The Bulgarian folk costume was an integral part of the people's life, both in everyday life and on holidays, and in the field of culture, where the material and the spiritual intertwine and complement each other. Unlike other items of material life, the clothes are invariably present in people's lives, from birth, when one wears the first chemise, to death, when one is buried in new or wedding clothes. The national costume is a very specific cultural phenomenon that developed over a long historical development. Therefore, the folk costume has long been defining for the Bulgarian folk culture, which gives a visual information of ​​the ethnic specificity and ethnographic diversity of the Bulgarian people. (Cherkezova, 1994).

The types of Bulgarian women’s folk costumes are determined by the cut and the way of wearing of the outer garments. The main types are (Cherkezova, 1994):

  • with two aprons;
  • with one apron;
  • sukman (a low-cut sleeveless dress);
  • saya (an outer garment, open in the front part).

Two-apron women’s costume. The main components of this type of Bulgarian women's folk costume are a shirt; two aprons fastened at the waist, one in front and the other behind; and a belt. The shirt is sewn mainly from front and back rectangular pieces. The shirt is tucked in between the waist and neckline and is highly visible and stands out under outerwear. Exquisite and dense embroidery adorns large spaces on the sleeves, front and back of the shirt. The two waist aprons are sewn from home-woven decorative fabric. The back apron falls into pleats and ruffles and exists in several variations. The front one is made from one or two pieces of fabric and has horizontal or vertical embroidery. The two-apron women's costume is widespread mainly in the Danube Plain in Northern Bulgaria. (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 1. presents a two-apron women’s folk costume from village of Beli Mel, Region of Chiprovtsi, North-Western Bulgaria. (Komitska and Borisova, 2005).

One-apron women’s costume. This type of Bulgarian women's folk costume is characteristic of some settlements in the Rhodopes Mountain and the Danube Plain in Bulgaria. It has a simple composition based on a long tunic-like shirt and an apron tied at the waist. The apron is as narrow as one piece of cloth or as wide as two pieces of cloth. It is of simple two-colour or multi-colour stripe decoration or of pale squares on a black ground, which is sometimes framed with geometric ornaments. The apron with light yellow and orange colors and shades of grassy green is typical one of the women of Rhodope. An open upper garment called anteriya, zabun, etc. is worn over the shirt and apron. (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 2. shows a one-apron women’s folk costume from town of Zlatograd, Southern Bulgaria. (Komitska and Borisova, 2005).

Sukman. The sukman is the most common Bulgarian women's folk costume. It covers the territory of the mountainous regions of the Central Bulgarian Lands, as well as some Black Sea and seaside regions of South-Eastern Trakia. The numerous regional and even local varieties of sukman dress, however, share some common features of the Bulgarian folk costume: the type of textile, tunic cut and low neckline. The sukman is most often a sleeveless dress, but in some places it has short or long sleeves. The decoration of the sukman folk costume is concentrated on the skirt, on the neckline and the ends of the sleeves. It consists of multi-colored embroidery, decorative fabric and applications of shirits that come in a variety of sizes and styles. The cut of the sukman defines three main variants, which have a specific geographical distribution. In Western Bulgaria, the sukman is cut diagonally, which falls down from the waist, hence its name kasoklinest. In Central and South-Eastern Bulgaria, the sukman is a high-wedge type with trapezoidal or rectangular wedges located high in the area of ​​the shoulder curves or armholes. In Eastern Bulgaria, on the slopes of the eastern ranges of the Stara Planina Mountain and along the Danube Coast, rare specimens of two-pieces sukman are found. It is sleeveless with a short jacket called a chapak, to which is attached a skirt gathered tightly at the waist. The belt of the sukman costume is usually long enough to wrap around the waist several times. The colour of the sukman dress is black or more often in various shades of red. In some cases, there is a multi-colored ribbon decoration. The sukman is worn with a narrow belt, the ends of which are fastened with a belt buckle called pafti, a typical Bulgarian jewelry, which are cast or forged in a round or oval form, mostly with floral ornaments, but sometimes with mother-of-pearl application on Jerusalem plaques with iconographic scenes. The apron is usually the most picturesque decorative centerpiece of the sukman costume. It is richly ornamented in different colors, which stand out beautifully against the background of the large black or darkness of the sukman dress, which makes this type of Bulgarian folk costume very artistic and original. (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 3. presents a soukman women’s folk costume from village of Zornitsa, Yambol region, South-Eastern Bulgaria.

