Latvian national costumes
While walking through the historical center of Riga or enjoying a meal in the famous restaurant Lido, you may have already noticed the beauties of the Latvian national costumes. As in other countries, the detailed decorated costumes are a testimony to Latvian handicrafts and crafts. Nowadays, the production of traditional dress is already considered a work of art due to the number of complex techniques one needs to know to reach a magnificent result. Moreover, the dress inherently belongs to Latvian culture, so we will dig deeper into its history in this article.
Latvian national costumes can be divided into two groups: archaeological and ethnographic costumes. Archaeological costumes can be traced back to the 7th and 13th centuries. At that time, ancient Baltic and Liv tribes lived on the territory of current Latvia, and their costumes were single-toned, blue and brown, worn with bronze jeweler and leather footwear. On the other hand, the ethnographic costumes originate from the 18th and 19th centuries, worn by peasants and farmers, taking on a more elegant look. The dress thus includes headscarves made of silk, large brooches, elegant overcoats, vests, and top heads for men. It is mainly thanks to the young generation whose interest in the folklore keeps the tradition alive. Like in other European countries, young people learn about the traditions, organize festivals, and ownership of national costumes is a matter of national pride. Importantly, each region in Latvia has developed its own national dress, meaning there are around 100 different costume variants. If you visit Latvia during summer, you can see locals wearing the national costume during the Song and Dance Festivals or while celebrating Midsummer Night.
Famous parts of the costume
A significant feature of women’s folk dress is the traditional Latvian belt, a wide sash decorated with a woven geometric pattern. One of the most famous is the sash coming from the town Lielvārde, which has a legendary status because of the symbols woven into it. The two colors of the belt, red and white, have symbolic meaning to Latvians, as it is believed they bear protective powers. According to Estonian graphic artist Tõnis Vint, the symbols on the belt are one of the world’s most ornate and complex systems. A professional weaver takes around 2.5 weeks to weave one sash if weaving 8 hours a day. Similarly to the dress, around 74 different variations of the belt are displayed in the Latvian National History Museum. A fragment of the belt was visible on the 100 lats banknotes and has also been featured in the Latvian passport since 2015.
The Northern location of Latvia always called for warm clothes; thus, mittens were irreplicable lifesavers. However, mittens are also part of the national costumes, fastened behind the waistband, serving a similar purpose as jewelry. Some of the oldest mittens found by archeologists come from the 10th century and have always been considered a significant gift, especially during weddings. In the past, mittens were gifted to mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and other people involved in organizing the wedding. They were dedicated to cows, sheep, and horses and left in places where the newlyweds were going to live. Interestingly, every mitten of the bride had to be decorated with different symbols; otherwise, it would be shameful.
As you can see, there is much to learn about the Latvian national costume, its history, and its symbols. If you want to learn more, we genuinely recommend visiting the National History Museum or National Costume Center “Senā klēts”!
This blog was brought to you by Anna, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz in Riga
The image was taken by Anna in Riga