Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bulgarian costume of Dobrudja

Hello all, 
Today I am going to talk about the costume of the Bulgarian population of Dobrudja. Dobrudja is the region between the lower Danube river and the Black Sea, including the delta. Dobrudja is also spelled Dobrudzha, Dobroudja, Dobrogea [in Romanian],  DobrudžaDobruca [in Turkish], or Добруджа.

The map above shows the ethnological makeup of Dobrudja in 1918. The Green represents Bulgarians, the pink Romanians, the yellow Turks and Tatars, The black Greeks and Gagauz, the red Germans, and the violet Lipovans. Lipovans are schismatic Russian Orthodox who refused to accept the ecclesiastical reforms of Patriarch Nikon, and who migrated to this and other places outside of Russia in order to continue the practice of their sect; in other places they are called Old Believers.

In spite of consolidation since, this area remains quite ethnically mixed. The Bulgarian portion of Dobrudja is considered to consist of the oblasts of Silistra and Dobrich [formerly called Tolbukhin], along with small parts of northern Razgrad and Varna provinces. However  the Bulgarian cultural region of Dobrudja is often considered to extend further south. The Bulgarians over this region, both north and south of the border, use the same general costume, with some variation. 

I will start with the most ornamented version of this costume, the original of which is from Dobrich area. This is a more recent type of costume, being influenced by Western fashion, and has many characteristics of the costume of eastern Bulgaria.

The base of the costume is the chemise, with a typical tunic type cut. Originally the sleeves are open ended, but later the sleeves sometimes got narrower, with cuffs. It was home woven from hemp or linen, and later from cotton. Often narrow stripes were woven in near the selvage. This chemise is from a neighboring region, but the cut is substantially the same. The horizontal seam is not necessary, unless you want the area around the neckline to be of a finer linen.

The chemise is often embroidered on the collar, front opening, the hems and ends of the sleeves. Here is one set of possible designs, graphed by symbol. This one is for the hem and sleeve ends.

The top row of symbols, from left to right are blue, green, and yellow; the second row are black, dark red, and light red. Using the same set of symbols, here is one design for the collar.

Here, from left to right as displayed, green, dark red, blue, black, light red.  And this is one design for the front opening.

Again, the symbols are the same; here in the top row from left to right, light red, black, blue, in the second row, dark red, green, yellow.

The outer garment is a modified sukman, called a roklia. This consists of a bodice and skirt sewn together. Originally, the bodice was short, just under the bust, and the skirt was sewn to it, as you can see in this image. notice the tuck in the skirt and the hem edged in black cloth.

Here the roklia is made of a home woven wool with stripes. Here is another image of an older costume of this type. She does not have the bodice pinned shut; I suspect that it was originally made for a smaller woman. Note the narrow sleeves with cuffs. This hem is also edged in black with white trim, possibly lace.

The edges of the attached bodice were trimmed with contrasting braid or ribbon. This one is woven in a subtle plaid and also has tucks, a black hem, and a ribbon close to the hem.

Later this garment was made with factory woven wool with a finer weave. The bodice became longer, reaching the waist. Sometimes it was left plain, with just some tucks and ribbon on the lower skirt, like this. 

Sometimes the roklia was ornamented with embroidery. This included border designs around the hem, spot designs on the rest of the skirt and sometimes the bodice; and while the bottom seam of the bodice was now at the waist, the original line was recreated with ribbon or embroidery. 

In this image the embroidery on the chemise has been enlarged, which is common for mass produced stage costumes today.

Here is a graph of the embroidery on the hem of one such sukman.

Click to enlarge. The symbols with associated numbers are, from left to right: black, white 2, cyclamen [sic] perhaps a pink?  3, green 4, blue 5, and yellow. 
Here is a graph of the same garment showing the edgeline ornamentation on the bodice. 

The color symbols from top to bottom are: cyclamen 2, blue 3, green 4, black, and yellow 1.

A simplified stage version of this costume is available commercially from this website. 

The apron is black or red, with ornamentation either woven in or embroidered. The edging  and the middle seam is often decorated with lace. See the various images in the article. It may be of wool, hemp, or even linen. Here is the graphing of one possible design, meant to be done on black even weave cloth. This design consists of horizontal stripes on the bottom with an area design above. The geometric designs may be done in cross stitch, but they may also be done in counted satin stitch. The borders, both horizontal and diagonal, should be done in counted satin stitch.

Again, click to enlarge. The top two symbols, from left to right are: dark cyclamen and yellow, in the second row: light cyclamen and green. The area design should continue to the top of the apron.Here are some more examples of aprons.

A belt or sash completes the costume, sometimes with the typical large Bulgarian buckle, along with a large kerchief which is usually tied around the neck as shown. Colorful stockings and shoes are commonly worn. 

One variant of this costume has a separate skirt, often with a flounce cut on the diagonal, and a double breasted bodice in black or red. This is perhaps more typical of Silistra than Dobrich.

One version of this costume has a vest with a lower neckline, similar to that of the attached bodice. This image is from Alfatar in eastern Silistra province.

Of course, sometimes, especially for everyday, the vest is omitted.

Another variant has a jacket with a peplum worn either instead of this vest, or over the sukman.

This woman is wearing the jacket over the embroidered sukman.

This is a display in a Romanian Museum, with the sukman shown over the jacket. This is an effective way to show the garment but it would not have been worn this way.

The men's costume is similar to that worn over most of eastern Bulgaria. Shirt, often with embroidery, vest with low curved opening, black full trousers with braided ornament, wide sash, leggings and moccasins. 

I will finish with some more images of this costume.


A group of young people doing a typical Dobrudjan dance, Ruka.

A different version of the costume, doing Opas Khoro.

Some Dobrudjan women singing

A small local dance group from Kalipetrovo outside Silistra. The men start, the women come on at the 5:30 mark, and the men come back at the end, dancing on jugs.

Dobrudjan men dancing. This is a long stage piece which is supposed to be various craftsmen and their apprentices competing by means of dance. 
part 1
part 2
part two starts with a slow song, and ends with the men dancing faster

Thank you for reading. I hope that some of you might be inspired to make a Dobrudjan costume, or at least try out the graphed embroideries. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 

Roman K.


Source Material:
Veleva and Lepavtsova, 'Bulgarian Folk Costumes vol 3', Sofia, 1974
Katia Matrova, 'Bulgarian Embroidery', Sofia, 1982
Veleva, 'Bulgarian Folk Costumes and Embroidery', Sofia, 1950
Tancred Banateanu et al, 'Arta Populara in Republica Populara Romina', Bucharest, 1955
Veleva and Dancheva-Blagoeva, 'Bulgarian Folk Art and Jewelry', Sofia, 1981


  1. Hi this has lots of information. Thanks for such nice article.

  2. Interesting article. I am interested in this topic. My mother in law has the same suit , in Romania , as well as older ladies who sang . I want to know the name of that group and locality where they are, if possible. Thank you!

  3. there are two pictures which are not from the pointed area of dobrogea ,they are form varna region and belong to vaikovci ethnographic group and Thracian migrants in varna region . i think as most of the pictures belong to south and north dobrogea costumes ,those two pictures are not appropriate .these are ; Varna-10-36-00-from gen kiselovo ,and this : 10-9_small-provadia or devnya ssuvorovo regions