In a corner bounded by the Sava and the Danube, three centuries before the common era, Celts found the abandoned settlement of a Thracian tribe, the Singi. Recognizing its strategic advantages and abundance of resources, they settled there. A fortress arose, in Celtic dun, and Singidunum was born. It was home to Celts, Romans and Byzantines for a millenium before the Slavs arrived. Seeing the pale limestone palisades in the distance, they called it the White City – Beo Grad. It became part of the kingdom of King Dragutin Nemanjić in the 13th century, and flourished under Stefan Lazarević in 15th century. It fell into Hungarian hands, setting into play a back-and-forth struggle between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire that went on for centuries. In 1594 as a reprisal for a Serbian uprising, Albanian Ottoman vezier Sinan Paša ordered the public burning of St. Sava’s relics on Vračar hill. The warring continued until Karađorđe liberated it on St. Andrew’s day 1807. The failed first rebellion led to notable migration of Serbs out of the region in 1813, and it took decades for the city to earn its place as capital of the Principality and Kingdom of Serbia.
In Turkish times Beograd was inhabited mainly by Turks, with the Serbs living in villages on the outskirts of the city. Their primary occupation was agriculture, with not much pastoralism. To a high degree, baštovanstvo (horticulture, i.e. raising fruits and vegetables) was a common occupation, feeding the city for centuries, to this day. The territory discussed here belonged to two different Ottoman districts, or nahije: Beograd, which had two knežine (counties), Posavina and Kolubara, and Grocka – Gročanska nahija, which had the knežine Podunavlje and Kosmaj. They were united into a single District of Belgrade – Beogradska Nahija later on, and after liberation it all became the Beogradski Okrug with Gročanski srez and Vračarski srez. The inhabitants were crucial to the Serbian Uprisings of the nineteenth century, giving the Čarapić brothers from Beli Potok to the cause. They are mentioned in the epic, Buna Protiv Dahija (The Rebellion Against the Dahis), where the Turk Fočić Mehmed Aga says that he will quash the rebellion by executing the notable peasant leaders, the knezovi:
Док погубим до два Чарапића
“Из потока Б’јелог од Авале,;
“Кој’ су кадри на Врачар изићи,
“У Биоград Турке затворити,
“Он је’ паша, а ја сам субаша.
Dok pogubim do dva Čarapića
Iz Potoka B’jelog kod Avale,
Koj’ su kadri na Vračar izići,
U Beograd Turke zatvoriti,
On je paša a ja subaša…
Until I kill the two Čarapić brothers
From Beli Potok near Avala
Who are capable of coming to Vračar
To imprison the Turks in Belgrade,
They rule, and I am their subordinate…
Indeed, Marko Čarapić was executed in 1804 during the Seča Knezova (Purge of the Serb Leaders), while Vasilije – Vaso Čarapić fell at the battle that liberated Belgrade in 1806 on St. Andrew’s day, December 13th. The street bearing his name in modern day Belgrade marks the spot where he fell.
In terms of ethnographic study, Nikolić used Cvijić’s work as a starting point when he surveyed these villages. His primary focus was on typology of villages and origins of populations, dividing the villages into three groups: one group, Rakovica, Jajince, Veliki and Mali Mokri Lug, Kumodraž, Banjica, Mirijevo were in lowlands rich in streams and small rivers; the second group, Višnjica, Vinča, Slanci, Kaluđerica, Boleč, Leštani, was in the lowlands alongside the Danube and the hillsides leading to them; the third, Železnik, Žarkovo, Ostružnica, were along the banks of the Sava River. Two mountains, Kosmaj and Avala, defined the beginning of what Nikolić considered “true Šumadija”, despite their proximity to Belgrade.
The Belgrade district is a good place to look if one is interested in following how costumes change over what is a relatively short historic time. Mitar Vlahović identified four periods or waves of change, from the 1850s to the post-WWI period. The oldest costume showed far more Levantine elements and resembled a much more central Balkan type of costume. It included the fes and silav, used heavier hemp cloth for shirts and trousers, and had central Balkan decorative elements such as a cloth, peškir, tucked into the belt.
