Montenegro traditional costumes

The culture of the present-day Montenegro is as fascinating as its history and geographical position suggests. For suiting costumes, embroidered in gold can be said, that is one of the most beautiful in Europe, that completion of one Montenegrin national costumes, if one worker is working on its construction will take about three months.

Njegos constituted the institution of Obilic medal /decoration/, and granted Montenegrin the form of the “most Serbian cap” – the black color designates the grief for the Kosovo, while the red color of the plain and symbolizes the bloody Kosovo Field, with the encircled part containing five golden threads and the coat of arms of the Nemanjic Family in the middle, that represents the five centuries of Montenegrin struggle for freedom and the Resurrection of the Serbdom.

The Montenegrin cap is traditional cap, part of the Montenegrin traditional costumes worn by the Serbs of Montenegro, as well as by the Serbs of Herzegovina. The Montenegrin cap features the form of strait cylinder. The upper surface is red and called “tepelak“, encircled with a black ribbon which is called “derevija“. One part of the “tepelak” is encircled with five golden threads with the centrally positioned initials of its owner or a ruler, while usually they represent four letters S which is traditional, not a heraldic explanation. There are other versions like the one with the five-pointed star which was used during the communism. The Montenegrin cap is similar to the cap of the Lika or Herzegovina areas, but also the cap which was traditionally worn in Risan. The final design of the Montenegrin cap, which is used today, was created, legend has it, by the Montenegrin ruler and writer, Saint Petar II Petrović Njegoš, who presented the symbolism of its colors –  red color of the tepelak defines the blood of people killed in 1389 in the Serbian Kosovo and Metohija, the black ribbon represents sorrow for those heroes, while the five golden threads represent centuries that the Serbs lives under the Turkish rule. Montenegrin cap had several different names through history. Among them are also “valjana”, “bela”, “kariklija”, “zavratka“. Today it is simply called the Montenegrin cap.

Costume has always been an important segment in the life of Montenegrins. Of which material the costume was made and in which style it was made told a lot about a person. The roots of our cultural inheritance go way back in the past. Montenegro for centuries has been the target of numerous conquerors and all those various influences merged here, which were more or less accepted by people in Montenegro, and which in the same way were adapted to the Montenegrin understandings and way of living. As a result of that came numerous artistic goods and characteristic traits for our people and our culture. Beside those culturally historical facts geographic conditions had an extremely strong influence on the choice of the fabrics of which the costume will be made in Montenegro. Certain villages in Montenegro even today are not easy to accessed and the contact with the “civilization” is very rare, and in the past of Montenegro that was very often the case with majority of villages. Because of those reasons people had to cut their own dresses at home and they had to make it from the material they could easily find. The fabrics which were used most often were: wool, goat’s hair, hemp, flax, Spanish broom, and in smaller amounts they produced and used silk.

Montenegro Male Costume

If we start by the order of dressing in first place would come knee socks. Knee socks are a kind of socks which strongly tighten the calves. For making of these socks a great skill is needed, and what needs to be pointed out is that no matter the experience and years for putting on of the knee socks it takes a lot of time. Knee socks need to be tightened strongly in order for man’s easier and safer movement, which was extremely important for Montenegrins who moved around the stony Montenegro. Except the knee socks there were the so called “bjecve” which had a slit on the side, and their rims were hemmed with red or dark blue coarse cloth. Pants were dresses immediately after the knee socks and they should overlap one part of the knee socks. Very often pants and knee socks were tied with a cord so that they wouldn’t separate, and for that people made special hooks on the knee socks. Pants in ordinary Montenegrins were white and they were made of coarse linen and water proof cloth (coja). Pants near the waist were wide, while below the knees they were shrunk. Montenegrins had a belt in which there was a wreath through which a rope went through in order for the pants to be tied around the waist. Male shirt had a collar and a slit on the chest which was closed with buttons. The shirt was drawn in the pants and most often it was a white shirt) rarely could you find a Montenegrin in a colorful shirt). The shirt was an obligatory part of the Montenegrin male costume and at the festivities it was always tied. Except the shirt male folk costume, its upper part, was made of “gunj” (long peasant jacket). Gunj had short tassels which on the chest were moved apart. Montenegrins wore this short coat whose ends crossed one over the other and it was buttoned with copper buttons. Gunj was replaced with “dolama”(dolman), which has the sleeves below the armpits and up to the fist they are almost opened, so that they can be thrown back. In that way the hand stays solely in the shirt. That was of great importance and very characteristic for Montenegro, because in that way the suites, the folk garment could be made for all seasons. When it was summer they didn’t use the sleeves of dolmans, but they would throw the sleeves behind the back, and when it was winter, Montenegrins would put on the sleeves of dolmans. A dolman can usually be found in Montenegro in green color, and it is made of coarse linen or waterproof cloth (coja). The ends of the dolman (sleeves and the corners and tassels) are decorated with dark red color. Below gunj they wore “dzemadan”, which was made of red coarse linen and was usually embroidered with on sides with some cotton or silk braids of black or golden color. That is a vest with tassels which came one over the others, and it was buttoned with four buttons (made of metal) and with black knots made of silk rope. Dzemadan was worn over the chest, and it went all over to the throat. The rims of dzemadan on tassels are also decorated with knots or with golden embroidery. Dzemadan was sometimes replaced with “jecerma”, which did not have tassels or overlapping, and the slit on the chest was flat. On both sides of “jecerma” there were two rows of buttons (black silk ones) which are just a decoration. Below the buttons there are several hooks and knots which are used for buttoning of jecerma to the middle from below. These hooks and knots were usually the only thing used for buttoning of jecerma, because Montenegrins left their chest uncovered. Over gunj went “jelek” (sleeveless embroidered jacket). Jelek was made of the coarse material and was decorated with rope or with golden embroidery. That is an upper clothing item, a lot like a coat without the sleeves. In front the jelek is very open, and what is characteristic for it is that it was never buttoned.

