Ој, леле, Стара Планино! – Costumes of Stara Planina

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.

Postcard 1951. Stylized Crna Trava 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.


Woman from Pirot spinning wool on a distaff or preslica. (personal collection, A.S.)

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.


Cabinet photo of three young men from Pirot. Note that one of the men is wearing the more archaic white gunjče, while the other two wear more recent brown ones. (personal collection, A.S.)

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
Šopske nošnje_1
Elements of the men’s costume made from sukno.


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.

Šopske nošnje_3
Young women in manovil and alenica (L), litak and kaica (R)

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.

Šopske nošnje_2
Three basic garments of women’s costume.

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.

Distribution of costumes
General distribution of the three types of costumes: The zubun type closest to Pirot and north of it; the sukno type west and southwest of Pirot, around town of Babušnica; Litak type south and east of Pirot, from around Crna Trava and along length of Stara Planina. This variant extends into Bulgarian Šopluk as well, centred around the town of Trn.

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.

Above: Zubun style costume of an unmarried woman or young married woman, village of Oreovica near Temska, northeast of Pirot. The apron is woven in the vertical stripes typical of the regional costume. It is pre-WWI era and is woven of very rough fibre, likely a mixture of sheep’s wool and goat fleece. The zubun is dark blue with gold srma trim at the bodice. The kerchief is home sewn but from commercially produced materials and machine lace. The pafte are recent (2013), from a workshop in Pirot that is reviving the trade. The highlight of this costume, to me, is the dress. It has very fine embroidery, floral on the bodice and multicoloured songbirds at the hem of the sleeves, with delicate bead work (manistra). This reflects definite influence of the nearby Timok region just north of here. Temska is toward Zaječar, and represents the start of an area where regional styles overlap. Below are details of this costume.

Z1 Details


Above: Young woman’s zubun style costume from Dobri Do near Pirot. Zubun is sewn from red cotton cloth, with brown gajtan trim at the opening. Pafte and belt are particularly unique. Embroidery of the dress bodice shows that this was intended for a young girl or unmarried woman. The apron shows influence of Morava valley, with its embroidery. Details of this costume are below.

Z2 Details


Above: Zubun type festival costume of a wealthier married woman from the village of Zvonce, east of Pirot. Of the three zubuni I have, this one is of the finest materials. It is made from a beautiful black velvet, with metallic silver srma. The detailing with gajtan at the hem and opening shows that this was made by a terzija, rather than abadžija, of some skill. The kerchief is commercially made from cotton print material (this type often came from Turkey), but a complementary colour handmade lace was sewn on separately. Zubun acquired in 2008, kerchief and shirt in 2015.


Above: Sukno type womens’s costume from the vicinity of Babušnica, village of Izvor. The dress is from the post WWII period, as determined from the gathered shirt cuffs. The sukno itself is from the interwar period, but the prestilka apron is more recent. Kerchief is tied in the manner of married women. Pieces acquired between 2000 – 2014


Above: Sukno type womens’s costume from the vicinity of Babušnica, village of Kaluđerovo. The sukno is decorated with both gajtan braid and hand embroidery. Kerchief is tied in the manner of unmarried women, and is decorated with an ornamental brass pin.


Above: older woman’s winter sukno, from Kamik, southwest of Pirot. This is definitely the oldest of my Šopluk costume pieces, and is without a doubt 19th century. The sukno cloth is particularly heavy, and the adornments are archaic in style. Acquired in 2012. The metallic pafte and woven sash were acquired separately, in 1992.


S123 Details
Details of all three of the sukno type costumes.


Above: Woman’s costume from Bitvrđa east of Surdulica. Litak with hand-stitched sequins. Hemp-fibre dress with hand beaded lace trim. Commercially produced kerchief. Metal buckles called pafte, made of a low-grade silver alloy (niello). Individual parts acquired between 1990 to 2010. Below: Details of the same costume.

L1 Details



Above: woman’s costume from Zlatanci village, in the zaseok (village district) called Lulinci, east of Crna Trava. Notice that the front bands of passementerie gold trim are replaced by hand embroidered stylized floral motifs. The shirt is hemp-fibre (prtenka) with beaded lace at the wrists. Kerchief is held in place by trepka pins in the shape of peacocks. Below: details of this costume. Pins acquired 1990, litak and dress in 2000.

fixed sopsko


Above: Woman’s costume from Kalna village near Crna Trava. This is probably my oldest Litak, judging from the wear and from specific details of the ornamentation, particularly the absence of much metallic passementerie. Instead, sequins have been hand stitched at great pains to a more dull-gold cloth trim. Also, the hem is embroidered in green and purple floral designs with lace. Details of this beautiful example are below. Acquired 2010.

L3 Details


Above: woman’s costume from Trnski Odorovci, a mountain village very close to the border with Bulgaria, between Pirot and Crna Trava. It should be noted that Crna Trava is the only part of Šopluk located in the Jablanica administrative district. (strictly an artifact of administration!) Acquired 2010.


Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.24.24 PM
Family from vicinity of Crna Trava, c. 1910. Photo from personal collection, A.S.


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)

Kolija Sobic
Jerina Šobić’s illustration of the winter garment, kolija.