East of the Southern Morava, in villages and towns on the Stara Planina mountain range, is the land known as the Šopluk. From the southern Vlasina district to the Zaglavak and Budžak districts in the north, we find preserved some of the oldest aspects of folk culture, especially in costume.
When we look at Eastern Serbia, we find a rich variety of folk costumes. They can be very roughly divided between the northeast Timok region styles, and the southeast Šop style. The term Šop designates the shepherds, pastoralists of the southeastern mountains, and the area in general is called by people outside of the region as Šopluk (Land of the Šopi). This area is known for a unique dialect, Torlakian, unique foods, excellent cheeses, and fiery music and dance. To Serbs, it evokes a very rustic and archaic culture, and rightfully so. Isolation and solitude have served to preserve both natural and ethnographic beauty of the region.
An authority in this area was the late Jerina Šobić, who researched both in the region and through the EMB collection in the late 1950s. Some of her general findings are worth outlining here.
Šobić noted that throughout the area of southeastern Serbia generally called the Šopluk, the basic costume was of a single form, with variations especially in peripheral or overlap areas. (similar to the Pannonian – Central Balkan mixing seen in Šumadija region) Šobić noted that influences from bordering regions, like the Morava valley, started creeping in around the time of the Balkan Wars, 1912. As in other regions, Šobić noted that costume retention was stronger among women than men. For Šopluk, this came about due to the fact that the men of the region were pečalbari; they had to go further afield, in the Balkans and beyond, to find work and earn money. The prime occupation in the region was pastoralism, but among skilled trades, the men of Stara Planina and Šopluk were well known as builders, called dunđeri, neimari. They would come home during the summer to help with intensive summer work. In Crna Trava, for example, this happened around the feast of St. Procopius (Prokopijevdan, July 21), a tradition still observed by the pečalbari and EU “guest workers”. Working in cities and towns, especially in Central or Western Europe, men adopted western style clothing out of necessity and as a sign of status. The women stayed true to tradition.
Traditional clothing was made primarily from homespun flax, hemp or cotton (shirts, dresses) and the rolled wool fabrics known as čoja, klašnja or sukno (outer garments). The male costume was made of pristine, white čoja, earning the region’s inhabitants the name belodrešci (those who wear white clothing). Outer garments were made in the late summer or fall, in anticipation of feast days and weddings, usually by abadžija tailors. One was fortunate to have separate everyday and festival clothing. An unusual tradition in the region was to prepare clothing in which to be buried, which was kept wrapped in a bundle, in a wooden chest.
The men’s costume is known for being elaborate in number of garments, heavy both in material and in layering. Dressed for a special occasion, mid-winter, a Šop man potentially wore up to four upper garments over a long shirt and pants. The parts of the mens’ costume consisted of:
- Košulja, rubinka: long, with open sleeves in the oldest costumes, gathered sleeves in more recent examples; no embroidery.
- Breveneci: white wool cloth pants with black gajtan ornamentation, narrowing toward the ankle and worn by drawstring (učkur) at the hips (so, Serbs invented low-rise? Sorry about that)
- Gunjče, Džamadan, Kratko: various names for a long sleeved jacket that folded over and was held in place by the pojas; generally white with black gajtan, but from the interwar period onward, often made of dark brown sukno cloth. The name kratko reflects that it only reached the waist
- Pamuklija: with or without sleeves, a cotton lined jacket or vest generally worn in winter for warmth
- Dreja: mid-calf, long sleeved coat made of white sukno with black gajtan trim. Generally a winter or festival costume piece.
- Jelek, doramče: worn over the dreja, sleeveless and open for its entire length
- Pojas: a very wide and very long sash woven from wool, generally striped; worn over the jelek and dreja.
- Silav: a wide leather belt worn over the pojas, with metal embellishments.
- Kabanica: a hooded cape, generally worn in rain or snow, part of shepherds’ gear.
- Dark coloured wool socks, Čarape, with or without embroidered ornamentation
- Skornje, Navošte or Tozluci: worn over the socks, various types of protective wrap that reached the knees from the foot.
- Opanci, prešnjak or vrncan type.
- Šubara: hat made from the fleece of a sheep; peaked type, barla, or flat topped, ravanka; astraganka made from astrakhan (karakul, karakačanka) sheep fleece
Both Jerina Šobić and Jasna Bjeladinović-Jergić found that the costumes of this region changed over time: 19th century to WWI; the interwar period; and the post WWII period to the present day. Each period brought changes in styles, materials and tastes. The changes are very distinct in the female costume of the district, especially as to which outer garment was worn.
