Raluca Caranfil, pictured, has amassed a collection of over 40 Romanian blouses
Photo: Matic Zorman
Romanian blouses were once a feature of everyday life in Romania until communism stamped out the tradition. Romanian journalist and Arlon resident Raluca Caranfil is part of a growing movement of women bringing the blouse back.
“I used to wear Romanian blouses because they were trendy,” she recalls, saying she would buy commercial blouses from chain stores when she lived in Dublin. That was until she learned there was more to this fashion. “Some people collect stamps, I collect Romanian blouses. Today I have over 40,” Caranfil says, showing off her favourites, some of which are over 70 years old.
“In the beginning, I thought they were lost. They only belonged in museums or private collections.” But then she found people in Romania willing to sell authentic blouses that had survived the communist era and been passed down through the generations.
“Each one has a story for me,” Caranfil says as she points at the intricate embroidery on the front and sleeves. “Each sign embroidered on the blouse tells a story about what the woman wanted and her past.”
Diamond shapes, in red, signify fertility and were hand-stitched to a bridal blouse. On an older woman, they would be stitched in black and signify a desire for security in her old age. Other symbols were specific to different regions in Romania and neighbouring countries. Children, she explained, would be dressed in red blouses, a colour which was believed to ward off evil.
As women came of marrying age, their blouse would be decorated in a vibrant red thread, a colour which would become darker for an older wearer. Women would have three types of blouses: one for their wedding or other ceremonies, one for church and a simple one for working in. Few remain of the latter, because they were worn so often. That is one of the reasons why Caranfil decided to make her own.
“These working blouses were lost because ethnographers weren’t interested in pursuing them--they were like T-shirts to them,” she explained. “One woman managed to find out enough information about them and recreate one.” Using this as a template, Caranfil made her own work blouse out of hemp, embroidering carnations onto it in a nod to her family name, which means “carnation” in Turkish.
“It starts a conversation. People look at you a certain way when you say you’re Romanian. That never happens when I’m wearing a Romanian blouse.” The blouse, she says, conveys the message that “I’m worth making something beautiful for.”
Back in Romania, hundreds of thousands of women have joined the movement, led by Facebook pages like “Semne Cusute” (sewn signs), where people share patterns and advice. In Luxembourg, it is gaining momentum too, thanks in large part to Caranfil and her friends, who organise the Day of the Romanian Blouse on 24 June, exhibitions and conferences.
“My aim is for every Romanian woman in Luxembourg to know what a Romanian blouse looks like,” she explains. And, the blouse is not just about cultural roots--it also carries a message for people across Europe. She explains on the one hand, the Romanian blouse emphasises cultural differences--through the different embroidered symbols which vary by region.
On the other hand, Caranfil’s research of ethnic costumes across Europe shows huge similarities between cultural dress. “At some point, we were all united, we had working costumes and celebration costumes,” she says. She hopes to highlight these ideas in an exhibition of ethnic costumes from the Luxembourg Moselle region. Experts on the subject are urged to get in touch.