Finnish National Costumes
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I n the study of Finnish national costumes, it is important to make the distinction between folk costumes and national costumes, and to realize that the national costume is an outgrowth and a redefinition of the folk costume.
Folk costumes were commonly worn by ordinary people whose highly developed skills and innate artistic instincts were manifest in the beauty and quality of their home-loomed clothing. Festive garments were woven from wool with cotton warp. The art of weaving was well developed.
The types of patterns used in the cloth tell of admiration of the high-class silk fabrics whose decorations were normally colorful groups of stripes. The wool was dyed with pigments derived from nature, with the exception of the colors blue and red; they had to be purchased from foreign sources. Blue, for example, came from Central America where indigo plant was grown on the plantations.
The folk costume of the Western Finland finds its prototype in the aristocratic dress of the 1500s. It consisted of a shirt, vest and a skirt. For festive occasions, important details were added, such as an apron, a silk scarf, worn around the shoulders, and a lacey cap. Changes in folk costume styles faithfully followed the developments in the popular dress, though they lagged behind by decades. The broad stipes were replaced by narrow stripes in the 1800's. The women's vest gradually became shorter so that the shirt became visible between the waist and the hem of the vest; "the flax field is showing," was a common saying.
| Ruokolahden eukkoja kirkkomäellä, 1887
("Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hill"), a painting by Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905), depicts some of Finnish folk costumes in delightful detail.
Ruokolahden eukkoja kirkkomäellä, 1887 ("Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hill"), a painting by Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905), depicts some of Finnish folk costumes in delightful detail.
In the mid-1800's town attire became more and more popular with its manufactured materials and internationally contrived styles, while folk costumes started to assume the role of a quaint and festively romantic relic.
A beautiful specimen of such folk attire can be found in the Häme Museum. It is a vest from Messukylä. It has a delicately arched neckline, fabric-covered buttons and a pleated detail on the back, shirred by a woolen handcrafted tape. The vest dates back to the early 1800s. This vest and its fabric were later used as the model for a costume for the folk dancers at the 200th anniversary celebrations of Tampere, and was subsequently granted the distinction of the costume of the province.
Such costumes for other provinces and towns abound in Finland, and their realizations have similar stories and derivations. Helmi Vuorelma, the Lahti-based firm that has single-handedly brought the national costume to the general public, catalogues costumes for women from some 120 provinces or towns, suits for men from 24 regions, and various adaptations of the adult costumes for children. Vuorelma has been instrumental in researching, preserving and propagating interest in old folk costumes, and for several decades was the center for realization the results. Of late, an organization called Kansallipukuraati has taken the responsibility of authentication and designing new models for costumes. No pattern for a costume is ever created out of the designer's imagination; all parts of the costume are based on actual findings regarding local preferences and traditions.
Both women's and men's costumes consist of several integral parts. Women's costumes usually have a loose linen or cotton blouse, wool vest and skirt (either in two pieces or one jumper-type), a jacket (varies by models), apron, a headpiece of various designs (hats, caps, headbands), and a scarf (not all models have a scarf). Men's costumes consist of similar components. The trousers are often knee-length knickerbockers. Socks for both are most often white, though red knee-socks are indicated for men's short pants. Shoes are defined as simple black, either buckled or laced. For women, no high heels, sandals or wedge-type shoes are appropriate. It is also permissable to wear natural-color leather slippers with costumes from certain areas. Care is to be taken not to combine anything modern with the national costume, such as contemporary jewelry. In fact, any jewelry worn must be indicated as part of the particular model. No other, even "old" pieces are to be worn. The only exeption would be medals of honor, merit or distinction, which are allowed on special occasions. Modern-day fashions have no say as to the length of women's (and girls') skirt: it is to be down to at least mid-calf.
Appropriate occasions for wearing a national costume are such as family, school, and church festivals and national holidays. Performances of tanhu dances, pelimanni (traditional musical groups) and choirs are also recommended situations for wearing national costumes. They should not be worn in demonstrations of traditional work methods.
National costumes are generally quite expensive due to the fact that everything is handmade. The materials are handwoven of flax or wool, and most pieces are handsewn. It is possible to purchase historically correct fabrics and patterns for making costumes at home to save the cost of the making. Stringent rules are followed both in design and in manner of wearing. For example, laces on women's clothing are to be tied at the bottom; the apron is worn under the flap of the vest; a scarf can be worn either under or on top the vest—if it is worn on top, it is permissable to cross the ends (but not tie) and tuck under the vest.