The Republic of Croatia, is at the crossroads of Central Europe, Southeast Europe, and the Mediterranean. Croatia is inhabited mostly by Croats (90.4%) and is ethnically the most homogeneous of the six countries of the former Yugoslavia. Minority groups include Serbs (4.4%); Bosnians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovenes, Germans, Czechs, Romani and others (5.9%).
Although Croatia is itself a very homogenous country, Croatian national costumes are the traditional clothing worn by Croats living not only in Croatia but also in seven other central or south-eastern European countries: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. Nowadays, the majority of Croats wear Western-style clothing on a daily basis, while the national costumes are most often worn in connection with special events and celebrations (ethnic festivals, religious holidays, weddings, etc.) and by dancing groups who dance the traditional Croatian circle dance, the kolo.
As in many other countries, the types of traditional costume in Croatia varies between the country’s (seven) regions: Slavonia and Baranya; Posavina and Podravina; Međimurje, Zagorje and Zagreb region; Istria; Lika; Dalmatia; and the Islands. The costumes vary in style, material, colour, shape and form, being influenced by the different cultures that at one time ruled the particular region: Austrian, German, Hungarian, Italian or Turkish (Ottoman). Because of the weather, the colder regions often use wool or fur for their waistcoats, cloaks and coats, while silk and light linens are used in those regions with warmer climates. There are three main types of costumes associated with the regions: the Pannonian style in the north and east, the continental or Dinaric style, and the coastal style on the coast.
The area known as Croatia today was inhabited throughout the prehistoric period. The Neolithic period (ca. 6000 BCE – ca. 3000 BCE) was characterised by the emergence of permanent, organised settlements. The remains of various cultures have been found (e.g. Danilo, Hvar, Impresso, Korenovo and Sopot). Then the Vučedol culture arose, which extended from the Carpathians to the eastern Alps and the Dinaric Alps. It is presumed to have emerged after the arrival of Indo-European settlers around 3,000 BCE and lasted until about 2,000 BCE. In the Bronze Age (ca. 2500 BCE – ca. 800 BCE), again several cultural groups arose through the symbiosis of earlier cultural traditions and the various influences of their strong neighbouring cultures.
The Iron Age (c. 800 BCE – early 1st century CE) left traces of the Hallstatt culture (proto-Illyrians) and the La Tène culture (proto-Celts). The first ethnic communities then appeared in the present-day area of Croatia and whose names were recorded by Greek and Roman writers: Illyrian Ardiaei, Delmatae, Histri, Iapodes, Liburnians, etc. These communities came under the strong influence of Greek and Italic culture, and from the 4th century BCE, under the influence of Celtic culture. Some of the islands became Greek colonies. Illyria was a sovereign state until the Romans conquered it in 168 BCE. The Romans then organised the land into the Roman province of Illyricum, which encompassed most of modern Croatia (Istria was part of the province of Italia). Illyricum was subsequently split into the provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia in year 10 CE. Pannonia was further split in two by Trajan between 102 CE and 107 CE.
The Croats arrived in the area of present-day Croatia apparently during the early part of the 7th century AD (though the event has been placed as occurring between the 6th and the 9th centuries). Roman survivors of the invasion retreated to more favourable sites on the coast, islands and mountains. Croatia’s capital city of Dubrovnik was founded by such survivors. The ethnogenesis of Croats is uncertain and there are several competing theories, with Slavic and Iranian ancestors being the most frequently put forward.
Croatia entered a personal union with Hungary in 1102. In 1527, faced with Ottoman conquest, the Croatian Parliament elected Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg to the Croatian throne. The Venetians gained control over most of Dalmatia by 1428, with exception of the city-state of Dubrovnik which became independent. In the 17th century, the Ottoman Wars caused great demographic changes. Croats migrated towards Austria (present-day Burgenland Croats) and to replace the fleeing population, the Habsburgs encouraged the Christian populations of Bosnia and Serbia to provide military service in the Croatian Military Frontier. Serb migration into this region peaked during the Great Serb Migrations of 1690 and 1737–39.
