Traditional dresses are the heritage of a country. It shows their rich culture and history, which has been preserved across centuries. European countries are culturally very rich, and it is evident from the huge variation in their traditional dresses.
Top 15 Traditional European Dresses and Their Significance
1. Germany – Dirndl & Lederhosen
The traditional dress of Germany for females is called ‘Dirndl’ and for the males is called ‘Lederhosen’
The dirndl consists of a blouse and a skirt. A corset is also worn depending on the region. Initially, the servant females wore the dirndl, but later it became a uniform dress code for women across all classes. The material with which the dress is made depends on the person’s social or political position.
The lederhosen literally translates to ‘leather trousers,’ which are short knee-length leather pants worn by working-class German men. Since Germany experiences a cold climate, woollen shirts and sweaters were worn with the lederhosen. In certain regions, suspenders and front flaps were also added with the pants.
Another interesting feature of the German traditional dress was the bow which the females wore. The bow indicated their relationship status. A bow tied on the right indicated that she was engaged or married. A bow tied to the left indicated that she was single and approachable. A bow tied in the middle meant that she is announcing to the world that she is a virgin. Lastly, a bow tied at the back indicated that she was a widow or a waitress.
Although Italy has no set traditional dress, a common type of clothing is seen among the Italians, which makes it the “Italian style of dressing”. The Italian clothing was initially worn by the peasants.
The females wear long-sleeved blouses with corsets and a slightly puffed-up long skirt. The sleeves are puffed with a ruffle design on end.
For the men, the dress consisted of a coat and trousers with special attention to embroidery and metal buttons and pins.
3. Ireland – Léine & Brat
The Irish traditional dress owes its origin to the Gaelic and Norse way of clothing and was worn thoroughly until the 15th or 16th century. Then, it was banned to be worn by the English colonizers because they viewed the Irish dressing style as suspicious.
The ‘léine’ was a type of sleeveless tunic top that was worn by both the males and the females. For the females, the léine reached up to their ankles, and for the males, the léine reached up to their calves.
The ‘brat’ was a long cloak made of wool and had fringes. The fringes of the brat were a distinct feature of the Irish clothing. The decoration of the brat depended on the wealth of the wearer. The rich people would decorate their brats with embroidery and brooches at the top.
The colour of their dress was also controlled by the king. The commoners could wear clothes of every colour except for blue and purple. Blue and purple could be worn only by the king.
4. Scotland – Highland Dress
The Scottish dress is recognized by the ‘plaid’, which was the checkered design that was prominent across Scotland. Another notable feature is the skirt. The skirt is mostly associated with being a part of the female clothing, but in Scotland, the skirt is worn by both male and the female alike.
The males wore ‘kilt’, a knee-length skirt that was pleated and made from one single piece of cloth. It was a wraparound skirt that was tied at the side. Along with it, they wore a ‘sporran’ which was a wallet-like pouch. The sporran was an essential item because the skirt did not have any pockets, and they needed something to store their things when going out.
For the shoes, they wore thick-soled shoes with long laces. The laces were not tied on the shoes like the modern shoes but were wrapped around the ankles and then tied.
The female dressing style was similar to the male, consisted of a dress called ‘tartan’. The dresses had patterns on them woven using white threads. For the shoes, they wore thin-soled shoes to facilitate dancing.
5. Rome – Toga & Palla
The Roman traditional dress is one of the oldest traditional dress in the world. The Roman held great value to their dress and for a long time, people who were not Romans were not allowed to wear it. The Roman clothing is worn in layers, and additional layers were added in case of extreme cold weather.
The men wore a tunic that was a long shirt, the length of which differed from the knees to the ankles. On top of it, the ‘toga’ was worn. The toga was a large piece of cloth that was wrapped around the body and worn. It was also secured with a belt at the waist. An additional layer of clothing called ‘cloak’ was worn to remain warm during extremely cold weather.
The women wore the same tunic as men, but its length was longer than the male tunic. In addition, the married women wore a long pleated dress called the ‘stola’, which was decorated with ribbons. The women also wore a cloak like the men called the ‘palla’, which was fastened at the top with brooches.
6. Spain – Farthingales & Flamenco
A distinctive feature of the Spanish traditional dress were the colours they used. Black, gold, and red were the common colours used by the Spanish. The colour black was worn during special events, and to accentuate the dress, they wore heavy gold necklaces and precious stones. They also decorated it with gold and silver threads.
