Women’s clothing

The most interesting area for the Italian tradition surely consists of Dignano, Gallesano and Valle. In these territories a traditional women’s dress - with local versions - was worn until the last decades of the 19th century, when it was replaced by a bourgeois fashion. Available clothes and information are almost all from the Dignano area. Apart from the artifacts preserved in Vienna, some parts of the traditional clothing from Dignano are kept in the Pisino Museum. However, it is not certain, whether they are authentic, since they may have been specifically created for the folk groups between the two world wars. As mentioned before, there are some pieces kept in Gallesano. The only other available references are represented by two statues of respectively a woman from Valle and one from Dignano. They are exhibited in the Museum of Rome.   My main reference points are the artifacts from the museum in Vienna and the information collected by Domenico Rismondo in the first years of the 20th century. His contribution, as great expert of the traditions of Dignano, is fundamental for folk customs and practices. A little linguistic note: the diphthongs èi and òu, typical of the Dignano dialect, become simple vowels in the Valle and Gallesano dialects, i.e. “i” and “u”, whereas “u” becomes “o”.

The women’s blouse - called camèisa or camisa in Valle and Gallesano - was worn without a petticoat and covered the body from the shoulders down to the knee. It was underwear and outwear at the same time. The everyday blouse was made of hemp, its sleeves made of linen or bonbàs cotton. The blouse for special occasions was made of a more refined fabric. The upper part was decorated by a ruffle, sometimes with a lace embroidery. The sleeves tighten up at the wrists and were wrinkled at the ends. The artifact in Vienna consists of four square pieces of cloth, two for the back and the front, the other two for the sleeves. All four pieces gather in the upper part and form the hole for the head. Two little fabric squares are inserted under the armpits, following a diagonal fold. Below the waistline women wore a “carpita” skirt that could be green, red or light blue, with frills at the waistline and covering the legs down to the toes. The rim was in silver lace (a thread called rumana). Later this skirt was replaced by white petticoat, namely “sotana”. From the mid-20th century some undergarments started to be used: sleeveless corsets (bustèin) and underwears (mudande) open at the crotch. On top of the blouse they wore a sleeveless bodice (camisulein or camisolin), of dark wool for the working days and red (or black for the old women) on holidays and lined with white cloth. The bodice had a round front neckline whose tails were fastened by clasps or overlapped and kept together by a needle. The bodice from Gallesano is longer and has more of a square neckline. The skirt, “soca” or “suoca” was made of a black thick wool produced locally (gurgàn, gorgàn) or bought in shops.   The Istro-Romance term “soca” corresponds to the Istro-Croatian term “suknja”, translated as “cloth dress”. This pan-Slavic term spread across Europe from Poland in the XII-XIII centuries and was the name used for a female dress model called “suckenie” in Germany and “sousquanie” in France. References to the soca are to be found in medieval texts from Trieste and Koper. The ankle-length soca was ruffly at the waistline. The soca made of gurgan usually had a red or turquoise hem. The sample conserved in the Vienna museum consists of seven fabric layers: the one in front is smooth, whereas the other six on the back and on the sides were beautifully pleated. Narrow holes were made near the seams that sewn together the front layer and the other ones. Colourful ribbons were inserted through these holes.

On special occasions women wore a lower bodice (bresarola) and detachable sleeves (manighe). These two pieces were usually made of the same fabric and conceived as one garment. In Dignano and Gallesano the bresarola was made of two rectangular brocade silk pieces with a multicolor flower pattern. Otherwise it was made of red or green damask and was 10-12 cm long. On the short side these two pieces were kept together by matching white or multicolor ribbons. Both pieces had a white inside lining and a white or red ribbon on all three sides and white one on the 4-8 cm wide hem. The three sides of the bodice were trimmed with rumana silver thread and had colourful ribbons called “spalari”. The typical bodice of Valle was a bit higher and had matching shoulder straps. According to Rismondo, as well as on the statue of the museum, the bodice was worn on top of the camisulèin. The term “bracciaiola” refers to the sleeve or the cuff, as well as to rectangular patch - perhaps due to its length, since the Italian word “braccio” stands for arm. The detachable sleeves, worn on top of the blouse, were made of two pieces of cloth sewn together. Their floral fabric was the same as the bodice’s one. In alternative, black or light blue fabric was used and only the cuffs matched the bodice. These three-quarter-length sleeves were tight and let the blouse come out in the upper side of the arm, thus creating a puffed line. A ribbon (travesàn) joined the sleeves on the back with a decorative knot in the middle. On top of the skirt went the apron (travesa or traversa in Venetian), which was of black silk or violet/green satin for holidays. In winter the brasarola and manighe were replaced by the “ghèlero”, a brown jacket with a black fur hem. Hairstyle was also very important. Some women with specific skills in hairdo were called by their clients at their homes to take care of their hair. Hair was divided into four sections with a double cross parting. In the back the hair formed two braids, tied up with a black silk band (sensalèina or sendalèina, from the word sensi, “tie up”) and gathered in a bun on the nape. The bun was decorated by many different silver hairpins. The simplest version was a needle with a little bird or other decorations at the end. The silver pins were usually twelve and arranged radially, together with bigger filigree pins. The wealthiest ladies wore even up to twenty-four pins, which corresponded to the full set - whereas a lower number of pins corresponded to the half set. The central pin was called “pianeta” and had a large flat end with decorative ramification. Other pins, like the “pianetole”, had a ball-shaped head, the “spadèini” had a sword-shaped basis. “Tremuli” were pins with a spiral ending resembling a spring, decorated with flowers that would sway at every movement.