Between 1797 and 1809, the First French Empire gradually occupied the entire eastern Adriatic coastline and a substantial part of its hinterland, ending the Venetian and the Ragusan republics, and establishing the Illyrian Provinces. The Illyrian Provinces were captured by the Austrians in 1813, and absorbed by the Austrian Empire in 1815. This led to formation of the Kingdom of Dalmatia. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Croatia sided with the Austrians, with Ban (title) Josip Jelačić helping to defeat the Hungarian forces in 1849, and ushering in a period of Germanization. With the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the issue of Croatia’s status was left to Hungary, which resulted in the unification of the kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia. The Kingdom of Dalmatia remained under Austrian control. The area of Bosnia and Herzegovina was returned to Croatia in 1881.
In 1918, after World War I, Croatia was included in the unrecognised State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs which seceded from Austria-Hungary and merged into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. A fascist Croatian puppet state existed during World War II. After the war, Croatia became a founding member and a federal constituent of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In June 1991, Croatia declared independence, which came into effect on 8th October of the same year. This was followed by the four-year Croatian War of Independence resulting in the Republic of Croatia.
Generally, the basic costume of a Croatian woman consists of a plain white dress or blouse (košulja) and underskirt (skutići). The variations between (and within) the various regions involve other pieces of clothing and decorations, which may include another overdress or skirt (kotula), a decorative jacket (djaketa, paletun or koret), apron (ogrnjač or pregjača) and a scarf (ubrsac), kerchief or shawl which are usually decorated with a floral or animal motif. Croatian embroidery is very intricate and is usually done in red, white, blue, gold or black. Completing the costume are stockings (bječve) or knee-high socks, and boots or a special kind of strapped soft-soled sandals called opanci.
Croatian women’s hair is interwoven into one or two braids and decorated with red ribbons for girls or women that are unmarried; married women wear woven or silk kerchiefs, a cap or a headdress. The most famous headdresses being those worn by the women from the island of Pag.
Women’s jewellery includes necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings made of gold, silver, beads, pearls or even coral from the Adriatic. The amount of paraphernalia a woman is adorned with, either a lot or hardly any at all, depends on the region.
The costumes of brides are complemented by a crown or wreath often made of flowers (vijenac) and large amounts of jewellery.
Croatian national dress for men usually consists of loose, wide slacks (gače širkoke) and a shirt, normally in either black or white, or both. The man may wear a decorative or plain waistcoat (fermen or jačerma), over his shirt, and possibly a jacket.
Men almost always wears a cap, varying in shape and design depending on the region. The most famous cap is perhaps the Lika cap, worn in the Lika region. Footwear, like the women’s, consists mainly of boots and sandals.
The different regions of Croatia
Slavonia and Baranya
These eastern regions are associated with the Pannonian style of dress and the Šokci ethnic group. In Slavonia, the costumes tend to be very elaborate, with floral designs and clothing made of silk or wool, with fancy embroidery, decorative silk ribbons and bows, lace work, gold or silver jewellery, coral, amber necklaces and pearls for the women. The colours of the dresses tend to be bright and varied, ranging from gold, red, blue, white and black all in one costume. The top shirt (odnjica) of the costume has fringed-wing sleeves, which is generally associated with the Pannonian style.
The men tend to not wear as many colours on their shirts and trousers as the women, but they still often have fancy embroidery on their wear thick coats or vests. Their sleeves might have a slight ruffle at the end. In Baranya, a part of the men’s costume is a small apron that is worn over the trousers that varies in colour and design.
Posavina and Podravina
These regions are both in the north and north-eastern part of Croatia. Unlike the Slavonians, the women’s costumes from Posavina do not focus on overly elaborate designs and patterns, instead they consist of simple black and white blouses, trousers and skirts. The men wear black waistcoats and black hats, while the women wear beautiful silk shawls, usually in blue or red with flower motifs. A thick apron with embroidered designs may be worn as well, and their colour and detailed patterns are often the main focus of the costume. The shawls and aprons are sometimes so colourful and richly garnished with patterns that they completely cover up the main dress.
The women in Podravina decorate their kerchiefs with a style of embroidery unique to this region. They also wear aprons over their dresses which are colourful and geometric in design and have a multi-coloured fringe. The men’s vests are usually red or black and are decorated with intricate patterns and embroidery too.
Međimurje, Zagorje and Zagreb region
These three areas are all located in the north, and are therefore influenced by the continental style; i.e. white garments but each area has its own decorative scarves, shawls, aprons and jewellery. Red is the most popular colour, especially in Zagorje, and the aprons and waistcoats worn by the men and women are red with elaborate stitching and embroidery, mostly in gold thread. Women wear colourful shawls and kerchiefs which are usually red with flower designs. The second most popular colour is black, which can have gold or white embroidery, or none at all.
