinkavichy district, Homel region, Eastern Palesse

The vest (spantserka, zhyletka) was a common garment, especially in western Belarus. Usually dark-coloured they were made from homemade fabric or more rarely from purchased material. Sometimes two kinds of fabric were combined in one vest, with the high quality material being used for the front and poor quality material for the back.
Belarusian girls would leave their heads uncovered having their hair pleated or they wore a narrow ornamented strip of cloth bound around the head. After changing her marital status a woman changed her hairstyle and headgear. A long piece of fine white linen cloth ornamented at the corners (nametka) was twisted in a certain manner to completely cover the hair. Hard structures of various forms such as straw, linen fiber, unspun flax, sycamore leaves etc. were used to help creating a hairstyle and to model the form of the whole dress.
The cap was another important form of women's headgear. It was sewn of thing soft fabric or knitted. Usually caps were tied under the chin or at the back. Caps tied under chin were called kaptury and were embellished all over with embroidery, beads, lace. Caps tied at the back were embellished only on the forehead parts. By the beginning of the 20th century women no longer wore caps or head wraps. Kerchiefs became the most common headgear throughout Belarus. Men's hats were commonly made of felted wool, sheepskin, cloth or plaited straw.

traditional festive costumes of married women of Belarus
1. Festive costume of a married woman, Zhytkavichy district, Homel region, Eastern Palesse
2. Festive costume of a married woman, Rahachow district, Homel region, Eastern Palesse

As everyday shoes, both men and women wore bast, leather or rope shoes. On holidays men put on high boots, women wore boots with heels or high boots.
Svitka (overcoat) and kashukh (sheepskin coat) were worn both by women and men as outerwear in the cold season. Svitkas were made of home-made cloth by professional tailors. Festive svitkas were decorated with patches of multi-coloured cloth, ribbons, cords, tassels and pompons.

traditional winter overcoats from Belarus
Winter male and female overcoats kazhukhs, Zhukevichy village, Hrodna region, the Nioman area

A married woman wearing winter overcoat svitka, Pinsk district, Brest region, Western Palesse

And now let's have a closer look at some regional differences. Western Palesse covers the major part of the modern territory of Brest region. Peculiar natural and geographic conditions -intense swampiness of the territory, isolation of settlements from big roads and cities contributed to the preservation of ancient cultural traditions. Typical features of the costume of central districts of Brest region were the following: domination of white colour in all basic types of linen clothes, moderate decoration which mainly included red stripes and a very plain geometric ornament. Colour intensity, an abundance of ornamental decoration was typical of south-western districts of Brest region. Rhombic-form-geometrical ornament compactly inserted into border red stripes compositions was widely used in the decoration of clothes articles.

Western Palesse traditional costume from Belarus
Summer costume of a married woman with a cap and a headscarf, Abrova village, Brest region, Western Palesse

traditional festive costume of a married woman from Belarus
Festive costume of a married woman, Malaryta district, Brest region, Western Palesse

Belarus festive folk costumes
Festive dresses of a girl and a young man, Brest district, Brest region, Western Palesse

Belarus festive costume with headdress
Festive costume of a married woman with a headdress kaptur, Brest district, Brest region, Western Palesse

Eastern Palesse is located on the south of Belarus and it covers the major part of Homel region, districts of Brest region bordering with it, and southern part of Minsk region. In the southern part of the region a long shirt ornamented in the lower hemline and two aprons - zapaskas - were worn till the first decades of the 20th century. Later new forms of clothes appeared: short bouffant skirts with the hemline decorated with multicoloured ribbons and laces, aprons and sleeveless jackets similar in decoration. Married women wore unusual horn-like headdresses which were called halava (head).

folk costume of Belarus married woman
Summer costume of a married woman, Stolin district, Brest region, Eastern Palesse

Summer costume of a townswoman with a headdress halava, Stolin district, Brest region, Eastern Palesse

The Dniapro area occupies a large territory of the east of Belarus. It almost completely covers Mahiliow region. On the south it borders with Ukraine, on the east -with Russia. On the south of the region a female costume reflects certain features close to the costume of Ukraine: similarity of decoration of shirts with wide sleeves and an ornamented hemline, use of a long slim-waisted sleeveless jacket, unique headdress. In eastern districts of the Dniapro area a certain type of clothes in the form of a long skirt with a short body sewn to it was quite popular. Variants of these clothes were known on the neighbouring territory of Smalensk region of Russia.

Belarus folk costume
Festive costume of a married woman, Dobrush district, Homel region, the Dniapro area

traditional costume of Belarus girl
Festive costume of a girl with girdled open paniova, Vetka district, Homel region, the Dniapro area

Festive costume of a young woman, Horki district, Mahiliow region, the Dniapro area

The Dzvina area occupies the major part of modern Vitebsk region. A traditional costume on this territory went out of use much earlier than in other regions of Belarus. Some preserved costumes and those reconstructed on the basis of literary sources and photos give us an idea of their delicate beauty which was not in the decoration spleandour but in precise proportions of various elements of clothes, their colour combinations, a particular silhouette of dresses, their harmony with nature.

Dresses of newlyweds, Vitebsk region, the Dzvina area

The Nioman area primarily covers the territory of modern Grodno region. Neighbourhood to Poland and Lithuania as well as the fact of being a part of Poland in 1921-1939 had a significant impact upon the development of the regional culture. Traditional clothes here, like those on the territory of the Dzvina area started to go out of use as early as in the middle of the 19th century.
An elongated silhouette made with a unique skirt fashion is a peculiar feature of the female costume of this region. A slim figure was emphasized with a slim-waisted sleeveless jacket made of quality shop-bought fabric. Cold colouring of skirts, quite moderate decoration of shirts is specific for the female costume. A headdress of married women consisted of a cap and a headscarf.

1. Festive costume of a young woman, the Nioman area
2. Festive costume of a young woman, Maladzechna district, Minsk region, the Nioman area

Central Belarus covers Minsk region and some adjacent territories and borders with all the rest historical ethnographic regions. Rhombic-form-geometrical red ornament dominated in the decoration of shirts and aprons. The distinctive feature of striped and chequered skirts was their rich multi-colouring.
Costume of some Central Belarus districts impress with the abundance of red colour, wealth of complicated multilayered ornamental compositions on shirts, aprons and headdresses while costumes of some other districts are formed with narrow stripes which are united into complex rhythmical compositions.

festive traditional costume of married woman of Belarus
Festive costume of a married woman, Kletsk district, Minsk region, Central Belarus

Festive costume of a girl, Liakhavichy district, Brest region, Central Belarus

Costume complexes on the photos were mainly formed with the use of museum articles from the collection of the Department of Ancient Belarusian culture of the State Research Institution "The Centre for Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature Research of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus".

Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Vol.9, East Europe, Russia, and the Caucasus.
Traditional Belarusian Costume by M. Vinnikava and P. Bohdan
Беларускi касцюм. В.Бялявiна, Л.Ракава

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  1. Wow!!! Great article!!!! Amazing photos too!!!! The costumes look so beautiful!!! I particularly love the embroidery and those colourful ribbons and skirts and vests!!! Pity that now majority of people dont dress in bright colours...

  2. Какие невероятные костюмы, прекрасные фотографии! Действительно так отличаются от региона к региону, даже поразительно. Это ты сама написала? Сколько ж работы ты проделала, Оленька! Огромное удовольствие получила, буду возвращаться к твоим постам.

  3. Hello Everyone!!!

    I would love to find those beautiful creations! is it possible in Europe?