Jelek was sometimes replaced with “toke” (silver plates), which have the same shape as jelek, but on the front side they have metal, most often silver plates. “Toke” are tied in difference to jelek and they are very close to body, and as they are made of metal they remind on armor, which was their usage in former Montenegro. Montenegrin caps are traditional caps warn in Montenegro.

The costume of the Bocchesi (inhabitants of Boka kotorska – Boka Kotor Bay) is not less picturesque than that of the Montenegrin, and indeed they are the same people in race and language, and scarcely to be distinguished but by the initials of his prince which the Montenegrin wears on his cap. And yet we thought the Highlander had about him a superior air of freedom and independence, which corresponded with the difference of his history and political conditions.

Montenegro Female Costumes

Some researchers who dealt with Montenegrin folk costume divide it in citizen and traditional one. That division is usually based on the difference in dressing of Orthodox women and women who lived usually on the coast – women of Catholic confession. Traditional costume of women in these areas usually includes shirt, woolen dress, skirt, apron, belt, kerchief and socks, and as alternative clothing items they used kamizola (certain kind of a vest), koret (short coat usually brown), zubun (sleeveless garment), curdija (type of jacket-short sleeved or sleeveless), and caftan. As for the footwear most often they had opanak (peasant shoes), pasamage, and sometimes even shoes.

Montenegro Female Civil Costume

When we are talking about the citizen costumes of Montenegro we have to bear in mind all the historical and fashion events of the 18th century. At that time the wavering wider clothes with folds was designed, which covered the shoulders, and had a square low cut neckline which was hemmed with frills made of lace or of some darker linen. The sleeves were flat and they usually had decorative cuffs. The dress with frills only later was replaced in a dress with folds. Those folds started from the middle of the decolletage around the neck ad they freely fell on the back. In the front well tight corset was connected on every side with a triangular insertion on the belt, and was richly decorated. The upper clothes in some way opened in the area of the skirt and was more or less decorated. It had a flat decorative collar, also flat sleeve which reached up to the elbow and ended with “nagoda” with more frills from which you could see lace cuffs.

Montenegro Female Folklore costumes

The skirts were usually made of flax and of hemp; festive skirts were made of silk and damask, and were usually decorated with lace or golden embroidery. The skirts were buttoned with buttons, and “ambreta’s” which had both decorative and useful function. Rasa is a clothing item which was worn over the white shirt. Rasa was made of different kinds of wool. Skirt was the dressing item which women who had “rasa” had, and who were members of the richer class of immigrants. They were made of “indijana”, silk “kambelot” and other materials.

The belt is a part of traditional costume. Wide belts are made of wool. Later they were replaced by “jakicar”, a hard leather belt which was decorated with red color. Then the belt was usually made of linen or flax. The belt was buttoned with buttons or a buckle or, what was usually the case, it was simply tied around the waist and was usually 6 to 8 cm wide. What was really characteristic for Montenegrin folk costume is “cemer”. It replaced “jakicar”. It is an easier female belt which is decorated with silver filigrees and has two buckles decorated with various stones (most often those are green or dark red stones). Cemer could else be found made in forged shape. Below the old heavy belt there was another one, known as “zenski trak” (female band). “Zenski trak” is a coarse fabric band which is up to 6cm wide and 5 and more meters long with which women wrapped their waist in order to protect themselves from the pressure of the heavy belt which they wore. Apron was considered an unavoidable part of the traditional Montenegrin folk costume. Aprons were worn with the traditional costume and were usually intended for the everyday use. Such aprons were made of “tela” and “indijana”. There were those aprons which were worn for festive occasions and such aprons were decorated with silk and golden embroidery. Jecerma is a kind of a short vest, which goes down to the waist which was made with buttoning and without it and was usually made of coarse fabric or velvet. Kamizola is also a kind of a vest which was worn over the shirt. It was made of silk and damask. This vest only had women from high social classes. Zubun was made of coarse fabric, “bombazine” and velvet. Zubuns in Montenegro were made in various lengths. They were made without sleeves and with them and they usually had buttons on them with which they were buttoned. Dolama is a kind of an upper dress which was most often made of coarse fabric and had a festive usage. The length of dolama usually reached the knees, though sometimes it could go even below them, and dolamas always had sleeves. They were decorated with golden buttons or golden ropes. Bran is a wide female dress. It was worn over the shirt, and it is made of an upper and lower part – from “stan” and of skirt. “Stan” was tight and close to body, while the lower part was made of 5 folds. The length of “bran” went all the way to the feet.

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