The most ancient of these garments is likely the litak. It is made from a light wool cloth known as lito, hence its most common name. (an alternate name for it was mujer). Generally the litak is black in colour, but in the 19th century unmarried girls wore a white cloth version of the litak, heavily embroidered and generally worn with a linen or dress embroidered in red threads. This shirt was called alenica (from alena, red) and the white litak was called manovil. Because of its simplicity of style (despite opulent ornamentation) and its presence in the folk costume of other Slavs, most ethnographers consider the litak of early slavic origin. (eg., garments such as the Russian sukman, šušun, sarafan; Czech sukne)
The litak has a cousin, called sukno. This is the same name as the material from which it is made, a heavy wool cloth that is rolled after weaving. Like the litak, it is a simple sleeveless garment with openings for arms and head. Both garments are worn by pulling them over the head. The sukno is heavier, but less ornamented than the litak, but what ornamentation is there is rich. It is mainly on the bodice, consisting of coloured braid (gajtan), metallic srma, and embroidery. The hem and arm openings are ornamented very simply, and serve to both decorate and reinforce them.
Finally, the latest garment to become part of the regional material culture is the zubun, or as it is know in the local dialect, z’b’n, z’ban, or zab’n. (speakers of the Torlak dialect like to swallow their vowels). It is new to the region, but as a garment itself, the zubun is about as ancient as the other two. It is widely worn in one form or another by Serbian and other Slavic women. It crept into the Šopluk costume from the Nišava and Morava valleys, as well as possibly through Timok region overlap. This is reflected in its distribution, as it is worn more frequently in the outer areas of Šopluk toward Niš. It is, like other zubun, a long open vest; it usually has hooks or loops at the bodice to keep it closed, but is open beyond the waist. Unlike other zubuni, these are often sewn from industrially manufactured and dyed cloths, and are quilted with a layer of cotton between outer surface and inner lining. They have limited ornamentation, generally only some gajtan or srma around the bodice opening.
The womens’ costume of the region consists of:
- Košulja: called by different names depending on material, i.e. those made of hemp cloth were called prtenka or grsnica; from cotton cloth, ćenarka; from a cloth made from these two fibres, melezanka. Once elaborately embroidered, like the alenica, they became simpler with time.
- Kaica: a type of cloth hat decorated with coins or beads, worn by unmarried girls
- Igla, Trepka: various decorative pins that kept the kaica in place, piercing a thick braid; also used to keep a kercheif in place over a kaica or over heavy braids.
- Marama, šamija, zabratka: traditional kerchief, with lace or bead (manistra) trim, limited embroidery; often, women wore commercially produced floral kerchiefs. Married and unmarried girls wore their kerchiefs tied differently in a variety of ways throughout the region.
- Litak, mujer: decorated with silk or cotton braid, gajtan, metallic passementerie trim, dizge, sequins, šljokice or laske, and metallic thread, srma, very liberally at the bodice and hem, sometimes on the back at the neck.
- Manovil: identical in pattern as the litak, but made of white cloth and heavily embroidered, this garment fell out of use early in the 20th century. It was worn by unmarried girls.
- Sukno, sukman: similar to the litak, but of heavy wool cloth
- Zubun, Z’ban: long open vest
- Pregača, prestilka: generally woven with striped patterns, although embroidery crept in from the Morava valley regions, as well as commercial cloths (print, taffetta, satin) – these lattermost types persisted in the version of the costume at Bela Palanka. Not worn with the litak, but only with sukno or zubun.
- Kolija, Modra, Šuba: long-sleeved winter garment worn over the litak or sukno
- Knit socks, Čarape
- Rawhide opanci of the vrncan or prešnjak type (crafted shoes – cipele, kondure – came into wear during the interwar period, for special occasions)
The following are all examples of the women’s costume of Stara Planina and Šopluk, from my personal collection.
For further reading:
Šobić, Jerina. (1961) Razmatranja o Šopskoj Nošnji [Observations on the Šop Costume] Glasnik EMB, vol. 24.
Bjeladinović-Jergić, Jasna. (2011) Narodna Nošnja u Budžaku, [Folk Costume of the Budžak district] in Narodne Nošnje Srba U XIX I XX Veku: Srbija I Susedne Zemlje. [Folk Costumes of the Serbs in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Serbia and Neighbouring Countries] Beograd: EMB. (english summary)