Very often, the men and women do not wear any aprons or shawls, and their costumes mostly consist of their white garments, on which they may stitch a border of colour at the edges, or add a colourful sash (tkanica).
Hats are an important part of a man’s costume, and can come in two forms: the traditional Pannonian hat (škrlak) is black and dome-shaped, with a red wool band embroidered with multi-coloured thread and white and gold dots attached, or the black felt box-hat (šešir) folded into a flat bow at the back with a grosgrain ribbon tied around the body. Red, white and blue strings (the Croatian tricolour) are often tied around the hat over the grosgrain ribbon.
The costumes from Istria are influenced by the Adriatic style of the coast. The men’s costumes are typically blue, brown or white, and consist of white, ankle-length trousers that are tighter than the Slavonian style, shirts and leather waistcoats. Their outer coats are generally short and long-sleeved or long, sleeveless ones. Accessories include wide silk belts, red or black caps, and cotton socks worn over their footwear called opanci.
Women on the coast wear broad-sleeved white blouses that are embroidered in silk or lace, as well as pleated skirts or dresses varying in colour, and stockings under their opanci. They also cover their shoulders with colourful shawls called oplece, which are tied around the neck and hang over their arms and upper chest. Jewellery is made of colourful glass beads and silver coins, which hang around the neck and waist by string of leather.
The costumes of Lika show both Dinaric and Ottoman influences. Due to the military history of this region, the costumes can vary from civilian to military style. Because of the ruralness of the region and the prevalence of sheep, wool is spun and dyed (usually red, black, yellow and green) and fur coats and capes are common because of the cold winter weather.
Women tend to wear skirts down to their ankles and a white blouse. Their attire is generally in earth tones, with white, brown and black being the most common; however, blue dresses and aprons are reserved for married women, while white is for unmarried ones. Unlike the Croats from the north, the special sandals (opanci) are worn daily. The apron is often woven with colourful stitching and patterns with geometric motifs. Multi-coloured wool socks (priglavci or nazuvci) with various geometric designs are worn over the opanci. For headwear, women wear embroidered or white kerchiefs pinned to their hats. Jewellery such as earrings, bracelets and necklaces are made of silver, and some necklaces (djerdan) and earrings are often made of silver coins, traditionally from the 19th century Austrian coins (talira).
The men’s costume varies between the non-military and military style. A non-military costume has trousers and a linen shirt in white, black or brown (or blue for military men). The waistcoats may be made of leather or wool (black or red) and can be simple with no designs, or very elaborately designed with intricate patterns. Black or blue coats or capes made of lamb fur are worn during the winter. Red belts or sashes are tied around their waists and used to hold guns or swords, a remnant from the military era. A special carved knife (called a handžar or nož) from the Ottoman days is mainly carried. The Lika cap, a special hat exclusive to the region, is worn by all men, regardless of their social position.
The traditional costume within the Dalmatian region varies greatly; the coastal areas are Adriatic and coastal in influence, whereas the inland area, called Zagora, shows the Dinaric influence similar to the styles of Lika and Herzegovina.
Perhaps the most famous example of Zagora costumes comes from the small town of Vrlika. Both the men and women’s dress wear is characterized by multiple layers of clothing worn one over another. For men, the costume consists of a red sash tied around dark trousers with a fringe of threads hanging from the belt in red, blue or green. Due to centuries of militaristic mentality, a special leather belt is worn to carry weapons. Over the shirt is an elaborately decorated tunic with a custom-made fringe. The waistcoat is highly decorated with gold and red embroidery. Its style or material and cut depending on the season (due to the weather). Much like the men, the women’s dress consists of several layers of clothing: a white blouse, skirt or tunic is most common, with a colourful apron consisting of complicated geometric patterns and fringe as well as a red waistcoat with gold stitching made in such a way to make it stand out from the white blouse.
Jewellery consists mainly of beads worn around the neck and silver coins adorning the costume. Both men and women wear red felt pillbox caps (bareta or crvenkapa), with a white veil attached to the women’s.
Being on the coast, the national costume of the Croatian capital, Dubrovnik, consists mainly of white, black, gold and red colours. Both men and women wear vests rich with gold embroidery while the women wear gold tassels decorating the front of their blouses and fine jewellery such as earrings, necklaces and hair clips. Men and women usually wear white or black trousers or skirts, respectively.