Figure 4. shows a soukman women’s folk costume from village of General Inzovo, Yambol region, South-Eastern Bulgaria. (Komitska and Borisova, 2005).

Saya. This type costume consists of a permanently worn outer garment called a saya, worn over a tunic-like shirt. the saya is open in the front, slightly wedged, with different skirt lengths. The dress has sleeves. The skirt is knee or ankle length. The sleeves are short or long. The fabrics of the saya are different in material and color. Monochromatic white, black, blue and dark blue saya is made of cotton or woolen fabrics predominate. One of the most common variants, along the middle course of the Maritsa River, is made of multi-colored striped canvas with a predominant red color. The decoration of the saya is located on the neck opening and the ends of the sleeves with ornamental linear embroidery, supplemented by multicolored braided lace. The decoration of the saya in Central Western Bulgaria is a gold thread application, which is varied one and at the same time uniform in style. Another important component is the black or red waist band made of woolen cloth. The apron is also made of woolen fabric, and in most cases it is red or striped. In the South-Eastern region, the apron has multiple woven decorations. The apron, which is decorated with gold threads, is mainly used on festive occasions. In the South-Western region, red shades of textiles predominate, as well as dense embroidery, also in red. The costume from the saya is most common in South and South-Western Bulgaria. (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 5. presents a saya women’s folk costume from village of Galichnik, near town of Debar I todays Nord Macedonia, Bulgarian Pirin ethnographic area. (Komitska and Borisova, 2005).

Bulgarian Men’s Folk Costumes. The types of Bulgarian men’s folk costumes are determined by the shape and colours of the outer garments. The main types are (Cherkezova, 1994):

  • belodreshna costume (white-clothed costume);
  • chernodreshna costume (black-clothed costume).

Belodreshna costume. This type of Bulgarian men's folk costume includes a tunic-like shirt, trousers and outerwear made of white thick home-spun and woven woolen fabric. The trousers exist in two variants, benevretsi and dimii. Benevretsi are long and tight pants with close-fitting legs at the bottom of the legs. Dimmies have wide and shorter legs. The upper garment of belodreshna costume is a kasak, klashnik, dolaktenik or golyama dreha. It has a wedge-shaped cut and considerable length. Her particular style feature with linear embroidery motifs and colorful knitted lace on the upper part of the leggings. The obligatory item is the belt, made of richly decorated mostly red fabric and worn tightly wound around the waist. Belodreshna costume is mostly spread in North-West Bulgaria. (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 6. presents a Belodreshna Bulgarian men’s costume from village of Asenovlak, Botevgrad region. (Komitska and Borisova, 2005).

Chernodreshna costume. The appearance of chernodreshna Bulgarian men's costume is a part of the general process of darkening of men's clothing for the whole country, especially expressed during the period of the Bulgarian Renaissance. This is the result of new social, economic and cultural conditions. From the late 18th to the mid-19th Century, men's garments were no longer made of white woolen fabric aba. Instead, they have been made from black shayak, also a type of woolen fabric, with a different cut for the trousers and outerwear. The trousers, called poturi, are wide and have many black cords. It is curious to note what the people believed: The more wrinkled and stuffed the pots and especially their bottoms, the more affluent their owner was. Outerwear elek, aba, anteriya are straight cut and waist length. The belt, which is made of woolen fabric in red color and of remarkable width, is tight around the waist. The remaining components of belt, typical fur cap and tsarvouli are a part of the belodresha costume as well. (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 7. shows a Chernodreshna Bulgarian men’s costume from Stara Zagora region. (Komitska and Borisova, 2005).

The men's costumes from Western Bulgaria are a mixture of belodreshna and chernodreshna costumes, and are a composition of white benevretsi worn with dark blue outer garments. Home weaving and tailoring contributed to the introduction of chernodreshna costume. At the end of the 19th century, the chernodreshna costume gradually began to go out of fashion. European fashion is gradually entering the cities. (Cherkezova, 1994).