By the time Drobnjaković studied the costume, the older variant was nowhere to be seen. Elderly people described it to him, and the picture that emerges is men’s clothing very much influenced by southern regions (jemenije, krdžalinac, poturlije, tozluci) and women’s having a good mix of Dinaric and southern elements (zubun, silver coins). The villagers, he noted, placed great importance on the quality and beauty of their clothing, even among the poorest. This applied to personal cleanliness and adornment, with both women taking great pains to have neat and nicely plaited hair, the men being clean shaven except for moustaches.
Men’s costume was fairly uniform throughout the district, with only a few particular differences. For example, men in Veliki and Mali Mokri Lug, Jajinci, and Rakovica wore higher socks than men in remaining villages, earning the nickname čarapani – “those sock guys”. Notably, most of the basic garments in this area were made from cotton or mixed cotton cloth. The finished cloth could be purchased easily in Belgrade. Parts of the men’s costume included:
Košulja – Very long cotton or cotton-linen shirt, reaching to the knees in its oldest variants, with gathered sleeve cuffs closing with a button; this was the basis of the general summer costume. Men who did not wear a long shirt were pitied as being poor. After the turn of the 20th century, collars and embroidery came into fashion. The parts of a košulja were: stan (torso portion), rukavi (sleeves), skuti (portion from waist to knees), klinovi (four elongated triangular pieces sewn into the side of the shirt, from underarm to hem)
Gaće – White cotton trousers, looser fit, held in place by a drawstring (učkur) and worn tucked into socks. As with the košulja, the earlier hemp cloth versions were so heavy that often men continued to wear them into the autumn and winter. As the costume evolved, the košulja and gaće eventually became the only two pieces of men’s clothing produced in the household.
Čakšire – trousers; in the oldest accounts, of white woollen cloth, which were replaced by brown woolen sukno cloth, which were replaced by military style britches (bridž pantalone) sewn from lighter šajak cloth in grey, olive green, brown, or blue. The older čakšire were like the type worn in southern regions, narrow in the leg and baggy in the seat. Later, these became less baggy, remaining wider only at the thigh.
Pojas, kanica – very long and colourful wool or hemp fibre sashes woven on table looms, using cards as in an inkle loom.
Fermen, Vermen, Jelek – an open vest made of fine čoja cloth, generally blue in the later period; in the oldest variants it was called doramče, showing its connections to eastern and southern Serbian garments. The doramče was very plain and made from thick woolen cloth. Later, craftsmen called terzije began making vests, at which point they became lighter, better fitting, and more ornate. The most ornate style of vest was called the fermen, and was richly covered in red gajtan applique.
Anterija – long sleeve jacket, decorated with silk gajtan applique, also produced by terzije. The anterija was worn over the shirt and under the jelek. It folded over across the chest and was kept closed by braid frogs (kopče) or later buttons. Worn in winter, or in festive occasions by adult men only.
Đuda, đudarija – a long sleeved jacket padded and quilted with cotton, for winter wear; generally of darker colour, sometimes with light coloured interwoven vertical stripes. These were produced by craftsmen called abadžije, who specialized in working with heavier fabrics.
Čarape – woollen knit socks embroidered with botanical and geometric designs, generally black, sometimes a dark blue or deep maroon, rarely white or pale yellow (and certainly NOT the bright neon colours being used by some folklore ensembles for this costume… really, guys, did your great grandfather actually choose to wear green, purple, or pink socks?!)
Opanci – made from tanned leather, with a notable hook (šiljkan style of opanak); crveni opanci (red opanci, pl.), called that because their tanning process gave them a wonderful deep maroon colour, were especially valued. Men’s opanci had very long, black, tanned leather straps that wound around the calf many times in order to tie the shoe in place.
Nazuvice – short half-socks, worn over the regular socks to cover the toes and about half of the foot itself, keeping the foot warmer in winter.
Kožuh – a closed leather vest, lined with lamb’s fleece, held closed by knot clasps or buttons along one side or at the shoulder; a newer element that entered into use around the time of the Balkan wars, influenced by similar vests worn by Serbs in Banat and in Srem.
