I was born and raised in Bucharest, yet the stories my dad told me about his family, their life histories and the traditions they treasured kept calling me… so, from the moment I took my driving license, the almost 400 km road from Bucharest to Neamt County seemed very short. It is during one of this trips that I’ve discovered what it meant for my ancestors to wear our Romanian IA on their wedding day … Every trip I take to one of these places, either Valea Seaca, Varatec, Agapia, Bistrita, Bicaz and so on, brings to light another story of family members, people I never met, yet their personal histories are somehow part of me… I guess there’s a connection that never gets lost no matter how many years go bye… they live through thousands of invisible wires that make us who we are.
The Traditional Romanian Wedding
This time, the story I’ve learned is about the Romanian traditional folk costumes from Bistrita and Bicaz (Neamt County) that my relatives used to wear not only on Sundays when going to church, but also on the day of their wedding.
The traditional folk costume of women in Neamt region has several clothing pieces:
- IA (IE) – the traditional blouse (aka IA or IE) is the most important piece of the traditional Romanian costume; the rich embroidery on front, back and arms of the ia tells stories about the age and social status or the life events of the person wearing the ia; initially the blouses were made of linen or hemp and later were made of cotton and then of borangic, or the Romanian silk; generally, there are 3 types of Romanian blouses: the oldest one is long ia (“ia pe de-a intregul”) and used to reach the ankles; ia with altita (ia with embroidery) and ia with strip (“ia cu platca”), a lined rectangle located over the shoulders;
- Poale – the white long skirt wore by women is embroided at the bottom with the same elements sewed on the IA;
- Catrinta – similar to a skirt, it covers the poale; gold and silver threads are used if catrinta is used only for special occasion (like a wedding, Christian holiday etc);
- Barneata – it’s a girdle or waistband tied above the catrinta;
- Bundita – it’s a vest with rich hand-made embroidery; both women and men wear it;
- Casanca – it’s a black head-kerchief or wrap women wear after they get married; in some villages, women wear a wrap with either floral elements or silk fringes called bariz.
The embroidery has floral, geometrical, zoomorphic and even anthropomorphic elements, which are generally sewed in two or three colors, depending on the geographic area where are made. The most used elements one can identify are flowers, buds, grapes, grape leaves, oak leaves, acorn, snail, flies, ram horns etc. After the II World War, sparkles and beads were added in the embroidery, especially of the folk costumes people were on special occasions.
In terms of color, the embroidery was done in one color; black, red, burgundy and blue; for floral elements, other colors were added (yellow, orange, green, violet etc.). The threads were painted with colors obtained from various plants and flowers such as alder bark, walnut leaves, green walnut bark, onion peel, Crocus Vernus (both purple and orange), Perforate St John’s-Wort (Hypericum Perforatum), Origanum Vulgare, Viola Odorata etc.
Opinci is the Romanian name of the footwear both women and men were wearing more than 50 years ago. They were made out of pork are cow skin. Today people were opinici only on special occasions. As you can see in the pictures below in modern days, quite often people would choose to wear the traditional costumes with leather shoes.
From my grandparents with love …
Last year St. Mary’s Day brought me back to my father’s home… there my grandparents raised 7 children and tens of grandchildren and grand-grandchildren. I never thought possible that I would find some things and tears will fall down over my cheeks. Not only that I found and read my grandfather’s will, but, kept in an drawer of an old dark sideboard, I came across some pictures that touched my soul.
Hopefully, these pictures will inspire you to go back to your roots no matter in what parts of the world they are. This is where your strength comes from.
From Peru, to Mongolia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Portugal, Indonesia or some other far away land, we all have these national traditional costumes that carry within our past and present, our hopes, our lives. Maybe one day I’ll show you how these symbols are shared across many cultures and traditions. Some of you will be surprised!