The artistic decoration of Bulgarian costumes is one of our most valuable national heritage, proof of the multifaceted spiritual life, high artistic potential and sense of beauty. The decoration of the clothes, an exceptional work of the Bulgarian woman, bears the mark of family and clan traditions, of morality and worldview. It has the ethnic specificity and social function. The exceptional artistry of the costume is obtained through skillful ornamental decoration expressed in the type of fabric, embroidery, knitting, appliqués and lace. The textile decoration is inextricably linked to both the individual parts of the garment and the overall composition of the suit. It is most often on the exposed parts of the costume: neckline, hems of sleeves and skirts, bands, belts, leggings, aprons, scarves, socks. Textile decoration in the form of monochromatic or ornamented stripes is widely used. It determines to a greater extent the style of the women's two-apron costume and the saya garment.

Particularly impressive is the aesthetic impact on women's aprons and girdles, which play the role of an artistic and compositional center. The art of embroidery is even more diverse. The embroidery is an expression of the specificity and uniqueness of Bulgarian folk costumes. It is characteristic of the whole country, but the greatest prevalence is in Northern, North-Western Bulgaria and North Macedonia. It is an invariable element of men's and women's shirts, aprons and belts, sukman and saya clothes, on the aprons of the double-apron costume.

The embroidery on national costumes is varied in technique, structure, pattern, contents, colour and location. The Bulgarian women used several stitches: straight, called also split stitch – horizontal and inclined, crossed, stitched and two-faced. The high artistic quality of embroidered ornamentation is determined to a greater extent by the skillful selection of materials and their preliminary preparation. Most often, wool and silk threads are used, as well as various combinations between them. The metallic gold threads give the embroidery a touch of shine and magnificence. Both textile decoration and embroideries impress with their ornamental patterns and motifs. Some of which are quite ancient: the motif of the "tree of life" rosette, swastika, circle, cross. The rhombus is a common graphic ornament (Cherkezova, 1994).

Figure 8. presents Bulgarian embroidery from Dupnitsa region, combined both symbols of Elbetitsa and Swastika (Stoyanov, 2017).

Elbetitsa is derived from the ancient "elem-becht", which translates to the meaning of the 8 cycles of nature - winter/ north, summer/ south, spring/ east, and autumn/ west. The Elbetitsa is a double star or two crossed crosses and was created as a cult of the Sun. It is a positive sign that encodes in itself wishes for health, prosperity and harmony. This ornament is also found in the title "bagatur" with the meaning of strength and power. It is also a symbol of the Mother Goddess and for this reason it is mostly found as an element on women's clothing. (Ucreate, 2021) Elbetitsa is the basis of many Bulgarian embroideries and ornaments, depicted on the sleeves and collars of clothes, as well as in the lower part of women's skirts. These are the places where the clothes ended and it was believed that a person was most vulnerable there. Therefore, all embroidery and ornaments are believed to have magical power to protect their wearer from evil forces (Vezba, 2017).

Suvastika and swastika are the most recognizable symbol in the world and unfortunately it evokes negative associations, but in fact it is an extremely positive sign - a spell for fertility and warding off evil. It is the perfect stylized combination of movement and rest at the same time. A combination of opposites. There are two varieties. The first is the infamous swastika - when the edges are folded clockwise and suvastika - when it is in the opposite direction (Ucreate, 2021).

Figure 9. shows a Bulgarian embroidery with the symbol of the Tree of Life. It is also known as the World Tree or the Cosmic Tree. The Tree of Life ся a three-level vertical representation of our world. The crown symbolizes the Upper World or the Heavens. The trunk represents the Earth. The roots signify the Underworld, the home of demonic forces. It was believed that the Young Sun, or as the Bulgarians call it, the Young Deity, descends on the branches of the Tree every year at a certain time to illuminate human life and mark a new beginning (Bezovska, 2011).

