Cultural clothing: Hidden treasures of Romania

By Anda Ene

Romania is one of the few countries in the world where, even today, people in the villages still wear traditional costumes for every day attire, not only for special occasions. Having over 42 ethnographic areas, with differentiation even between one village and the next, Romania is remarkable for the extraordinary variety of popular costumes.

Traditional garments form a crucial part of the cultural heritage of a nation and are increasingly recognized for what they are – objects of art. Romania has a long and rich history in textile manufacture. Adorned with rich embroidery, Romanian costumes bear sewn signs of an ancient language, an old code of communication that precedes any form of writing. Is it said that every pattern is a sacred geometry, a vibration generator. The workmanship aims to defend those who wear them from evil, some symbols have apotropaic powers, while others are created to bring luck, health or even for aphrodisiac effect.

From famed handicraft centers to the most remote villages, Romanian women make by hand costumes with craftsmanship that is easily the equal of French haute couture and it’s all done using very meager means and the women often have no formal education. They create very elaborate decorative compositions involving incredible stylistic genius and a startling talent for handcrafting but where did this incredible talent, inspiration and creativity come from?

Traditionally, especially in farming communities, people had very little education, but they had an ancestral knowledge and the duty to transmit their proficiencies. Everything was taught “hands on”, rather than theoretically.  In late autumn, when agricultural work was completed, the sittings began. Women and girls of the village, from a very early age, gathered together and began the needlework. They got inspiration from one another, but their crafts were never identical, because there was an undeclared contest among women: one’s piece would strive to be more beautiful than the other’s. The same rough and hardened hands that did the physical work in the fields, would nimbly create the haute couture sewing we now consider works of art, often under candlelight. Until the beginning of this century, the fabric was handmade in households from linen, hemp, cotton yarn, or Romanian raw silk called borangic, and also the decorative threads. Plants and flowers were used for thread dyeing. 

Luckily, a large part of this legacy was preserved, not only here and in the most prestigious museums of the world but also in the dowry wooden boxes, that still exist in many traditional houses in the countryside.

There is currently a burgeoning interest, especially among the creative people of Romania, in collecting these old clothing pieces and integrate them into their contemporary outfits for every day wear. A new trend is appearing in urban aesthetic attire, a mélange between cool new clothes and vintage national costume pieces. We also see a new breed of clothing, promoted by designers who draw their inspiration from tradition. Saved parts from damaged traditional costumes, even the most humble, sometimes looking like a rag piece of embroidery is not overlooked, but rather seen as having a cultural value with a long and wonderful story to tell.  

Curious to discover more? Check out these FB pages: Adrian Oianu, folCHLOR or Romanian Blouse (

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