Folk Inspired Clothing: Modern Folklore Fashions for Fall
by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)
Women from different parts of the world seem to visualize different types of clothing when they’re thinking about folk fashion. My mind usually conjures up the brightly embroidered vests of Scandinavia, the long embellished skirts and flowing ribbons of Eastern Europe, and the hand-embroidered wedding dresses of Mexico.
You might envision a totally different kind of outfit… and we’d both be right… because there are many different types of peasant clothing.
Of course, there are other visuals that flood my mind when I hear the phrase “traditional folk clothing”. I also think of:
- Russian and Ukrainian folk costumes, complete with high-banded collars and long, poet sleeves.
- Nordic and Fairisle knits, decorated with bands of snowflakes, leaping stags, and zigzagging geometric patterns.
- Heart-and-flower embroidered dirndl dresses, adopted from the serving girls, updated with better fabrics, and worn by the upper classes. (Similar to the trend we’re seeing now.)
Oh! There’s one more thing I think of when I picture folk clothing:
- I visualize wives and mothers from long ago, sitting in their dark cottages, teaching their daughters how to embroider homemade blouses and aprons with fantastic motifs… all of which have unique meaning to the collective unconscious of their own small, remote village. These are the traditional embroidery patterns of the area, created from ideas found in ancient fables, folklore, and folk songs from the beginning of their culture.
What is Modern Folk Clothing?
We may still be simple folk at heart, but we live in a complex, modern world. These days, our “folk fashion” comes from factories in China. And, instead of embellishing our clothing with local motifs that represent the villages into which we were born, we wear a mishmash of ancient symbols from every continent on the globe… and we even mix in a few modern ones.
But, that’s just fine with me. I’m not really up for the rustic lifestyle without cars, computers, or running water. Sheesh… Forget the part about weaving cloth and milking cows.
I may love the hip, rustic look of the seductively feminine peasant girl, but I don’t want to spend my entire life in some crappy little hamlet. And, I don’t want to start embroidering by candlelight.
Folk Inspired Clothing With Embroidery Symbols
So, what exactly is it that turns modern, urban tops and dresses into folk-inspired clothing?
Well, for one thing, modern folksy tops and dresses incorporate various folk symbols found in traditional embroidery patterns.
What this means is that the old, traditional folkloric designs are a secret language or code, created by women back in the day… when women could neither read nor write.
And, each little hamlet created its own special, indigenous code. Wow… I just realized this. Is that cool or what?
A Little Folklore Style Goes a Long Way
The best modern folklore-inspired outfits include a few subtle elements from traditional, old world folk costumes. Don’t go overboard with folklore goodies… or you’ll risk looking like you just auditioned for The Sound of Music.
Folk Motifs in Modern Contemporary Clothing
Back in the day, women sewed symbols of luck, power, victory, protection, virtue, and fertility onto their homemade clothing and household linens. These embroidered images of mythological beings, indigenous flora, and local woodland creatures… along with various geometric shapes… were not just pretty decorations. They were signs and symbols filled with mystical layers of meaning.
However, I can find no universal guide to folk clothing motifs on the internet.
- Each region of the world has its own textile language and dialect. And, each village’s style has a slightly different nuance than that of the neighboring village.
- Most of these embroidery motifs seem to have been fostered by an abundance of quirky beliefs and superstitions that folk peasants created… in order to make sense of a world they could not understand.
- Different villages came up with different ideas.
But, the reason I find this really interesting is because the language of embroidery was created by women… and it speaks to women. Most of the embroidery hieroglyphics concern marriage, happiness, and family...I wish I could include everything I discovered, but I’ll just give you a taste of a few common symbols used in (ancient and modern) folkwear.
Folk Clothing With Bird Motifs
Birds can fly, so they take on all kinds of magical meanings to primitive people. A bird can be a messenger of secret information (in dreams), a bird can be a gateway to heaven (when in a tree), or a bird can be an indication that wishes will be fulfilled (when in a nest). Bird symbols are usually related to marriage, but here are a few specific examples:
- Ducks: Marital fidelity.
- Swans: Promise of a happy marriage.
- Roosters: Renewal, redemption.
