Traditional clothing is an important identity element for a community. Vibrant colours, hair braided with golden coins, wide-brimmed hats, big earring and salbe, full skirts and shirts printed with flowers, all of these are specific and easily recognisible elements of the traditional Roma clothing.

 

Traditional clothing is closely linked to the preservation of the identity and traditions of the Roma minority. When it comes to characteristic Roma clothing, certain rules can be seen, especially when it comes to women. A married woman will cover her head with a scarf.

In Roma culture, the lower part of the body is considered “impure”, so the washing is done separately for clothes for the upper site and lower site of the body, not to mix them.

Hats worn by men and scarves worn by married women are kept away from any surface or other clothing that touches the lower part of body. In the past, women’s clothing were kept completely separate from men’s.

According to tradition, a woman must wear a long skirt that covers her legs completely.  The skirt consists of many layers in a wide range of colours. In her attire, the Roma woman adds an apron, a floral print headscarf, a shirt, skirt, large earrings and a necklace with gold coins. The flowers printed on fabrics should always be with the tails down, otherwise the clothes bring bad luck.

The colours worn by Roma people often represent their mood. Girls over 15 years of age wear darker red, women over 25 wear green, light purple or white. Those over 40 wear dark colours, but never black. In the Roma wardrobe, black clothes are never worn because of superstitious reasons. Black is a symbol of pain and unhappiness. According to traditional Roma beliefs, this non-colour is only worn at funerals. In shops that sell traditional clothes, black clothes are not displayed but shown only at the request of customers. Red symbolises love, strength and good luck, being believed to be the colour that chases evil spirits. At the same time, yellow represents greatness. For the Romas, blue means water, sky, two essential elements of the spirit. White means prosperity and shows an important social position, while purple is a colour of mystery and spells.

Clothes often don’t match! On the contrary, they wear as many different colours as possible. For example, if the skirt is red, the blouse must be green. Another aspect of the traditional dress of Roma girls is represented by hair braided with silver coins. Maidens wear three tails and married girls wear two tails. Men don’t have a specific dress code, often wearing wide-brimmed hats, trousers, waistcoats and shirts. On holidays, they are fond of brightly coloured costumes. As for children’s clothing, they are a true copy of adults.

The wearing of necklace with gold coins (salbă) by the Romas is one of the symbols of the ethnic group, but this custom was borrowed from the Romanians of the Banat area. In nomadic times, the Roma invested their money in these ornaments, so their wealth was easier to transport from one place to another.  At the beginning, these necklaces consisted of a single gold coin but then, more and more were added. Nowadays, the number of coins in a “salbă” is negotiated at the wedding. To join a wealthy family, a girl’s salba must have at least 30 golden coins. During communism, these jewels caused difficulties for the Roma people. The men were hunted down by police, arrested, tortured and kept starving in the dark. Their release was conditioned by the number of golden coins the women were willing to offer to the authorities.

This ethnic minority is divided into two categories, the nomad Romas and the stable Romas, who have permanent residences. The nomad ethnic group have best preserved their traditions, while the other category has borrowed the clothing specific to the area.

Traditions are an important mark of identity for all people in the world. Roma traditions, however, are constantly changing. They take on elements from other cultures and this can lead to the evanescence of their characteristic apparel over time. Traditional clothing are an important part of the cultural identity for any community. Roma traditions, like many others, are constantly changing. Over time, the traditional dress-code fades away for more modern influences, but the Roma community makes considerable efforts to keep their traditions and values intact.

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