Ukrainian Embroidered Dresses and Shirts (Vyshyvanka): from Tradition to Fashion

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    There’re few folk patterns which haven’t been in fashion yet: everything from Scottish clan plaid through tribal motifs to oriental ornaments… Everything is as old as time. But hold on a second, what on earth is a vyshyvanka dress? Has anyone heard about that? Well, if you haven’t you must be not that into fashion, as Ukrainian embroidered dress is one of the hottest 2016-2017 trends. Willing to learn about the origins of this design and find inspiring examples of what this kind of clothes could be paired with and put on for? Then welcome aboard!

    Vyshyvanka dress: what is it?

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    The word vyshyvanka itself can reveal the mystery of whatever it actually is if translated to Ukranian. “Vyshyvat” means “to embroider” in this language, so any piece of clothing with traditional embroidery on it can be called that way. But what does this specific type of embellishment look like?

    If you’ve seen pictures of traditional Slavic shirts, then you might be able to recognize a vyshyvanka shirt straightaway: a plain linen shirt or dress with mostly red embroidery embellishing all or some of the rims of the fabric and more.

    The fabric of original Ukrainian vyshyvanka dress is mostly linen of natural color. Sometimes it can be bleached to get that crisp white background or dyed, but that is rarely and in limited amounts of colors like black or red.

    As for the embroidery itself, it’s really distinctive and can’t be confused with any other kind of decoration around the world. We’re not gonna make you feel bored with all the details on the types of stitches, but as for the thread color it is usually of different shades of red. The color combinations may vary from region to region though, so in some places they would use black and red, in others – red and blue and somewhere else they would just use white thread on white fabric.

    Do vyshyvanka patterns mean something?

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    Apart from distinguishing their regional identity by creating vyshyvanka Ukrainian tried to feature Slavic mythology in the clothes they wore to sort of protect themselves from the evil and show tribute to the pagan gods.

    That is one of the reasons why the color range usually was limited to just red, black, blue, yellow and seldom green. Each color had to mean something. Red was associated with sun, life and fire, black – either with sorrow or with soil and harvest, blue was the color of pureness and safety, yellow – of honey, warmth and wheat and green indicated youth and spring.

    There’re also 3 main subtypes of vyshyvanka top patterns:

    • Geometrical or abstract are more than just a set of symbols. Each symbol in it can be actually decoded telling a lot about the person’s background and character. Thus rhombic patterns mean fire, sun and field, lines and spirals stand for soil and water and if you see a cross that would be a runic symbol for harvest and moon.
    • Floral ethnic embroidered dress looks just gorgeous: in addition to abstract patterns there’re also plants and flowers which are typical for the area like grape leaves, oak leaves and acorns, hop and all the range of field flowers.
    • Animal patterns look less realistic than the floral ones, featuring birds or forest dwellers added to the meaningful abstract pattern.

    Apparently at those times Ukrainian embroidered shirts could be read just like a book!

    The evolution of Ukranian embroidered dress

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    If you’re into oldschool clothes we’ve got a curious fact for you: Ukranian vyshyvanka dress patterns date back to the Skythian embroidery, which over time has transformed into what we know as vyshyvanka now. Well, how oldschool is that?

    Yet if you think that until now you could only find traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts in museums or some old lady’s family treasure chests, you’re wrong. It might have just recently shot to fame world-wide, but it doesn’t mean people never wore it since it was a common outfit in the 14th or 15th centuries. It has already been in twice (on a smaller scale though): first in the 20’s when people used vyshyvanka as an outfit for celebrations and an option for everyday clothes, then in the 50’s after WW2 when people were eager to highlight their ethnical identity (partially because the political leaders of that time took to doing so), and finally in the 80’s when vyshyvanka blouse became a political statement, which was used to show that Ukraine is striving for independence.

    How do you match vyshyvanka dresses and shirts?

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    So why have women all around the world started to long for such an outfit in their closet? Well, it might be that the pattern unlike many others hasn’t been overused yet and the look of it is still unusual and fresh. Anyway, to create a solid look we recommend using a couple of tips:

    • You’ll only spoil the linen dress with too many accessories, even though it’s considered part of boohoo style now. Stick with natural materials like wood, rough silver, corals or leather or find embroidered jewelry to match.
    • Do not hesitate to pair it with jeans though, especially when the vyshyvanka is loose and with sleeves. Depending on the cut of the jeans and the footwear you’ll be able to create both boohoo or romantic look, which will really help you stand out from the crowd.
    • On top of that we’d say that vyshyvankas are all about natural beauty and simplicity, so do not try too hard with your hairdo or make up. This is the case of the simpler the better.

    By the way, it’s a new trend to use vyshyvanka patterns to decorate footwear, bags, accessories and jewelry so if you would like to get just a little bit of it go for a scarf or a pair of embroidered earrings.

    Ukranian embroidered dress for an important occasion

    And finally, what about your special occasion? Can you wear a vyshyvanka as an evening outfit or even a wedding dress? Sure you can! There’s plenty of designs to choose from and you’ll definitely find something that would suit you: a maxi linen dress for a boohoo wedding, a blouse with thick floral embroidery for a date or a modestly embroidered dress for an important business meeting and we’re 100% sure there won’t be anyone in the same outfit there and that’s what we, girls, hate so much, don’t we.

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