Although the traditional dress is no longer worn regularly, elements of the traditional dress are worn among the people on special occasions and by the flamenco dancers.
The ‘traje corto’ was a short jacket with high waistbands. It was worn on top of a white shirt.
The women wore a veil made from silk covering from their head to their shoulders called ‘mantilla’.
The traditional dress of Poland varied across regions. The traditional attire was not worn in day-to-day life, but now it is worn among the people during special occasions like weddings and celebrations. The distinctive part of the Polish dress is the elaborate headdress.
The male dress consisted of a shirt, a waistcoat, and trousers, adorned with a hat called the ‘krakuska’. The krakuska is the highlight of the entire dress because of its shape. It was made from red fabric and had a peacock feather attached.
The female folk wore a shirt, a long skirt called the ‘spódnik’, a jacket called the ‘watówka’, and also a headdress.
8. Netherlands – Kraplap & Klepbreok
The prominent feature of the Dutch traditional dress is the pointed curly hat. The Netherlands is a country whose dress varied depending on the region.
The females wore two layers of clothing. The first layer consisted of a loose-fitting shirt with either half or full sleeve and the second layer was a tight-fitted vest with embroidered patterns. For the lower garment, a layered long airy skirt is worn.
The males wore a loose-fitted shirt that had two rows of buttons made from brass. On top of it, they wore a vest and/or suspenders. They wore trousers whose length could vary from the knee to the ankle.
The Greek clothing was based on the wrapping technique, and the elements were almost the same among the males and the females. However, the style of clothing differed among the people on the mainland and the islands.
The female clothing consisted of a simple cotton dress beneath a woolen vest. Aprons and sashes were also added occasionally. The dress also had many layers, which was the common style in the Greek clothing.
The males wore a white ‘fustanella’ that had 400 pleats. The 400 pleats were significant of the 400 years that the Ottomans ruled over Greece. A shirt with wide-sleeves was worn, added with a woolen vest. For the lower garment, baggy pants called ‘vraka’ was worn.
10. Portugal – Saia
A distinctive feature of the Portuguese traditional dress is the striped or checkered patterns called ‘saia’. This pattern was commonly found in women’s skirts in white and red colours. They also wore a scarf like a piece of clothing to cover the hair.
The men wore a similar kind of dress but had additional leggings and waistcoats for them.
11. Sweden – Sverigedräkten
The Swedish traditional dress has 840 different styles, which date back to the 17th century! Among such a diverse collection, there are some common elements that can be seen. The blue and yellow colours were common among the Swedish clothes with daisies drawn on them. The headgear was also another outstanding piece in the Swedish ensemble.
Another interesting fact is that the Swedish national dress was abandoned during World War II. But in the 1970s, the dress saw a revival among the people and is now commonly worn again.
The Austrian dress is similar to the German traditional dress. But among the whole of Austria, there was variation among the Upper Austria (Goldhauben) and the Black Forest Region (Bollenhaut).
The men’s traditional dress is made from leather, wool, and linen. They wore knee-length trousers and the traditional jacket called ‘steireranzug’ was also worn.
The women’s dress consisted of the dirndl that was a set of a blouse and a skirt. A corset is also worn depending on the region.
The traditional Belgium dress was heavily influenced by French fashion during World war II. The men wore shirts and trousers, but the star of the dress was the beret hats that were worn. The females wore huntress dresses as the traditional dress.
14. Turkey – Salvar
The Turkish dress is the ‘salvar’ which is the loose lower garment that resembles the trousers. It is loose and baggy in structure but is tightened at the ankles to accentuate the bagginess.
For the upper garment, a loose jacket called the ‘jubba’ is worn.
15. Russia – Rubakha & Sarafan
The Russian traditional dress is quite similar for both men and women owing to the severe cold climatic condition faced by the people. It is multi-layered, and the layers depend on the severity of the weather.
The Rubakha is the oversized shirt that is the first layer of clothing. Its richness in design depended on the economic capability of the wearer. Above it is worn the Sarafan, which is the long dress that runs up to the feet. But to protect themselves from the cold climate, the Shuba, which is a fur coat, is worn. The Shuba is one such item that the Russians still wear to protect themselves from the extreme climate.
However, the most significant part of the clothing is the Kokoshnik or the headgear worn by the females. According to their tradition, married females could not show their hair publicly and hence covered their hair with elaborate decorative styles.
Europe is a culturally diverse region, and it is rightly reflected in their traditional dresses. On your next trip to pan-Europe, which traditional dress are you going to try next?