Islands of Croatia
The islands have the most variation in dress due to their geographic distance and isolation from one another. They have some similarity with Dalmatia and Istria, but many have their own unique styles not seen elsewhere. For example, the national costume from the island of Pag has its origins in the fifteenth century, and is characterised by the intricate lace that decorates the front of the blouses and the edges of kerchiefs. The famous lace work of Pag is renowned for its precision and beauty, and is the most prominent part of the costume. The women of the island wear large white headdresses, long-sleeved blouses and full pleated skirts (usually gold or red in colour) with a red silk scarf tied around their waist. The men wear waistcoats over their shirts with form-fitting trousers with a red silk handkerchief worn around the waist, and red hats.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatian dress from Bosnia and Herzegovina fall under the Dinaric category of dress style, and the regional variations between western Herzegovina and central Bosnia are the most prominent. In Herzegovina, the style of dress is similar to the inland Dalmatian style.
The Ottoman influence is more prominently shown in central Bosnia. The women’s dress is made of white heavy cotton with puckered vertical stripes, while the collar is embroidered with a crocheted trim and dotted with sequins. The waistcoat is generally dark in colour with a golden trim embroidered along the edges. The apron is made of wool, dyed usually red, black or dark green with minimal decoration. If no apron is worn, then the dress may be decorated with special embroidery and crocheted lace. Pantaloons (gače) are worn with white, knee-length stockings (čarape). The sash (tkanica) worn around the waist is black woven with green and gold wool. The headdress can be a kerchief (krpa) with various geometric designs and/or floral embroidery, or a more elaborate kind (čember) with a crocheted edge with a wide band of multi-coloured geometric embroidery on one side and half of opposite side.
The basic elements of the men’s costume are white cotton shirts with wide sleeves and black trousers with a fringed leg. The waistcoat is made of thick wool and is dark in colour and can be embroidered or crocheted like the women’s’. The sash around the waist varies in colour according to the region, but is usually dark. Knee-length socks are worn much like the women’s and are usually white, red or gold in colour.
The Croatian dress from Serbia comes mainly from the Vojvodina region in the north and is strongly Pannonian in style. The most common colour for both men and women is white, with elaborate embroidery or stitching at the ends or hems of the sleeves, trousers or skirts. They wear blue or black aprons and waistcoats with gold embroidery. The most notable Croatian costumes are the rich blue ones from the Bačka region, where for centuries the women have ordered the silk for their costumes from Lyon in France.
The Croats from Kosovo — the Janjevci — have a dress that has a more Dinaric style. Since most are descended from Dubrovnik traders seven centuries back, they have maintained certain elements of Dubrovnik-style clothing that is reflected in their traditional dress. Due to the conflicts plaguing Kosovo over the years, many have migrated to Croatia, where a large cultural community has been set up in Zagreb, preserving the songs, dances and culture of the Janjevci.
Croatian minorities in nearby countries such as Austria, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro and Romania continue to have their own traditional dress influenced both by their ancestor’s original costumes and adaptation of certain local regional styles such as the Hungarian in Hungary and German Austrian Alpine in Austria.
1) Vrlicka women – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_
2) Opanici – http://www.thelovelyplanet.net/traditional-dress-of-croatia-a-phenomenal-heritage/ (Image by Aleksandar Cocek)
costume – By Roberta F., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/
4) Dinaric men’s costume – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/b3/0a/11/
5) Slavonia and Baranya – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dd/Me%C4%91imurska_narodna_no%C5%A1nja_na_otvorenju_slasti%C4%8Darnice_Me%C4%91imurska_gibanica.jpg/440px-Me%C4%91imurska_narodna_no%C5%A1nja_na_otvorenju_slasti%C4%8Darnice_Me%C4%91imurska_gibanica.jpg
6) Posavina and Podravina – https://babogenglish.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/8f79d-255486_112614748888731_763367565_n.jpg
7) Međimurje, Zagorje and Zagreb region – https://babogenglish.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/14bb6-64677_134867869996752_694938037_n.jpg
10) Lika – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-4_ZYqyKYSa4/UlixqLSh7MI/AAAAAAAAOwk/
13) Bosnia and Herzegovenia – http://croatia.org/crown/content_images/2011/busko_blato/
14) Bačka – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-xNBFrGPW_cw/Uld0kOZ0mHI/AAAAAAAAOmg/