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Bosnian Traditional Folklore Clothing

Bosnian Traditional Folklore Clothing  – The majority of the traditional and folklore costumes of the rural population of Bosna and Herzegovina was handmade until the end of the 19th century. Women in the villages of Bosnia and Herzegovina used to make traditional costumes themselves while some parts of the costumes were made by rural or urban craftsmen. Most of traditional costumes of Bosnia and Herzegovina were made of wool, flax, hemp and leather. Cloth was made of flax and hemp of which basic parts of the costumes were made : shirt, pants as well as women kerchief for covering head. Pure flax was used for making festive parts of the traditional costumes while it was mixed with hemp for every-day costumes parts. Cotton was greatly used for making urban costumes and its usage in making rural costumes started from the 19th century, first of all in Eastern Bosnia, Posavina and Herzegovina. Wool was most often used for making traditional costumes of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cloth was made of wool which was treated and non-treated afterward for aprons, weaving objects and bags. Common colors of wool were white, black and dark blue, and so treated cloth was used by all ethnic groups. In Bosnia and Herzegovina men were sheering sheep at late spring while women were in charge of making and preparing wool.

Raw leather was mostly used which was not treated but only dried. Shoes were made of leather which were opanci, that were called putravci, oputnjaci, fasnjaci. Material that was used for knitting opanci were of lean sheep and goat skin. Besides those oputara special opanci of treated leather were produced that were worn by opulent young people at the end of the 19th century until shoes as the part of the costume appeared. This custom of using shoes is for the fact an Austria-Hungary influence. Poor people who were wearing opanci of treated leather benefited from this since opanci were less expensive than shoes.

Rural Costumes of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Rural costumes of Bosnia and Herzegovina differ mutually much. There are significant differences in the way of dressing between vast geographic areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina so that three geographic parts distinguish : the Western Bosnia with Herzegovina, the Middle Bosnia and the Eastern Bosnia and Posavina. This division of the rural population costumes resulted in three main groups that make three types of the rural folklore costumes of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Dinaric costumes costumes of the Western Bosnia and Herzegovina, Central Bosnian costumes that include the Eastern Bosnia and the third type make the Costumes of Posavina. Numerous variations of folklore and traditional costumes of different ethnic groups are visible in small details of specific parts of dressing and in their colors and the way they are warn, but they have preserved all basic characteristics of types they belong to.

Dinaric Costumes

Dinaric costumes spread mostly along the mountainous territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina and cover the surface of the West Bosnia, which are areas of the Dinaric mountainous massif, entering deep to the east of Bosnia up to the areas of Imljan, Banjalučka Vrhovina and across Travnik town to Ram. On the north border goes along slopes of Grmeč and through Banja Luka to Prnjavor. On the south border is lost and spreads into the Herzegovina, covering the part of Bosnia around towns of Foča and Cajniče up to the Lim River. 

Within this spaciously spread mountainous area of Bosnia and Herzegovina large number of variations of costumes of the Serb and Croat ethnic groups are found, while Muslim Bosniacs wear very similar costumes. Among the Serb and Croat traditional costumes there are : costumes of Imljan, Zmijanje, Banja Luka Vrhovina, Prnjavor, Debeljak, Janja, Kupres, Livno, Glamoč, Grahovo, Podgrmeč, Bihac and Ram. In traditional costumes of Herzegovina there are two variations of “Um” and “Highlanders”. Costumes of “Um” cover mostly the western and the central Herzegovina, including the areas around Mostar, Konjic, Stoc, Ljubinje and Ljubuski, while the “Highlanders costumes” are found in the eastern parts of Bosnia, including the mentioned areas of Bosnia around Foča and Cajniče. Main characteristics of Dinaric costumes are : flex shirt made in one piece, with right-sided triangles under the armpits, embroidered on the back side and sleeves and chests. Embroidery was always done in wool of four colors in the Serbian traditional costumes and regularly in two colors in the Croatian traditional costumes. Motifs of embroidery were geometrical. Muslim shirts in Dinaric areas had no embroidery. Pants were compulsory part of the women costumes only in the Croat and the Bosniaks ethnic groups. Contrary pants in the Serbian women folklore costumes were worn only during the wedding and burials ceremonies and assemblies.