The rhythm, symmetry and contrast of the embroidery are valid for the entire Bulgarian ethnic territory. Compared to textile ornamentation, embroidery compositions are much more varied as a result of the ornamentation technique (Cherkezova, 1994).

Both geometric shapes and compositions, as well as colors have their important role in the overall construction and message of the embroidery. They often follow certain color schemes. Each of them is loaded with a meaning that complements the overall meaning of Bulgarian embroidery:

  • Red - The meaning of this royal color has retained its meaning until today. It is a primary color that is a symbol of blood and war. Red protects from lessons and evil spells. It is no coincidence that the brides were covered with a red veil, and the newborn was swaddled in red diapers.
  • Green - is the color of Mother Nature and new life. It is associated with the Tree of Life.
  • White - is a symbol of purity, youth and innocence till today.
  • Blue - This is the angelic color that depicts the sky, the sea, the water. It represents truth and trust, purity, tranquility and contemplation.
  • Yellow - is a symbol of gold and the Sun, the source of joy and merriment, fire, light, as well as with the afterlife and the dead.
  • Black and brown - They are the colors of Mother Earth and represent stability and security, fertility (Ucreate, 2021).

Appliques also add to the look of the suit. They are typical for the saya and sukman, and less often for outerwear. It is also used for the sleeveless upper garment (elek) of the double-apron costume. Applications are not an independent decoration and are usually combined with decorative fabric, embroidery, lace, cord trimming, etc. Very often, the application itself is a space that is additionally decorated, thus achieving high aesthetic results.

In the decoration of folk costumes, lace and lace play an important role. The rhythm of their combinations and the play of colors have an important contribution to the beauty of the costume and have displaced their main function - to strengthen the seams and hems of thick woolen clothes.

Hand-knitted decoration is characteristic of individual elements of women's clothing. The one crochet-hook lace, in geometric shapes or stylized plant motifs, gradually replaced multi-colored embroidery on women's shirts. At the same time, it functions as a harmonious addition to the look of kerchiefs, aprons, sukman dresses. Crochet ornaments bear the influence of traditional embroidery. A typical example in this regard are the rosettes and figures of birds that prevailed at the beginning of the 20th Century. The white cotton crochet, which is typical for the towns, is a stylistic feature of the folk women's costumes from Ihtiman, Pazardzhik, Kyustendil, Sofia and Tran regions (Cherkezova, 1994).

The pafts (pafti) are one of the most beautiful elements of Bulgarian women’s national costume. They are exquisite, artfully crafted from various metals, adorned with whimsical shapes and braids, these belt buckles and are considered a symbol of femininity. Like all jewelry, the pafts have a magical meaning for the Bulgarian woman. It is no coincidence that they are metal, and the craftsmen preferred to work with silver, because it is white and, like a mirror, repels the evil eye and returns it back. Their shape is also varied – the round and rectangular ones have been known since the Middle Ages, and the leaf-shaped ones with rounded or curved upwards ends were brought from the East. Unlike the national costume, the ornaments do not have a narrow division by region.

The variety of motifs and subjects depicted on the pafts is impressive. In the pafts there are plant ornaments - flowers, leaves, bunches, fruits, braids and animal motifs - peacocks, doves, snakes, geometric elements. Very interesting are the mother-of-pearl tiles on the pafts with images of saints and Christian holidays. One of the favorite motifs on mother-of-pearl is the double-headed eagle, which is a symbol of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Varied shapes and ornaments of pafts are shown in Figure 10 (Semkovska, 2019).

Jewelry and in particular pafts were worn as protection precisely on the places of the human body through which it was believed that unclean forces and spirits could penetrate. These are almost the same places called chakras by Eastern peoples, and through which, according to them, the exchange between human and cosmic energy takes place (Vezba, 2017). As for the protective power of the pafts, it was believed that the human body is divided into an upper and a lower part, and the most vulnerable is the middle, where the girdle, the belt, is put on (Semkovska, 2019).

Tronska or Elhovska women’s folk costume is a sukman type from Trakia ethnographic area and is located in South-Eastern Bulgaria in the South and central parts of Burgas, Yambol and Haskovo regions. The name Elhovska comes from Elhovo, the biggest town of the geographic region where Tronska costume is worn.