Gunj – a winter garment in the oldest variant of the costume; heavy wool sukno cloth, long sleeves and with fringes at some openings as ornamentation.
Kabanica – another type of hooded winter coat, initially made from white boiled wool cloth, sukno, which over time became popular to dye red in madder (broć). Often sewed by the women in a household. Very little ornamentation other than wool braid (gajtan) at the edges, which served a purpose of strengthening seams and preventing fraying or wear.
Šubara – sheepskin or lambskin hat, made by leather craftsmen; only came into use in Belgrade’s surrounding villages after 1860, influenced by southern Šumadija.
Šešir – a western style brimmed hat, generally fedora style but often with a broader brim like one would find on a panama hat. Felt ones were worn as a sign of wealth, as they had to be purchased in Belgrade, but straw ones were generally braided and made by men themselves. Straw was favoured during summer and work, and by younger men; a felt šešir indicated that a young man was of marrying age.
Šajkača – the quintessential Serbian cap, entering into this costume at the same time as britches, around the times of the Balkan wars and WWI. (Belgrade villagers, it is noted, were somewhat slow to adopt it compared to neighbouring regions.)
I can’t finish the discussion of men’s costume without mentioning perhaps the most unusual garment, or undergarment, known in Serbian costume. This item is the nakurnjak. It gets its name from nad- na- (on) kur- (from kurac, cock or penis) -njak (thing, item). Thankfully, I only have a description to offer. It was knit from wool yarn, often brought to a groom by his bride (as only adult married men wore it). It covered the genitals and was held in place by two strings that went around the waist and were tied in place. Yes, it was real.
In the outskirts of Belgrade, items of clothing had superstitions about them, and were used in folk magic rituals. One such spell began with stealing a shirt of someone who had wronged you, taking to a cemetery and placing on an unknown grave. Magic formulas were recited, and then the wronged party had to secretly return the shirt. The wearer was supposed to go mad. A general superstition that was meant to protect someone from curses (uroci) was to wear a shirt or sock inside out. Often, this was done by men as they plowed the fields for the first time in the spring, or when sowing grains. In another ritual, Infertile couples were to leave both their shirts on the yoke of an ox overnight. The next night, both wife and husband bathed together, in silence, put on the shirts, and went to bed. Newly made shirts were imbued with a magical, protective strength by passing a live coal through them prior to being worn. As this was done, a spell was recited: “U vatri bejamo, ne izgoremo; bolest dođe, ne bolovamo” (We endured fire without burning, we will endure illnesses without consequence). In the village of Vlaška, the villagers held in common a special shirt that was meant to protect anyone from illness during times of epidemics. It had been made under the instructions of an old woman, some time during the 1890s, in this manner: she selected nine thirteen year old girls, and instructed them to weave cloth for the shirt in total silence, and, remaining silent, to sew the shirt. For more than three decades, afflicted individuals wore it as some sort of cure. For men, headgear was a crucial element of costume, a symbol of manhood. Thus, spells and amulets usually involved the caps and hats of men. A child often had a clove of garlic, or a small dried pepper sewn onto his cap; alternatively, a silver coin, the shine of which would break the stare of the evil eye.
As with men’s costume, there were at the time of study by Nikolić, Vlahović and Drobnjaković minor variations between villages but a few stood out. Not coincidentally, these are the same villages where men’s costume differed. In these villages the women had begun wearing a full pleated skirt, suknja, influenced by urban and western fashion, or more likely from the mixed costume elements worn by Serb immigrants from the extreme southeast of Serbia, who wore vute, v’lnenici, zaprege, etc. Central Balkan elements of costume, such as the zubun, had fallen out of use by the time of the field studies of the 20th century.
Košulja, Rubina – initially of homespun linen fibre, later of cotton, a long shift decorated with embroidery on the bodice, hems, and sleeve tops. Over time it went from ankle length to just below the knee, as styles changed. By the interwar period, only older women wore the long shifts, while girls generally wore mid-calf length ones. The one-piece shift was a standard element in most Serbian costume since time immemorial.
