Ancient Latvian Folk Dress

From the 11th to the 14th centuries, CE.

The colorful folk costumes most Latvians are familiar with may seem to have been around forever, but they actually date back only as far as the 19th Century.

“Modern Latvian National Costumes”

Photos of archaeological folk costumes were used with permission from the Latvian National Cultural Center.

These are the garments worn by the peoples from the various tribes that came together to form modern Latvia. The folk costumes, decorations, and jewelry were recreated from fragments found in archeological digs. The clothing shown here is very similar to that worn by other Nordic people.

The word Nordic derives from “nord” meaning “north,” which would include the people of Northern Europe who live along the Baltic Sea.

I love the subtle colors of these costumes, especially the different shades of blue.

Map of Latvia’s different regions.

The regions of Latvia where these folk costumes were worn. Courland. Senigallia. Livonia. Vends, a county by the Venta River. Selonia. Latgalia.
11th Century Livonian (Lībiešu) folk dress.

The woman’s wool cloak is decorated with braided bands and fringe around the edges. She’s wearing a narrow belt that’s the precursor of elaborately woven modern belts of the 19th Century. On her belt, she is wearing small chains that hold tools, such as keys, sewing needles, and amulets. Modesty required that married women keep their hair covered. Rings were made of bronze or an alloy of lead and tin.

The information from the Cultural Center doesn’t specify how the blue color was achieved. However, it was most likely woad, Isatis tinctoria, which was used throughout Europe until the 17th Century. Crafters in our century also use dye from the Isatis tinctoria plant.

11th Century Livonian (Lībiešu) warrior’s tunic.

Decorations on men’s clothing are minimal, except for embroidery at the neckline which is fastened with the same style horseshoe-shaped brooch. He’s wearing a leather belt with a tooled scabbard for his dagger.

11th Century Livonian folk costume for a 2-3-year-old child.

Children were adorned with more jewelry and their clothes were more elaborately decorated than clothes for adults.

The mantle is studded with woven-in bronze studs. The linen shirt and wool shawl are fastened with horseshoe-shaped brooches, a design that is still used in Latvian jewelry. Her torc necklace is decorated with metal tassels that are used to this day in Latvian jewelry design. My mother once has a silver bracelet like the headband the model is wearing.

Unmarried women wear headbands or coronets of flowers, metal, or fabric that are embroidered and decorated with beads and crystals. Each region has its own characteristic designs.

An interpretation of a 12th-13th Century Couronian (Kuršu) simple and practical warriors clothing.

The outfit consists of a shirt, trousers, tunic, and cloak. In the days before buttons brooches were used to fasten garments. The warrior’s status in society was indicated by his weapons–helmet, sword, and shield.

14th Centurļļy Latgalian (Latgaļu) recreated costume.

The Fourteenth Century brought many changes to clothing. The mantle is more ornately woven of wool and linen in more intricate patterns and decorated with fringes and fiber tassels, instead of metal ones. The bracelets are more delicate. The coronet is decorated with yellow glass beads.

Photos by Mārtiņš Cīrulis

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