Amongst the upper woolen vests the most important are : zubun, dress and apron. Zubun is usually made of coarse fabrics, covers hips, commonly white in the girls’ traditional costumes, while in the traditional costumes of the married women it is black or dark blue. The zubun in Croatian costumes used to have a lots less embroidery than the Serbian. The winter long dress is made of white cloth for the girls and of black or dark blue cloth for women, mrčine or modrine. This particular dress is long up to talus, open in front and an triangle on the armpits and with long narrow sleeves. Those dresses are not common in the Bosnian Dinaric areas except those around Čapljina and in Podveležje areas. 

Aprons were woven of wool in colors in two techniques : rug or adding or choosing threads. Some of the Serbian and the Croatian costumes even had two aprons – the front and the back what can be found in Zmijanje, Prnjavor, Debeljaca and Sas costumes. Muslim population does not consider apron as the part of the female costume, neither in the Dinaric areas nor in the other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In my opinion this folk dress from Bjelašnica should be bosnian national costume. It has most autochthonous elements and slavic antiques.

Sarajevska nošnja which is declared as national costume just presents clothing culture in urban areas. This clohts were prescribed by the law of the Ottoman Empire

Standard Bosnian Dress

Sarajevan Beg Dress


Sarajevsko Polje

Kraljeva Sutjeska 




In costumes of Bosnia and Herzegovina  elements of older Balkan, later Slavic and then Mediterranean and oriental culture are to be found in most types of traditional clothing. Each region has its own traditional costume, while in some cases, more than one costume exists in the same region. 

It is very difficult to make a conclusion about the traditional clothing in the region prior to the 16th century, while only the rare archaeological discoveries help to make a more or less clear picture. Describing the local clothing inn 1530, Kuripesic writes: 

“Christians of both confessions dress up just like the Turks*, with the only difference being that they do not shave their hair off like the Turks do” (Kuripesic, p. 29)

So far only the 19th century can provide is with a confident picture of how people dressed up in both the towns, the surrounding villages and the mountain villages further away. From the second half of the 19-th century, the picture is clear and many authentic clothing has since been preserved from across the region, some of which can be seen in the museums in both Bosnia-Herzegovina, its neighboring states (with Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade having one of the richest collections in the region), as well as some world Museums. 

The village costume of Bosnia-Herzegovina can be divided into three separate subgroups:

1) The Dinaric Group

Here, for example, is a set from Herzegovina exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art;

The Hercegovina costume above is probably one  of the best examples of the first Dinaric group, although many other costumes exist in various villages in the same Dinaric area.

“This ensemble, comprised of dress, vest, apron, and belt, is unusual in its completeness and variety of elements. The components display a remarkable breadth of textile techniques, treatments, and materials.” 

Date 1934 Material: cotton, wool, metal, metal, glass. 

The main characteristics of this group are long linen dresses tied behind with woolen embroidery in four different colours for the Serbian Orthodox inhabitants and usually two different colours for the Croatian Catholic population. Just as the dress above shows, the motifs are geometrical and not floral. One specific element differentiates a dress of a Western Bosnia Serb from that of other religious groups – a red band of material attached next to the sleeve and chest embroidery. Dresses worn by the Muslim population in the Dinaric region do not usually have any embroidery.

Zubun of a young female here is predominantly while, while married women wore zubuns of either black of dark blue colour. In Western Bosnia unmarried Serbian girls could sometimes wear dark blue zubuns similar to those of married women.  Croatian zubuns here have a little less embroidery and are usually black in colour, while Herzegovina zubuns are black in the western areas and dark blue in the east.


