Photos: Ukrainian women, circa early 20th century
Vyshyvanka is one of the best-preserved objects of Ukrainian culture. According to some archeologists’ estimates, embroidery has been spread on the territory of modern Ukraine already in the Chalcolithic era and ancient Slavs are known to have worn long shirts. Princes and later dwellers of cities and merchants wore vyshyvankas gilded with gold, silver and silk that recreated floral patterns. Embroidered clothing was incredibly popular during the Cossack era before the national clothing, much like the rest of Ukrainian culture, was banned.
Ukrainian embroidered dress experienced a real boom in the late 19th - early 20th century with the national and cultural revival. Vyshyvankas were largely worn in villages and cities all over Ukraine. Each region preserved its traditional embroidery patterns - for instance, rhombus was incredibly popular in Hutsulshchyna, Volyn and Podillia. Women were traditionally the ones who embroidered and kept the tradition alive. Colors also played a huge role both in regional traditions and ancient beliefs.
Traditionally, vyshyvanka dresses were made from linen or cannabis linen of white color. Then, young girls or women would add embroidery of various colors - red symbolized love and energy, blue symbolized the sky and water that brought tranquility, and yellow symbolized happiness and prosperity. Black is an interesting case - in regions like Polissia, it equaled mourning like in most European traditions, while in Podillia black was associated with the color of earth, hence fertility.Photo: Ukrainian women in the 1910s
While embroidered dresses were incredibly popular, the full Ukrainian traditional female costume consisted of more elements: zapaska (a woven skirt), krajka (woven belt) and the beaded jewelry (namysto) worn on top of vyshyvanka. The embroidered dress was also a significant part of the traditional Ukrainian wedding. Each young girl had a skrynia - a large chest filled with the dowry. It was filled throughout the years specifically for the wedding as a part of the dowry. The poorest girl had 30-40 shirts, a girl from a middle-class family had 50-70 shirts, and the rich ones could boast 100 and more vyshyvankas.
Young brides had another important mission - prepare the wedding garment for themselves and the groom. The girls embroidered their long skirts and a shirt for their beloved starting from a young age. The motifs, as usual, ranged depending on the region. Bukovina was and still is incredibly famous for an abundance of bright colors in vyshyvanka - the region's shirts combined red, black, yellow, blue and green.
Nowadays, embroidered dresses experience a new spike of interest - more and more people wear them in summer, as linen is perfect for temperature regulation. Besides, traditional weddings where the groom and bride wear Ukrainian garment are becoming popular once again.
Ukrainian embroidered dress became an international trend largely thanks to Vita Kin, who conquered the world fashion with her crafty designs. The dresses, as the brand's website states, are inspired by ancient traditions and techniques from cultures around the world. However, Vita Kin's designs are originally-developed.
The production is limited as each item is approached with utmost care. Dresses by Vita Kin were seen on celebrities and stylish divas like Dita Von Teese, Florence Welch, Anna Dello Russo, Miroslava Duma, and most recently Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Varenyky Fashion keeps to traditions, which is pretty evident from the name. Ethical clothes by the brand combine contemporary trends of world fashion with the ancient tradition of folk embroidery. Moreover, the brand consults with ethnologists to choose embroidery motifs. They are based on ancient oberigs - symbolic elements that are put on clothing to protect their owners.
Varenyky Fashion uses only high-quality materials like linen for their embroidered dresses and each item is hand cut by the Ukrainian team. The brand was worn by Ella Richards, an American model and granddaughter of the famous Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
One more brand of traditional Ukrainian clothes, Etnodim, recreates the traditional embroidered motifs in vyshyvankas for men as well as dresses for women and children. The brand uses high-quality materials that range from cotton and viscose to homespun cloth and linen. The latter is especially popular, as they can be worn both in winter and summer.
Etnodim has dresses for various occasions starting from casual dresses to the chic heavily-embroidered pieces for special days. The items are also available in various lengths (short, midi and maxi dress), with different sleeves (short, 3/4 and long) and a whole array of colors from classic black and white to burgundy and crème.
Otaman brand had been founded by Ivan Slobodianyk in 2012 and a year later customers could buy the traditional garments in a boutique. The brand's team researched Ukrainian Cossack era clothing in museums and private collections to keep the maximum authenticity. The brand offers not only vyshyvankas for men and women but also stylized Cossack shoes, outerwear and accessories.
Otaman has an atelier, which accepts individual orders and presents limited collections, like "The Tree of Life". It was inspired by the peculiarities of embroidered dresses of Kyiv and Poltava regions. The collection explores traditional Ukrainian symbol of the tree of life, full of floral motifs like flowers. Dresses can be individually tailored for any size. Customers can also change colors of their preferred item.
Design Studio Oksana Polonets
Oksana Polonets design studio had been founded in 2003. The brand took leaps to popularize Ukrainian culture and traditional garment in the country and far beyond its borders on the fashion shows in New York, Chicago and Bangkok. All dresses are made from high-quality Italian cloth and German cotton threads.
In 2018, the brand was in the spotlight of the First Lady of Ukraine Maryna Poroshenko, who chose the silk dusty pink embroidered dress with the traditional 18-19th centuries motifs. Apart from clothes suitable for everyday life, Oksana Polonets also designs wedding dresses in various colors with traditional embroidery.
The Lviv native Yuliya Magdych has been fascinated by Ukrainian hand embroidered dresses since the young age, as the tradition is handed down by generations in her family. Yuliya was taught embroidery and its sacral symbolism by her mother.
The brand was featured by Vogue.com, Vogue Australia, The Observer and POPSUGAR. Yuliya Magdych reinvents traditions and reimagines how the Ukrainian garment would look nowadays. The collections have numerous colorful dresses with bold colors and puffy sleeves, as well as flying silk robes.
Photo sources: Facebook pages of businesses mentioned above, tsebrovskanadia, ihnatowycz, marysyar, balkantrailsoff / Pinosy.com, depositphotos.com. All images belong to their rightful authors.