A stiff hat of local black wool (capèl) was worn as a sign of mourning or simply as sun-hats. It had a low crown and a very wide brim, as well as a black ribbon with a bow on the left side. No hats have been preserved to the present day. Other headgear was also used: the tovaiòl and the sèndal - later called capa. They were made of light embroidered linen and secured to the hair with a pin. We don’t have any information about how they were worn or folded and about their shape.

In the period between the two wars, the elderly women going to church or to religious procession, wore the “capa”, a wide shawl covering their heads and shoulders, made of wool or silk, plain or in damask, produced in different colours (bright or dark red, green, black, light blue, etc.) according to the religious community one belonged to. Around the neck they wore a white embroidered piece of cloth that formed a triangle covering the back, whereas in the front it had beautiful pleats and was fastened in the skirt belt. White handkerchiefs are exhibited in Vienna, but we don’t know whether they were meant for the head or for the shoulders. It was also customary to carry a little white handkerchief in the right side of the belt (fasulito for the nose). Stockings were in white cotton or black wool. Their shoes were open-toed, made of black leather and worn without laces. Apart from hairpins, another precious accessory were golden earrings. These semi-circles had three pear-shaped pendants.  They had an arched wire which would go through the earlobe and held in place by a silk band to avoid any damage to the ear. Another version included a fourth smaller pendant affixed upon the semi-circle. About forty silver pearls (tondèini) embellished the ladies’ necks, strung together on a silk string. Another type of necklace was made of twenty golden little balls (pirùseini) with filigree decorations. Sometimes just a plain chain was worn in venetian style, with different pendants: a cross, a heart, a star or other little charms. Talking about rings, apart from the wedding ring, the most common were snake shaped rings or with two folded hands, gems or pearls.

In other Istrian areas with a strong Italian presence there is no documented tradition of a specific female dress in the second half of the 19th century., not even in the other Istro-Romance city of Rovigno. The statues in the museum in Rome, together with Babudri’s notes, help us understand what fabrics and styles were used in that period. In most cases the dress consisted of a skirt reaching to the calves or ankles. It was matched to a sleeveless bodice in the area of Muggia or with sleeves in the areas of Koper, Isola and Rovigno. The fabric could be plain, multicolour, flowered or checkered. Only women from Buie would wear a tight-waist jacket with a flower pattern and yellow hems. It was customary to wear a smooth apron, ruffled at the waist, either plain or floral with vertical pleats in Muggia and Isola. Only in Muggia and Buie women would wear a black neckerchief with white and blue flowers, knotted under the chin. Some wore white or yellow shawls crossed at the front and tucked under the apron (Koper and Isola). In Buie and Rovigno women wore white or checkered scarves, tied at the chest.  The young girls from Rovigno would also wear large black shawls with fringes. Shoes were generally open-toed, flat and made of dark leather. Yet women from Buie would wear ankle boots made of a light leather with laces whereas women of Rovigno would wear chopines (platform shoes) with wooden toe caps and a leather upper. In Koper and Isola women would wear golden earrings with enamel coating or pearls. In the Municipal Museum of Trieste, the visitor can admire two pairs of earrings, one from Rovigno and the other from Pirano. The first one resembles a boat (navicella) and the other a lock of hair (recini a cioca).  Special attention is given, in particular, to the dress worn by women of Pirano for special occasions in the first half of the19th century. It was made of damask or brocade. The skirt formed ruffles at the waist and the high-necked bodice would tighten at the bosom where it was decorated by ribbed seams. The head was covered by a black silk cloak (sandal, sendado) that reached the hips. In conclusion, there is another specific outfit designed for women working in salt mines of Pirano during the summer. They wore a shirt and a skirt, an apron and a shawl around their shoulders, as well as a large straw hat and flat shoes (pianelle) whose sole was designed to prevent any damage to the banks and the bottom of the saltworks. The straw cone-shaped hat (capèl de pàia) and wooden shoes (taperini) with a leather strap were used even after the WW2 in the salt mines of Sicciole.