Oplećak, kratka košulja, bluza – Under the influence of nearby Banat and Srem regions, the košulja was gradually replaced by wearing a two-piece combination of blouse and skirt. The blouse was often ornamented with lace and embroidery, and was only waist length; over time, sleeves became shorter, to approximately elbow length.
Skuti, Podsuknja – skirt and underskirt; worn beneath the woolen skirt in some villages, Skuti were embroidered, while podsuknja did not necessarily have embroidery. Podsuknje (pl.) with an embroidered hem were meant to be seen; without it, they were not meant to be seen.
Pojas, Kanica – a multicoloured woven sash, somewhat shorter and much narrower than those worn by men but otherwise similar in striped pattern.
Kolan i pafte – a belt worn over the pojas; it was also narrow, but generally embroidered or decorated in beadwork. It was attached to metal buckles called pafte. Village women near the Sava river (Posavina) wore pafte daily, while those near the Danube (Podunavlje) only wore them on festive occasions.
Pargar, prekača – a woven and gathered wool or mixed fibre skirt. It could be worn wrapped around as a skirt or type of back apron, but mainly was worn with front corners tucked (prekačeno) into the pojas, creating a kind of bustle at the back and flaring out to the sides, depending on the manner it was folded. (Want to start a fist fight? Ask people which is the right name for this)
Suknja – A woollen skirt, densely pleated, with a sewn on decorative hem of floral embroidery on velvet. The cloth for it was woven with a black cotton thread warp, and using black, coffee brown (kaveno) deep green (zeleno), or red (aleno) woollen weft yarns. The weaving pattern could identify which village a girl was from. Often, this was a result of the villagers’ origins – old traditions and preferences in a new setting. Generally of darker colours in the villages where it was worn, it soon supplanted the pargar or prekača.
Kecelja, keceljac – in the past, woven on a loom in geometric patterns; after WWI, embroidered in a combination of geometric and botanical motifs, at first on coarse hemp or linen cloth but later on velvet or fine cotton; in some of the villages toward Kosmaj and Avala, the habit of dual aprons (front and back) endured until after WWI. The back apron was generally more plain or woven in stripes and geometric patterns, and always of a lighter, more open weave. In some villages, dual aprons were only worn by married women while unmarried girls only wore the front apron.
Jelek – made by terzije, of fine dark coloured velvet – black, dark blue, deep red – with silk gajtan and metallic srma appliques and embroidery, augmented sometimes with sequins.
Đuda, đudica – a quilted, cotton lined sleeveless vest or long sleeved jacket (the term for either was the same); the former was worn year round while the latter was only worn in winter
Kožuh – a leather vest that gradually replaced the đudica; highly decorated with leather applique, small mirrors, and sometimes fur trimmed; very similar to those worn by Serbian women in Srem (many of the craftsmen who made them in Belgrade did in fact come from Srem or Banat).
Zubun – this mainstay of Serbian folk costumes fell out of use soon after the second Serbian Insurrection; still, it warrants inclusion in any examination of the woman’s costume of Belgrade district. One description of a zubun worn in the village of Vlaška comes to us from Nikolić. It was sewn from white čoja in six pieces: back panel (poleđina), two inserts (klinovi), two front panels (peševi) and collar (kolir). The collar was sewn from red wollen čoja over which cross stitch designs in white thread were embroidered. The back panel was decorated with three horizontal rows of black fringe known as buća. Between these rows were embroidery ornaments known as kolal and grane; these were executed in black, red, blue, and green thread. From the bottom hem of this back panel rose three applique “branches” (grane) of red čoja, augmented with red, blue and green embroidery. The seams of the klinovi were decorated with red and green cross stitch, while the klinovi themselves were embroidered with stylized vine or branch designs. The peševi had ornaments in the same style as the back of the zubun, and the edges and hems of the entire garment were embroidered in blanket stitch (obamet) using black and blue thread.
