The Costumes Collection

In the general structure of the museum patrimony, the collection of peasant costumes is of paramount importance, both due to the great number of items and to the fact that they equally reflect all ethnographic areas of the country. It makes it possible for specialists and visitors alike to know the evolution in time of this type of peasant art.


The collection of peasant costumes has about 20,000 pieces from all the Romanian regions (Moldavia, Muntenia, Dobrogea, Transylvania, Banat and Oltenia), starting with the first half of the 19th century. The fund of the collection began to take shape during Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş’ directorship and was completed to a great extent under Tancred Bănăţeanu’s lead. The basis of the collection is mostly acquired between 1906 and 1953, by acquisitions and donations (more than 5,000 items), most of them  shirts and skirts, girdles, sheepskin coats or pieptar – sleeveless fur coat, shoes, etc.


Personalities like Queen Maria, Sabina Cantacuzino, Elisa I. Brătianu or collectors like Dimitrie Comșa and Octavian Roguski made remarkable donations, true masterpieces of rural art. The first object ever to be acquired and registered by Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş was a woman shirt from Mehedinţi area, with delicate geometric ornaments, which reflects the mastery and taste for beauty of the lady who made it. When the Samurcaş fund was reorganized according to scientific criteria, this shirt was registered with the label T 607.


After 1953, the lead of the Popular Art Museum will be taken by the well-known ethnologist Tancred Bănăţeanu, who was Alexandru Tzigara Samurcaş’ follower. In this period of time, research and patrimony acquisitions knew an intense development. The result of the numerous research campaigns was the acquisition of over 9,000 pieces of costume, representing almost all ethnographic areas. This is how the costume could be outlined in its historical evolution, variety and regional spread.


The mutual influences and loans which ensued from living together with the ethnic minorities were mirrored by the costume in its entirety more than by other domains. Together with the most representative exemplars of Romanian costume we must mention those of the Hungarians, Szeklers, Saxons and Swabians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks and Tatars, Csangos, Guzuls and Ruthenians.


The third stage of the collections’ development begins in 1990, when after a forced absence, the museum comes back to life under the current name. These are grouped in two subdivisions based on the type of the material used to make them: the collection of light clothes (made of cotton, linen, floss silk etc.) and the warm clothes (made of fur and cloth). These include different typologies: women’s and men’s shirts, women’s multi-layered skirts, men’s trousers, fur coats and “dimie” (coats made of heavy woollen cloth). The items that make up women’s multi-layered skirt are also present in the collection: “catrința”, “fota”, “valnica” together with objects used to cover the head of women and men, jewellery, different pieces of accessories, and very different types of shoes, boots, “opinci”.


The peasant costume is as unitary in reality as different it seems at first sight. This unity is given by the structural simplicity of the way its pieces are tailored, the concentration and circumscription of the motifs in the ornamental space, based on traditional principles which strictly respect the compositional style, the balance and chromatic proportion.


In general, the basic component of the peasant costume is the white shirt. From birth to death, the shirt accompanies the peasant to field work, to feasts and weddings. It also functions as a social mark within the rural community, being worn by the personalities of the village (we can mention here the priest wife’s shirt from Oltenia – T 121). There is also a shirt for Sundays, for the feasts of the year, for wedding and baptism, for customs and traditions, the shirt of the dead, of the young girl and of the widow. The mother-in-law’s shirt from the area of Sibiu, worked by the bride, is the proof of the latter’s handicraft and talent (T 1146). “Junii Braşovului” (The Young Men of Braşov) alone, a custom specific to this region, draws the attention on the costume of a peasant-military organization, which represented an original way to keep the unity of the Romanians from both versants of the Carpathians. It is significant that this shirt, worn by bailiffs, was made by 4 women in 4 months, so that the final product was covered with 40,000 tinsels weighing almost 10 kg (T 1342).


The peasant costume also marks the biological traits of the individual (the sex and the age). The requirement of the radical difference is related to the mentality regarding the general role of the man and woman in society, highlighted by the different type of costume. This role could be transgressed only on certain occasions of ritual character and was expressed by the so-called disguise, such as the death watch in the central area of Moldavia, where men were disguised as women.


The sex difference is marked mostly through the main piece of the costume – the shirt.

For women, according to the region, the shirt can be completed from the waist down with one or two pieces: catrințe (homespun skirts), fote (ornate toile aprons, straight or crape) or oprege (embroidered rectangular and narrow pieces of weave put over the skirt). These garments are rooted with a waist belt woven in a loom or twined, with metal girdles or beads, mounted on different types of material support.

Married women cover their heads with head dress of raw silk, with cloth of cotton or wool, scarves bought from stores and caps named, according to the region, cepse or conciuri. Young girls stitch flowers in their back-hair or prettify themselves with wreaths and tiaras.


The male costume has a simpler shape and a more unitary composition on the entire area of the country. Its pieces are: the shirt (straight, with barburi – gussets in the shape of the letter M – or with a yoke), the trousers, the waist belt, thong or chimir (wide leather girdle), the hat or fur caps, the opinci (leather laced footwear resembling moccasins) and boots.

According to each season, both women and men wear breastplates over the shirt, sheepskin coats and large coats of aba or fur.

The social factor is also very important. The multitude of objects treasured up in this collection imposes the peasant costume as an element of the material culture as well, being directly influenced by a series of general factors: occupations, seasons, occasions etc.


In the museum collections there are clothing pieces specific for practicing certain occupations. Thus, the shepherds wore long sheepskin coats, with oversized sleeves (bituşca) and hoods. There are also the “shepherd’s shirts” from the mountain areas, dipped in whey, for the weave to become waterproofed; the hunters and rafters used to wear big bags of leather or of wool, and in some areas hatchets or baltags (pole axes), necessary for their lonely lives, both as tools and as defence weapons. In the same way, the forest workers used wide leather belts (chimir) to sustain their waist, while making an unusual effort.


There also were strictly specialized professional costumes, like the ones belonging to the coachmen, of which we still have today the beautiful ipingele (a mantle from cloth or frieze with a hood) worn in the south of Romania. There is also a work costume of the fishermen, composed of specific items, like long leather stockings, and tent canvas mantle, etc.