Historical Strata

Very little is known about the earliest period of Hungarian folk costume. The few words of Finno-Ugric and Ugric origin (öv, belt; szíj, strap; szalag, ribbon, etc.) do not reveal much about the essentials of clothing. The number of words for clothing increased during contact with the Bulgaro-Turks (saru, sandal; csat, buckle; ködmön, sheepskin jacket; köpönyeg, mantle; szirony, a thong used for sewing and embroidering leatherware; bársony, velvet; gyöngy, pearl and also beads; gyűrű, ring, etc.). Among these words is the word bagaria (Russian leather), which brings to mind the name of the Bulgaro-Turks, even though it may have come to the Magyars later by another route.

Archeological finds and later descriptions give some information about the folk costume of the conquering Magyars. Women, like the men, wore trousers. The fact that only one kind of saddle is known from this period, one which could be ridden only when wearing trousers, also bears this out. The shirt was high collared and cut straight, and a belted mantle was worn over it. The sleeves were so long that they even covered the hands. Women wore a headdress or a peaked cap on their heads and covered their feet and lower legs with soft leather or felt sandals. The clothing of the men was, in its main features, exactly like that of the women. The belt was very important, because they hung the sword, the quiver for arrows, and other small objects on it. The head must have been mostly shaved, leaving 2 or 3 locks only, according to the Oriental custom.

After the Conquest, primarily through constant contact with Slavic peoples, numerous new elements were added to Hungarian costume, as the vocabulary testifies: ruha (clothes), gúnya (garb), kabát (coat), csuha (cowl), nadrág (trousers or breeches), palást (cloak), szoknya (skirt), harisnya (stocking), kapca (foot rag), posztó (broadcloth), etc. Technical vocabulary shows that during the Middle Ages Hungarians also adopted western influences (suba, sheepskin coat; köntös, garment; atlasz, atlas; {316.} tafota, taffeta, etc.). It is also certain that the costumes of the Pechenegs, Jazygians, and Cumanians, who arrived with the last wave of the migration period in the 13th century, again brought new fashions from the east to Hungary.

All this proves that new and old elements were mixed in Hungarian costume during the Middle Ages. This is the period when certain articles of clothing developed which were held to be Eastern in origin by foreign contemporaries. Among these both nobles and peasants wore suba and turca, and differences appeared only in the tanning, quality, and ornamentation of the garment. The first description mentioning a suba occurs in 1290, but it is possible that sheepskin cloaks were known before the Conquest. Even kings wore cloaks called by this name in the Middle Ages, and we know that King Matthias (1458–1490) had one hundred of them distributed as presents among the retinue of the Czech King Ladislaus. Similarly, the history of other sheepskin garments and the ködmön-jacket can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Peaked caps (süveg) made of felt are also known from archaeological evidence.

The conquering Turks exercised great influence over the clothing of both peasants and nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries, even in those areas not under their direct influence (e.g. Transylvania, Upper Hungary). Simpler, straight cuts, the increased use of colour, and even the spread of some new materials were elements of this significant Oriental influence. This effect is marked by certain words: aba (broadcloth), dolmány (dolman), kalpag (hat), kaftán (caftan), papucs (slipper), csizma (boot), etc., although some of these words came to the Hungarians through the South Slav peoples.

As the result of the political situation, German influence increased during the following centuries (kalap, hat; kacagány, leopard’s skin thrown loosely over one shoulder; kanavász, canvas; karton, calico; galand, tape; pántlika, ribbon; lajbi, waistcoat; pruszlik, bodice; zeke, jerkin, etc.), which also indicates the increased use of manufactured products. Contact with Slavic peoples was pronounced primarily among the peasantry and resulted in many mutual influences. The following words became known to the Hungarian language at this time: gatya (long drawers), kabát (coat), sapka (cap), karima (rim), pelenka (diaper), etc. The guba, found generally in the north-eastern part of the Great Plain, became increasingly popular during the 17th century. As a result, gubas were worn from the region of Ungvár and Munkács all the way to Debrecen, where, according to records, Ruthenian women were called upon to introduce the new weaving technique.

Naturally, Hungarian folk costume not only incorporated outside influences, but various regions also developed their own styles as an essential part of their own history. Hungarian costumes significantly influenced surrounding peoples, such as the Rumanians, Slovakians, Serbs, and Croats, and we can even trace the route of certain articles of apparel towards the Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians, although that is not our task at the present.