Nowadays, the Sorbs live predominantly in Lusatia, a region extending from Poland to Eastern Germany (in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony). They speak their own languages (Wendish, Lusatian) which are closely related to Polish and Czech not German. Like their language they are also genetically related to the Poles and Czechs. They are a Western Slavic people who came to their present-day area in the 6th century CE. Many Sorbs have preserved their traditional language, customs and clothing. They are a recognised ethnic minority in Germany.
There are 11 regional types of Sorbian traditional costume. In four of these regions (Hoyaswerda, Radibor, Schleife and parts of the Niederlausitz), the traditional costume is still used in daily life, while in the others it is only worn on special occasions or just kept as keepsakes, so-called Truhetrachten (coffer costumes).
The Spreewald Sorbs
The Spreewald is an important and protected biosphere reserve in the southeast of the German State of Brandenburg. The landscape is made up of swampland, rivers and woods and is a historical cultural landscape. Punts are used to get around the shallow waters.
Many of the people living there are descendants of the first settlers in the Spreewald region, the Slavic tribes of the Sorbs/Wends. The Sorbs of the Spreewald have their own traditional costume, which is still used for festivals and for tourism although it is no longer used for daily wear. This costume is the local variant of the traditional Sorbian costume. Before the Nazis in the 1930s decided to name this costume after the region, it was generally known as Wendish costume (Wendische Trachten), a term preferred by the Spreewald Sorbs themselves. The Lower Sorbian festive costume from Lübbenau in the Spreewald, Brandenburg was designated traditional costume of the year in 2013 by the German Traditional Costume society (Deutscher Trachtenverband).
Every village and parish had its own special form of female costume so that people could tell from which place the wearer came from and what her marital status was. The costume also varied according to the situation between the festive costume (used for special occasions), the church costume (mainly black and white) and the working clothes made of blue print cotton or linen (indigo dye giving a blue and white pattern: Blaudruckstoffen).
The typical festive headdress (Lapa, Haube) of the region around Burg and Werben is made of a large embroidered silk scarf folded in a special manner to form a hat. This is the largest headdress used in the Spreewald region. Cardboard is used to form the base and the scarf is fixed to it using pins.
The skirt (Kosula, Rock) is made of heavy velvet and has large folds. The colour of the skirt is highly variable, though red is used for unmarried women as it is the colour of youth, happiness and love. Green was reserved for married women as it is the colour of honour, fertility and the seriousness of life. White was never used as until ca. 1900 as it was the colour of mourning. Black was reserved for church and religious occasions. Nowadays, lilac and blue have become more common. The skirt is decorated with a silk band embroidered with flowers (commonly roses, pansies and violets) and leafy tendrils, in addition to lace and velvet bands. The skirt has deep folds at the back and so the bands can reach a length of up to 3.5 m. The silk band is also fixed with pins. The lining of the skirt is made of linen, which has a broad embroidered band attached to the hem. Underneath are a number of petticoats giving the skirt a full form.
The front of the skirt is covered by an apron that is either embroidered or decorated with crocheted lace. A silk band is worn around the waist tied either at the front (in Burg) or back (elsewhere).
A velvet waistcoat is also worn covered by a pastel-coloured shawl (Cypjel, Halstuck), again embroidered with flowers. It is edged with net lace. The shawl is also fixed with pins. As a result a total of 35—40 pins are needed to keep the whole costume in place.
In its simplest form, the costume worn by men was made of grey-brown linen, however, more colourful forms were also used. Around 1859, it consisted of a linen shirt and white linen trousers, held up by embroidered braces. A coloured or black scarf was tied around the neck so that the ends suck out. They also wore a multi-coloured waistcoat, often with a silk front. A linen coat in either blue or white was used when the weather was bad. In winter, red baize was sewn inside the coat to make it warmer. The men wore a pointed velvet hat, with a broad band made of lambskin. They wore either rough leather boots or wooden clogs on their feet.
At the end of the 19th century, the traditional Spreewald men’s costume was replaced by a top hat and black frock coat. They still wore a neckerchief as in the previous costume, though in black silk. Ever since the middle of the twentieth century, the Spreewald men’s costume has disappeared completely from daily life and can only be seen in museums.
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