Elhovska women’s folk costume is impressive, prevailing with its rich multi-colored embroideries and is recognized as one of the most beautiful traditional women's costumes in Bulgaria. It was appreciated too early and gained a lot of popularity. Proof of this is the participation of Elhovo clothiers at international exhibitions almost 100 years ago in London and Rio de Janeiro. In 1920, a large exhibition was arranged in England in St. Albans, near London. 40 pavilions have been set up, one for each country. In the Bulgarian pavilion, in addition to the wide variety of different objects, only one female costume from Kazel-Agach (now Elhovo) and one male from Sofia, dressed on mannequins, were displayed in the two corners. The The Elhovo’s sukman arouses the admiration and interest of the English people. The same exhibition later visited London – in the two large salons of the "Hyde Park Hotel", one of the first large hotels in London, visited by rich Americans who marveled at the beauty of the women's costumes from Elhovo. At the jubilee exhibition in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1921-1922, Bulgaria was represented with only two women's costumes, one from Elhovo and the other from the village of Balabunar, Karnobatsko (Kostova and Hristov, 2021).

The basic parts of Tronska (Elhovska) women’s folk costume are: a sukman dress in A line or trapezium silhouette, a short shirt, a waistband, and an apron.

The sukman or low-cut sleeveless dress is made of black fully cast woven woolen fabric. The back basic cloth and the wedges are pleated in folds that are around one cm deep. The neckline opening is decorated with embroidery in rectangular form. It is called gaze. In the lower part of sukman, alternating with white and yellow gold treaded galloons, named belki, are applied. At the lower part of the sukman, embroidered skirts are attached.

The chemise is made of cotton with or without silk stripes. The embroidery decoration is usually at the hem of the sleeves.

The waistband is woolen, woven with multi-colour stripes. An ornamented apron is worn over the waistband (Angelova, 2017).

Tronska (Elhovska) women’s folk costume is presented in Figures 11-16.

Figures 11 and 12 present Tronski women’s folk costumes from village of Golyamo Krushevo, Yambol region. Figure 13. shows a Tronska women’s folk costume from village of Kamenets, Yambol region.

Figure 14. presents a Kariotski sukman women’s folk costume from village of General Inzovo, Yambol region. The Kariotski costume, which is show in Figure 14., actually is similar, almost the same, to Tronska costume and was worn by Greek women in Yambol region. The main difference between both costumes is in the color of sleeves of shirts. Bulgarian women worn sukman costumes with chemises with white sleeves or sleeves in light hues (Figures 13 and 15). Greek women worn sukman costumes with shirts with sleeves in dark blue.

Figures 15 and 16 show Tronski women’s folk costumes from village of Malomir, Yambol region.

The cut of the sukman dress is presented in Figure 17. The A line is a result of rectangular front and back, and trapezoidal wedges, situated between the arm holes and the hem.

The short shirt or chemise of the Tronska costume is shown in Figure 18. The cut is simple and combines rectangular front and back, rectangular sleeves and rectangular wedges, situated between underarms and the hem.

The embroidered rectangular neckline, named Gaze or Gazi is the most distinctive decoration of Tronska women’s folk costume. The Gaze ornaments are floral, zoomorphic (Angelova, 2017), and geometric ones. Sometimes ‘magic” symbols as crosses, swastika, octagonal stars are embroidered (Kostova and Hristov, 2021). The Gaze necklines are muti-coloured, as yellow is the most used colour. Varied Gaze necklines of Tronska sukman women’s costume are presented in Figure 19. Sukmans are from villages of Golyamo Krushevo, Kamenets, Malomir and Melnitsa, Yambol region.

The decoration of the lower part of the sukman silver and gold belki and embroidery are shown in Figure 20. The embroidery ornaments are mainly floral, but there are zoomorphic and geometrical ones. The ornaments are multi-colored.

The apron’s ornaments are mainly geometrical, but there are floral ones. Zoomorphic ornaments are less common. The aprons are red or muti-colored ones. The basic colors of multicolored ones are red, yellow, green, and blue. Some apron’s ornaments are shown in Figure 21.

