Folk costumes today

Due to urbanisation in the second half of the 19th century, folk costumes became less used. The vanishing of social classes in Europe and the standardisation of clothing evoked a keen interest towards traditional folk costumes of the past. In the second half of the 19th century, during the period of the so-called national awakening, it became popular in Estonia to wear folk costumes on festive occasions: national events, song festivals. A more widespread usage of folk costumes as national festive clothing started at the beginning of the 20th century.
After 1940, when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, the folk costumes were used by opposing ideologies. Under the official cultural slogan `national in form and socialist in content', the wearing of folk costumes was strictly regulated, being allowed at song festivals and other events which represented the state. On the other hand, Estonians used folk costumes as means of protest against the authorities. People increasingly began to wear folk costumes as national symbols in the 1970s and 1980s, during the new wave of Russification, and especially at the end of the 1980s during the `singing revolution' and the restoration of the national state not only at song festivals, but also at school-leaving parties and weddings.

The 1950 Song Festival on the 10th anniversary of the Estonian SSR


Front page of the daily Eesti Päevaleht, July 1997:

"For the opening concert of the children's dance festival, Helen Solovjev from Meremäe yesterday put on her great grandmother's century-old embroidered shirt and a silver pendant coin necklace from 1819."

For festive occasion, families often wear folk costumes


Modern times, modern finery

A scene from the play Estonian Games. Wedding 

that features hi-tech technology side by side to traditional songs performed by the Setu choir Leiko and has enjoyed success both home and abroad

Estonian Institute > Publications > Estonian Folk Costumes

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