Ιn some cases of Serbian and Croatian clothing in the Dinaric region, two aprons are worn – one at the back and another one at the front. Around the waist, a red woolen belt is worn by Christians and a green belt by the Muslims, or a woolen band of material of dark red or black colour.

Male clothing consists of a long linen shirt of a cut similar to that of a female one. Some Serbian inhabitants of Banja Luka, Vrhovina and Drvar wore embroidered shirts, while Muslim shirts have no embroidery at all. Over the costume, just like in female costumes, male costumes could have a zubun or a sheepskin vest kozun, although the latter has been mostly worn by the Serbs. On holidays, a richly embroidered jecerma overcoat could be worn.

The costume is finished with a red hat. The hats worn by the Serbs in western Bosnia are not wide and are embroidered with black embroidery around, worn mostly without the red scarf around.

2) The Central Bosnian group

The costumes of this region usually consists of a wide, ankle-long dress, pants, various types of zubun overcoats and aprons, although the latter have not been worn in some areas. The socks are knee high with flower ornaments, while embroidery around Sarajevo is geometrical.  Black skirts appear here from the beginning of the 20th century, mostly in central and eastern Bosnia and are more popular among the Bosnian Serbs.

Worn on the heads are different types of round head garments covered with a square scarf.

Males wear a red ‘fes’ and scarves around them that differ in colour depending on the religious group. Croats and Serbs cover the heads with red woolen scarves, while Muslim men cover the ‘fes’ with beautiful while scarves. Some inhabitants of higher income level here could be wearing clothing made from a more expensive black think fabric and embroidered with black cord mostly borrowed from town clothing and especially popular among the Muslim population in eastern Bosnia. 

3) The Posavina group

Posavina area has been greatly influenced by the costume of Croatian Posavina next to it. Female Croat and Serbian clothing is richly embroidered with cotton threads and flower motifs are most common here. The pattern is most similar to that worn by ancient Slavs, while this type of clothing is very common across Vojvodina, northern Serbia, Romania, Hungary and stretches as far as Ukraine and Poland. Clothing of Muslim women here, however, was little different from those worn in Central Bosnian regions. Pants were not commonly worn here, with the exception of Muslim women where they were a must.

‘Zubuns’ are mostly black, long, until the knee on the left side of Bosna river, while some areas wear ‘zubun’ similar to those Dinaric ones are worn. On the left bank, the ‘zubun’ is replaced with local variant of an overcoat, made from black “Bulgarian” fabric and richly embroidered. Male clothing are mostly characterized by wide shirts embroideries as richly as female ones, and pants, with the ones across the Sava river being very wide. It was common to see men wear a red ‘fes’ here until about the 19th century, when the head wear was replaced with that similar to Croatian head garments worn across Sava river.

Town Clothing

A completely separate group is made by the town clothing, both of the larger cities as well as smaller towns across the region.  Most of the accounts of this group have been left in the 19th century by various travelers who were passing through the country.  From this period of time, a large number of authentic original clothing has been preserved, especially that of the Muslim population, and, in smaller numbers, of Christian Croat and Serbian population as well as of Jewish population. 

Town costumes are more or less similar across the area with a significant evidence of oriental influence. Wide pants, silver ‘pafte’ belt clasps, Balkan vests, are only some of the examples, although the costume is not limited to this. The photo on the right shows one of the examples of clothing worn in the cities. 
By the end of 19th century, this clothing bears a strong evidence of oriental influence in the patterns as well as the materials used and most of the material is imported from the East, although some comes from the West, especially from Venice. It was mostly class difference that this clothing emphasized, while religious and national difference was evident in minimal details and much rarely. For example, the slight difference of the ‘fes’ colour as well as the colour of the belt could tell about the religious and national identity of the person. Similarly, while the Muslim women were more likely to wear light pastel coloured ‘dimije’ oriental pants, Christian Croats and Serbs could wear those of black satin or atlas colour. Wives of the beg landowners wore pants made of much more expensive material and they were usually richly embroidered with gold. 