- Peacocks: Symbol of the Sun.
- Owls: Wisdom, watchfulness, vigilance, solitude.
Folklore Fashions With Woodland Animal Symbols
Almost all animal motifs represent wealth and prosperity, but every ancient culture seems to have a special reverence for deer. Here are some examples of the things that mammals traditionally represented in ancient European (mostly Celtic, Nordic, Slavic) cultures:
- Deer, stag: Ruler of the sun, forest god, friend of the faeries.
- Deer, doe: Mother of the sun, happiness, miracles, creativity.
- Elk: Virility, fertility.
- Horse: Nobility, fertility, freedom, a symbol of the sun.
- Fox: Cunning, strategy, adaptability.
- Goats: Fertility, sensuality (not always in a good way), dignity, aloofness, independence.
- Dog: Fidelity, watchfulness, loyalty.
- Rabbit: Esoteric knowledge, intermediary between immortals and deities.
- Bat: Rebirth, intuition, meaning in dreams.
- Squirrel: Energy, playfulness, sociability, mischief.
Botanical Folk Motifs: Flowers, Vines, Leaves, Trees
Flowers were thought to protect people from harm and bring them wealth, health, and love. Trees were powerful symbols. Here are some quick notes:
- Roses: Love, beauty, mystical vision.
- Tulips: Declaration of love.
- Poppies: Consolation.
- Anemones: Expectation.
- Garland: Victory, symbol of marriage when connecting a man and woman.
- Pine tree or pine needle: Health, eternal youth. (Some patterns, which look like Celtic knots to me, are actually representations of trees.)
- Tree of Life: Source of life and death.
Geometric Patterns in Clothing
Diamond, lozenge: A sown field, female fertility, knowledge. The cosmos is sometimes represented by a field of diamond shapes. (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?)
- Zigzag: Fire, heat, loyalty, wisdom.
- Star: Life, fortune, growth.
- Eight-pointed star: Sun goddess, protection. (The Latvian 8-pointed star looks like a snowflake to me, but it’s a symbol of Venus, the morning star.)
- Circle: Eternity, the sun.
- Circle with cross inside: Fir tree, energy, strength, good health. (Celtic)
- Spiral: Energy, heat, power, mystery.
- Ribbon or band of spirals: Everlasting life, water.
- Hearts: Love.
Casual Clothes with Folklore Spirit
Here are a few more details you might look for in casual clothing with a folky spirit:
- Repetition of motifs
- Mirroring patterns (symmetry)
- Kissing birds (two birds facing each other)
- Patchwork designs
- Lace edging and lacy petticoats
If you lived through the 70s, you might actually remember Yves Saint Laurent’s folklore look. Actually, all the designers were into folk during the pre-disco 70s. This current trend is strikingly similar in some ways and amazingly new and fresh in others.
Folklore clothing is always a stunning trend, and modern women (even plus-sized women) will be able to find cute, affordable items with folk motifs that will add a few trendy twists to their everyday outfits.
More Articles for Hip Women Over 40, 50, 60:
Photo Credits: prshots.com.
- Main Photo: Asos tapestry print dress, Glamorous Oversized Sweater, Debenham's Folk Sweater Dress, White Stuff folk patterned skirt, Asos Premium midi dress with embroidery (summer dress that's good for fall and winter).
- 70s Vintage Image Folk Clothes Style: This is a vintage ad for makeup, but it shows a great retro look. It's creative commons due to age.
- Modern Folk Dresses & Tops: Monsoon Martha folk dress, Monsoon Fairisle sweater dress, White Stuff bird nest print caftan, White Stuff dress with printed bat and floral design. Bats!
- Main Photo on Page 2: LaRedoute folk print dress (2), LaRedoute embroidered folk top, Monsoon Nora print dress.
- Folk Print Floral Scarf: Monsoon Nahla print scarf.
What do you think of this ridiculously long article? I edited out a lot, if you can believe that. I'll be doing a plus-size folkwear article as soon as I do some other articles, so come back for that.
If you can't see the prints and patterns on these clothes, go to the Pinterest page for Tina Boomerina - Baby Boomer Chick and you can see larger versions.