Accepted Paper:

Weaving the past in a fabric: Old Believers' traditional costume  


Cristina Clopot (University of Hull)

Paper short abstract:

This paper proposes an analysis of the Russian Old Believers of Romania's traditional costumes. Linked with religious practices and a tradition of 300 years, these vestments are still worn by members of the ethnic group for rituals and regular church services today.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I will analyse the specificities of the Russian ethnic group's clothing, using ethnographic data from fieldwork carried in several communities in Romania.

Russian Old Believers migrated from Russia in the 17th century due to religious persecutions following the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church. Their religious practices placed a great emphasis on continuity with a form of Orthodoxy preserved since the Christianization of Russia in the 9th century. Through these claims they opposed the Orthodox Russian Church innovations, rejecting Greek elements introduced by religious leaders in the 1600s. Following a period of persecutions devotees of the Old Belief left Russia, spreading around the world.

Settling in Romania, they continued to use their traditional costumes, with specific pieces for each sex.

Clothing is linked with identity but also, in Old Believers case, with moral norms, as 'their treatment of things and words both reflect certain underlying assumptions about the world and the beings that inhabit it' (Keane 2005: 4). They also carry symbolic meanings; each item serves a specific purpose within the Old Believers imaginary. These vestments' names and purpose has remained largely unchanged for 300 years. However, fabrics, social use and crafts associated with them have undergone transformations following the post-socialist period, including materiality in the larger debate between continuity and innovation in this community.

By looking at everyday costumes, but also ceremonial ones (i.e. wedding costumes), I will question the complexity of transformations within Old Believers' communities, as reflected by their clothing.

Panel Heri013
Folk costume in the ritual year and beyond: heritage, identity marker & symbolic object (Ritual Year SIEF Working Group panel)