At the end of the century, however,political and social changes brought together changes in fashion. Western influence began to become more evident in fabrics, textiles and some costume parts. European fashion, largely accepted by the less conservative feudal citizens, began to spread across the towns and shirts similar to those Western ones began to be worn, often made from the same material as the oriental ‘dimije’. It was mostly the clothing of the more conservative Muslims which did not accept the new changes so quickly, with the exception of perhaps western black shoes.

Muslim women were completely covered when leaving the house, first just with a headscarf, and at then entirely. This black or dark blue overcoat was worn with leather shoes and was especially different in Mostar areas, where the top covered the face entirely. The photo on the right shows some of the ways women were covered, with Mostar’s example second from the right. 

The ‘zar’ cover was made from different types of silk, while Austro-Hungarian influence brought Western materials into use. This was actually a whole piece of fabric made into skirt below, while the top part would be thrown around the body and tied around the shoulders to cover a woman entirely. 

The Influence

Apart from the natural difference between the city and village costumes, a great influence has been made by the Ottoman rule as the population was greatly divided not only religiously, but also geographically, with most towns occupied by the Muslim population while the Christian Orthodox and Catholic population lived mostly in the villages. 

By the 18-th century, however, the traditional clothing reflected the ongoing changes that swept through the region. In particular, the regulations states which clothing elements and colours were allowed to be worn by the Christians and which could only be worn by the Muslim population. The same did not only apply to Bosnia, for example, but to other nearby regions under the Ottoman rule. 

As Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic writes about Serbia in his “Life and Customs of the Serbian People”, “raja* cannot wear either anything of green colour nor such beautiful dresses like the Turks* wear, for example the headscarves, round buttons, ‘dolama’ knee-length jackets  especially those decorated with silver or gold. In some areas, raja cannot freely wear the red fez hats” (1867, p.53). This, of course, did not solely apply to Serbia, but to most nearby areas under the Ottoman rule too.

*Raja – the term used by the Turks to refer to the Christian population.
*Turks – the name given to all Muslim inhabitants.

Short accounts of traditional wear Hercegovina have been left by Joseph de la Neziere and Henri Avelot during their travels to the Balkans, although the book is rather more useful for the beautiful sketches the authors have made during their travels.

“In Mostar, the females are divided into two classes: on the right bank of Neretva river one will see a well-dressed Christian in a dress made of white wool and richly tasseled with crosses, brooches, jewelry, triple coral necklaces and colourful glass beads; while the Muslim on the left bank is always covered, well covered, hermetically covered” (1896, pp. 193 – 194)

“All Muslims must have a completely shaved head with the exception of one lock of hair which Muhammed is meant to grab during the dying moment. A large number of Christian village men also has that lonely lock, which hangs down the back of the head like some runt tassel from the fez. This is an old custom with a reason that surely lies in the subordinate position of the Christians who did not wish to attract the attention of their masters with their looks.” (1896, p. 197)

The Decline

This clothing was worn in the period from the First World War until the Second World War. After this, traditional costume has begun to lose its importance. Industrialized manufacturing processes as well as increasing impact of town clothing on villages lead to a gradual decline and many now purposely restrain from wearing traditional clothing.  Complicated pieces are either completely removed or replaced by their simpler versions. Complex headwear is now simplified to basic colourful headscarves, long linen dresses are replaced with blouses or shorter shirts made from purchased material. There is hardly any traditional clothing worn even across the villages today and it is impossible to differentiate between different religious groups from the clothing worn. Until now, the only evidence left of authentic clothing is kept by the original pieces preserved by various museums and individuals, as well as careful historical reconstruction. One should be exceptionally careful when looking at traditional clothing of many ensembles which may not always present a real image of an authentic costume as pieces are greatly simplified to serve the performance purpose and bear no historical value.


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