Latvian Folk Costumes: Accessories

While Latvian folk costumes can vary significantly from parish to parish, accessories such as jewellery, headgear, and footwear showed a high degree of similarity across the country. Here is a brief *overview of some of these items:

Jewellery

The most common item of jewellery was a brooch or pin (Latvian: sakta). One or more of these would be used either to fasten the neck opening of a shirt, or to keep a shawl in place.

Brooches were usually silver (as seen on the left), except in western Latvia (Kurzeme) where they might be plated with bronze (as seen in the image on the right).

Although brooches might be adorned with red or blue-coloured stones, the most commonly found gem is amber. This appears on brooches, and also was used to make beads for necklaces, especially in southern Latvia. As might be expected, the more jewellery worn with a folk costume, the wealthier the owner.


Footwear

Both men and women typically wore white, knee-high stockings — woolen in winter, but linen in summer. Stockings could be plain or patterned. Some stockings had lace-like patterns, while some were embroidered with coloured thread or yarn.

The most inexpensive footwear were called vīzes. These were a type of slipper woven from strips of willow bark; they were tied on with linen cord which was criss-crossed up the calf nearly knee-high.

Slightly more expensive were pastalas which were made of leather, and slightly resemble moccasins (as shown in the photo at the left). They were tied on in much the same way as vīzes, but with leather laces.

Most expensive of all were leather shoes and boots, which were usually only worn by the wealthiest and on festive occasions.


Head Gear

It was a long-standing tradition in Latvia that the type of head covering worn indicated a female's marital status. The symbolic covering for an unmarried maiden was a wreath or crown (vaiņags). (In Liv regions, a ribbon served the same purpose.) The actual style of wreath, the materials, and the pattern of embroidery used would vary significantly from region to region, but the practice of wearing a vaiņags at festive occasions was consistent across Latvia.

On the other hand, married women typically wore caps, or elaborate head cloths, with a festive folk costume. On the right you see a young girl wearing a typical vaiņags, while the two married ladies on the left side of the photograph are wearing frilly caps with red bands.

These head coverings were used for festive wear, as both married women and single girls would wear homespun head scarves for daily wear.

For men, the most popular head-dress was a broad-brimmed hat made of felt and adorned with a ribbon; however, in the summer, men typically wore a straw hat.


Shawls

Although it does not occur with every version of a Latvian folk costume, a wide, rectangular woolen shawl is an important part of many female outfits. The Latvian word for this type of shawl is villaine; this comes from the word villa or vilna which means "wool". The overwhelming majority of villaines are woven from white wool, and may have elaborate embroidery, fringes, and or metal adornments sewn onto them.

A good example is the drawing on the left, of a young woman wearing a folk costume from eastern Latvia (Latgale), which has both a coloured fringe, and a broad band of embroidery. Of course, the exact pattern of adornment used varied from region to region, and, to some extent, with the taste of the seamstress.

The embroidered patterns may originally have been intended as "enchantments" to protect the wearer from harm.


Belts & Sashes

Many folk costumes were accessorized with a long woolen sash, which had elaborate patterns woven into it. The basic function of the sash, or josta, was to secure a woman's skirt. The length of the sash varied; long sashes of three meters or more were wrapped around the waist several times. An example of such a josta is shown in the photo below, at the right.

As with the villaine, the josta was often elaborately embroidered with "magical" patterns, to protect the wearer.

Men typically wore a belt over a long jacket. A woven belt was characteristic of eastern regions; leather, metal, or leather with metal was typical of western regions (i.e. Kurzeme).


*Much of this information is taken directly from an article entitled "Latvian National Costumes", written by Ilze Zingite (The Museum of History of Latvia) and provided by the Latvian Institute; it is available at Latvian National Costumes. Some was also taken from the Pesudovs Accessories Page.


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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 18, 2008