Young Brides, Old Shirts

Macedonian Embroidered Dress

On October 1st 2011, the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe presented an exciting collection of Macedonian dress worn by the women of Orthodox Christian villages. These beautiful artifacts have finally found a world stage thanks to a large donation on behalf of the Macedonian Arts Council. Young Brides, Old Shirts focuses on the rich textile traditions of this small land locked country, displaying twenty-seven mannequins dressed in gorgeous layers of jewelry and garments. This assembling of clothing dates back to 1850-1950, and is ranked as some of the finest textiles in the world. Museum curator Bobbie Sumberg says, “We want people to get lost in the intricacy of these pieces and to see their relation to other pieces.”
"Young Brides, Old Shirts refers to a Macedonian folk song." Folk art saturates the country, finding its place in the traditional dress, architecture, dance, and decor. Specific embroidery, motifs, and color schemes reflect the diverse tastes of ethnic groups throughout the country. These styles become an unspoken cultural language, documenting centuries of tradition. Sumberg says, “The visual system of meaning created by the Macedonian women living in villages indicates to a knowing eye where the wearer of a particular costume was in the cycle of life. From puberty through betrothal, marriage, child bearing, and old age, dress changed to reflect status change.”
Colors range from village to village, from rich reds to brilliant shades of blue. Red was commonly used due to the abundance of Eurasian root madder, adored for its symbolic meaning of magical protection and vigor. Garments were typically made from wool, linen, cotton and in particular regions, silk worms were raised for their fine thread. A girl’s wedding or engagement marked the height of her weaving and sewing skills and when a young woman announced her readiness for marriage, this was when her most sophisticated outfit was worn. A woman would wear parts of her bridal dress for up to three years after the ceremony. As one aged, her attire would simplify and traditionally she was buried in her bridal dress, explaining why so few garments remain.
These textiles not only express individual artistic creativity, but they embody a sense of fortitude and monastic simplicity which kept their spirits alive throughout centuries of foreign rule. Macedonia has a turbulent history of wars and colonization that has deeply influenced the country's aesthetic. "When Western Macedonia was divided into smaller regional units, different ethnic traits arose, becoming a mosaic of stunning costumes throughout the country." Sumberg adds, “There is a sense of congruence and ownership that grew between the maker and her creation. The formalizing of these choices resulted in a kind of boundary- this is ours and not yours; we are us and not you- that also served to identify a person as insider or outsider- an unspoken language of society.”
Young Brides, Old Shirts: Macedonian Embroidered Dress opens at the Museum of International Folk Art runs through January 6, 2013. For more information, please visit



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