Konđa, konjga – a headdress mean to make the kerchief more prominent; two types were worn – a lower, smaller type worn at the forehead (Vrčin, Zaklopača, Grocka) and a taller, more conical type worn toward the back of the head (all other villages). The base of the konđa, the obruč, was made by the women themselves by twisting and interweaving thin willow or ash twigs around a roughly circular form made from linden bark. Threads or yarns were then additionally interwoven into this and it was covered in simple cotton cloth, called krpica. A ribbon, called podbradnik or kumoš, was attached to it – this would be worn under the chin as a strap to hold it onto the head. Braids were wrapped around the konđa twice, and then ribbons plaited into the braids (uplitnjaci) helped tie the konđa in place. The konđa fell out of use rapidly after WWI. A konđa was put on a new bride on the second day of the wedding festivities, after the assumed consummation of the marriage. She wore it to her dying day. After the Balkan wars and WWI, the large older style konđa fell quickly out of use due to urban fashion influences from Belgrade, a temporary shortage of fine fabrics for kerchiefs after the wars, and apparently also under pressure from their menfolk, who thought all of the combing and braiding and arranging that went into wearing it, a waste of time. The smaller one endured somewhat longer.
Marama – kerchief, generally cotton cloth for workaday use, or purchased – industrially printed and produced, often augmented with homemade crochet lace. Over the konđa, the kerchief worn was generally made of expensive cloth, such as damask or brocade. Generally, marame were worn by married women, and by unmarried girls during work only. On festive occasions, unmarried girls did not cover their hair, which they wore in long braids wrapped around their head, with flowers. In mourning, both young and old wore black kerchiefs. A mother who wore a black kerchief for a deceased child, but who had other children, replaced it with a dark olive green one afterwards.
Ogrlice – various necklaces of silver or gold coins, or of beads and pearls.
Minđuše – earrings; these were so common in the Belgrade district that little girls had their ears pierced at birth (hey, they’re already screaming, so why not?) Ritually this was done by the midwife using a sewing needle disinfected in a candle flame. A red silk or cotton thread was pulled through the new piercing, its ends then dipped in candle wax. (another red thread was tied loosely around the infant’s right wrist, as a protective amulet).
Čarape – generally of knit wool or later knit cotton, with floral and botanical embroidery motifs along the entire length; they reached the knees and were most often black, although red and white socks could also be found.
Opanci – traditional shoes, with a somewhat less pronounced hook than on men’s opanci; the preference for the red leather opanci applied to women’s footwear as well.
I was able to acquire some pieces of Belgrade district costume through collectors in Belgrade, Mladenovac and Grocka. These include two true antique vests and a đuđica that pre-dates the First World War. Two pargari came from a private collection in Vancouver, British Columbia. A skirt, skuti, came from a collector in Smederevska Palanka. One blouse is a recent reconstruction based on one held at the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade. Although it is contemporary, it has been made using entirely traditional methods including hand embroidery, authentic materials, and hand crocheted lace. These were all collected over a long period from 1990 to 2014.
For Further Reading:
Bjeladinović-Jergić, Jasna (2011) Narodne Nošnje Srba U XIX I XX Veku. Etnografski Muzej, Beograd
Bogić, Alimpije V., ed. Jovan Ćirilov (1995) Opis Vračarskog Sreza – 1866. Reprint edition, Dositej Obradović, Beograd.
Drobnjaković, Borivoje. (1927) Nošnja u Kosmaju. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 3, Beograd.
Drobnjaković, Borivoje. (1957) Beleške iz Kosmajskih sela. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 20, Beograd.
Ivanović-Barišić, Milina. (2017) Odevanje u okolini Beograda – druga polovina 19. i prva polovina 20. veka
Nikolić, Rista T. (1903) Okolina Beograda. Vol. 2, Naselja Srpskih Zemalja, Vol. 5 Srpski Etnografski Zbornik. Srpska Kraljevska Akademija, Beograd
Vlahović, Mitar. (1927) Muška nošnja u Beogradskoj Posavini. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 3, Beograd.
Vlahović, Mitar. (1953) Ženska nošnja u okolini Beograda od sredine 19. veka do danas. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 16, Beograd.
Vlahović, Mitar. (1927) Muška nošnja u Beogradskoj Posavini. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 3, Belgrade.