Clothing Stories: Mama’s Ukrainian Skirt Shirt and Shawl Re-Vamp

A person should treat their clothing as a visual presentation of themselves BUT if you wear pieces that are too loud and outspoken people will cease seeing them as an enriching footnote to your personality. You will only be the Ukrainian girl with the wreath and giant sunflower boob.

Model and Ukrainian beauty contestant Oleksandra-Nikolayenko.

People will often have older articles of clothing that are examples of previous homelands.  So what do you do with these amazing show pieces of cultural history? How do you wear your cultural history on your sleeve while still paying it proper respect?

This debate has raged on fashion runways for ages. One of the most controversial examples is Jean Paul Gauthier’s 1993 “Rabbi Chic” collection. Using traditional clothing as inspiration is difficult enough, but when it comes from a religious tradition it becomes even more controversial. Gaultier went so far as to use menorahs for his runway decor and serve manichevits wine to the viewers. At the end of the show he sported a striped yarmulke that matched his signature blue striped shirt.

Jean Paul Gauthier's collection... maybe not so PC.

Even when religion is removed from the equation and it’s purely a cultural representation, there are still rules. Respect is all about how the article of clothing or cultural symbol is used and how it’s worn. A primary rule is considering the purpose of your outfit.

Being Ukrainian I will use my own culture as an example.

Traditional pieces are often used in Ukrainian pop culture. BUT people are doing it in very different ways. First there’s the 2004 Ukrainian winner of Eurovision, Ruslana (saying this kind of eliminates the shock value of her over the top outfit).

MJ is cranky because he wanted gold lamé.

Yes that is a combination of leather pants, gold lamé, and traditional Ukrainian embroidery — making it look like a hideous mutated baby created from Michael Jackson’s Thriller outfit and Ukrainian folk decor. Trying to modernise a traditional piece? Start with a good outfit to begin with and go from there.

Case in point–Gogol Bordello.

Their look is blatantly Gypsy Punk. They choose traditional articles of clothing, patterns, and other accessories that drive home both styles. Punks have always used some types of military paraphernalia, like army boots and army jackets. Eugene Hutz and the gang do the same thing, but incorporate soviet elements.

Army jacket no shirt... and traditional blouses ...yes.

So both examples go for costume stage wear, but the bottom line is this: if you take away the cultural reference in your outfit, do you still look good?
My mum has been an expert in this for a long while.
Embroidery and beyond: My mother’s Blouse shall and skirt.
My mother and father were both Ukrainian dancers. They were excellent at it. And when you do an activity that’s so close to your heart, you want to wear it on your sleeve. You gain an appreciation for the aesthetic. Now, wearing a Ukrainian dancing outfit in your day-to-day isn’t like wearing a soccer jersey. So my mother of course used traditional Ukrainian style as inspiration to get an entire outfit made.

Mum and dad dancing in the 1970s.

She managed to create a traditionally embroidered blouse, shall, and skirt, all colored embroidery on black material.

 The skirt, shawl, and blouse designs were taken from Parismatch. The clothing was sewn by our Italian seamstress. And the embroidery was done by my grandmother. Embroidery is a tradition that is very often passed on. It’s something that every Ukrainian kid comes across and is taught at a very early age. My mother didn’t actively seek out her Ukrainian roots until later. And this piece is a perfect blend of her personality. The modern style of the pieces and the tradition of the craft of hand embroidery. I’ve since inherited the shirt and it is the staple piece in what I wear to Ukrainian cultural events. Since then my mother has learned to embroider and has made a shirt for herself and for my father.

The three peices of the outfit and the details of all that embroidery. 

Recently I tried to figure out how to use some of these beautiful pieces and showcase them in the right way. What came of it was a photo shoot conceived by myself and the photographer Gilda Furgiuele. The pieces were blended perfectly into the atmosphere of the shoot. The shoot itself doesn’t scream “Hey look at me I’m Ukrainian in Ukrainian clothes! HEY HEY!!!!” Instead we used the pieces to create a really earthy, colourful and cozy feel. So the pieces have been re-invented yet again.

That’s my mum with my dad on his graduation day, originally the blouse had a collar, and that’s me as shot by Gilda. The cloak is also my mum’s, all shot in the beautiful Canadian fall.

The top row are photos of the vest used below (another Gilda F). The vest was actually used by my father in the Ukrainian dance group. The above middle photo shows how it was worn in performance

So with traditional pieces, as with any more complicated piece, try it on with options. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to tie different elements of who you are into your outfit. But remember with vintage pieces and pieces reflecting your culture –- you still need to be seen through the clothes. They shouldn’t overshadow you, but rather be a conversation piece, and a visual gateway for people to start looking to see the individual.

About olexpruchnicky

The biggest problem in my life is trying to decide on one particular area, one particular part of life to focus on, to totally immerse myself in. So I've decided not to fight it, and like a whole lot of everything. I become interested when there is creativity, innovation, a bit of controversy, and a deep passion. A little bit of the random crazy and more than anything something that will raise or furrow my brow. Lines on my forehead... worth it. I work in politics, visual arts, music, and photography.

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