March 10–July 14, 2013
In the past, girls in rural southeastern Europe spent their childhoods weaving, sewing, and embroidering festive dress so that when they reached puberty they could join the Sunday afternoon village dances garbed in resplendent attire. These extremely colorful and intensely worked garments were often adorned with embroidery, lace, metallic threads, coins, sequins, beads, and, perhaps most importantly, fringe. A symbolic element, the fringe provides a reminder that the original string skirt was a marker of fertility and has carried this meaning for more than twenty-thousand years. Over time, new forms of dress were added bit-by-bit to that simple string skirt, so that by 1900, a southeastern European village woman’s apparel consisted of millennia of layered history. With a glance at her, the onlooker could read not only her marital status but also her religion, wealth, textile skills, and more. By emphasizing these traits, and not just her physical beauty, a girl presented herself and was chosen as a bride.
Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe features fifty stunning nineteenth- through twentieth-century ensembles from Macedonia, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Serbia, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Romania―nearly all from the Fowler’s excellent collection―plus one hundred individual items including aprons, vests, jackets, and robes. These fascinating ensembles are displayed in an immersive environment that evokes the distinctive mountain landscape in which villagers gathered in their finery.