The national dance of the Bulgarians is the horo, in which dancing people, holding hands, form circles or rows. The horo dancing involves learning a sequence of steps and combining them with movements of the hands while a folk music is playing. Sometimes dancers hold each other by their waists or dance standing opposite each other. The horo is a collective name for the dozens of types of dances typical for the different regions of Bulgaria. Each of them has its own rhythm and other specifics, like the way people hold hands or the shapes they form while dancing. Some horo dances are slow, while others involve a lot of jumping and leg-crossing. (Angelova, 2018).

Figures 22. and 23 present scenes of horo dances from Pirin (Darik, 2022) and Shopska (Asenov, 2012) ethnographic areas.

Pravo horo (Straight horo) is one of the most popular easiest and usually the first a person learns, since it has only four simple steps. (Angelova, 2018) It is popular in all areas of Bulgaria. Trakia pravo horo is presented in: https://youtu.be/Wpncg8mHNCU. (Bulg Folk).

Trite pati (The three times) is a typical Trakia horo, characteristic of the Yambol region and neighboring regions. Two variants of Trite pati are shown in: https://youtu.be/4vz3Dyv2kmQ and https://youtu.be/ZiKJNAaJdZ4. (Bulg Folk)

Rachenitsa is the other popular Bulgarian folk dance. Like the horo, it is spread all over Bulgaria. Trakia Rachenita is shown in: https://youtu.be/h8MbocSXiVs. (Bulg Folk)

A Christmas folk dance was born in Yambol and it is one of the symbol s of the city. Actually, this folk dance was born in Kargon, the oldest district of town of Yambol. It is a unique dance, named Yambolski koledarski buenek (Yambol carol dance buenek).

Figure 24. presents a scene of authentic Yambolski koledarski buenek. (Darik, 2017) It is very interesting to see the development of the Bulgarian men’s costume in towns after Bulgarian Renaissance, which is a mixture between traditional folk costume and European fashion.

An authentic Yambolski koledarski buenek, danced by the men, citizens of Kargon, the oldest district in town of Yambol, is presented in: https://youtu.be/GI9Zd2U_qYQ.

Yambolski kolegarski buenek, presented by professional dancers from the National folk dancing ensemble “Bulgare” is shown in: https://youtu.be/xK4sWkw7mkE (the first dance) and https://youtu.be/OBXIgRCYAkE (the first dance). (Bulg Folk) Both videos present traditional folk dances and songs from Trakia ethnographic area in Bulgaria.

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  7. Semkova D. 2019. The Secret Messages of the Bulgarian Pafts. Bulgarian National Radio. https://bnr.bg/radiobulgaria/post/101157456.
  8. Kostova D., Hristov H. 2021. The Sukman Costume in Elhovo - Types and Area of Distribution. Bulgarian Roots. https://www.bulgarianroots.bg/post/sukmanenata-nosia-v-elhovsko.
  9. Angelova D. 2017. Colour Magic from Yambol Region. Yambol, Regional Historical Museum of Yambol.
  10. Angelova M. 2018. Horo: The History behind Bulgaria's National Dance. Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/bulgaria/articles/horo-the-history-behind-bulgarias-national-dance/.
  11. Darik. 2022. The Eighth Horoteka in Branishte with the Ambition for the Largest Dobrudja’s Horo. Darik Radio. https://darik.bg/darik.bg/osmata-horoteka-v-braniste-s-ambiciata-za-nai-golamoto-dobrudzansko-horo.
  12. Asenov K. 2012. Profecianal Dance Group “Zarya”. https://www.balkanfolk.com/bg/gallery.php?id=162&picid=1959.
  13. Bulg Folk. https://www.youtube.com/user/BulgFolk.
  14. Darik. 2017. At Christmas, the Earth Vibrates to the Rhythm of the Yambol Carol Buenek. Darik Radio. https://dariknews.bg/regioni/sliven/na-koleda-zemiata-trepti-v-rityma-na-iambolskiia-koledarski-buenek-2069056.
  15. Yambol Studio. The Unique Carolers from Kargona. https://youtu.be/GI9Zd2U_qYQ.
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