Traditional Italian Women’s Clothing
The areas of major interest within the Italian tradition are undoubtedly Dignano, Gallesano, Valle. In these centres there was a particular way of dress for women which existed up until the 1870’s-1880’s when it was quickly replaced by the bourgeois fashions. The pieces that still exist are from the area of Dignano. Aside from the pieces on display in Vienna, there are also pieces of the traditional costume on display in the Museum of Pisino. These pieces are questionable since they might have been recreated for a folklore group in the period between the two world wars. As previously noted there are still some pieces of clothing will still exist from Gallesano. This picture made complete by two statues in the museum in Rome which represent women from Valle and Dignano.
This description is based on the displays in the museum in Vienna and notes from the turn of the 20th century by Domenico Rismondo. Domenico Rismondo was an expert of the history and culture of the city of Dignano and he has made some fundamental contributions to the preservation of its traditions. In regards to terminology, the diphthongs ?i and ?u from the Dignano dialects of Valle and Gallesano are the vowels i and u while the letter u becomes an o.
The ladies’ blouse ‘cam?isa’ was worn close to the skin and covered from the shoulders to the knee. It was also considered an undergarment. The version of the blouse that was worn daily was made from a hemp material. The sleeves were made of linen or a bonb?s cotton. The version used for more festive occasions was made of a more delicate cloth. The neckline had a ruffle which was sometimes decorated with lace. The sleeves were gathered at the wrists. The sample found in the museum in Vienna was made of 4 square pieces of fabric: one each for the front and back and one for each of the sleeves. Each of the four pieces came together at the neckline. Two folded square pieces of fabric were inserted in the armpits. Down from the waistline a ‘carpita’ slip of a green, red or blue cloth was gathered at the waist and long to one’s feet. It was decorated at the seam with lace made of silver thread called rumana (romana). Later, this slip was made of a white fabric. Undergarments became more prevalent from the middle part of the 1800’s: a sleeveless girdle ‘bustin’ and underwear ‘mudande’ which went halfway down the leg and had an opening in the crotch. On top of the blouse a sleeveless bodice ‘camisul?in’ was worn. The everyday version was made of a dark wool and the festive version was of a red cloth (black for the older women). It was lined with a white cloth. On top, the petticoat had a rounded neckline and each side was hooked or overlapped and pinned together. The example from the Gallesano area is longer and has a more squared neckline. The locally made ‘soca’ or ‘suoca’ skirt was of a black wool (gurgàn, gorgàn, grogano, or grossagrana). It could also be bought camlet. The Istro-Romance term soca corresponds with the Istro-Croatian term sùknja. Back in the 12th-13th centuries the term came from Poland and made reference to a woman’s dress. It is also known as suckenie in Germany and sousquanie in France. Suchigna cloth was noted in the medieval statutes of Trieste and Capodistria. The soca skirt was gathered at the waist and long to the ankles. The gurgàn socas usually had a red or turquoise seam. The example in the museum in Vienna is made of seven pieces of cloth, one which was laid flat in the front while the other six were pleated on the sides and back. The front flat panel was sewn together in two places while the other six had holes in them through which a drawstring was pulled.
For more festive occasions women would were a lower bodice ‘brasarola’ which had detachable sleeves. Usually the two pieces were made of a similar fabric and were inseparable. In Dignano and Gallesano the brasarola was made of two rectangle pieces of silk brocade or a red or green damask that was 10-12 cm wide. The two pieces were connected by matching white or colored ribbon. Each piece was lined with a white fabric and hemmed with a white or red ribbon on three sides while the fourth and lower side had a white 4-8 cm wide hem. Usually the brasarole were trimmed on three sides with silver thread. They were held up by colourful ribbon called ‘spalari’. In Valle the brasarola was a bit higher and had shoulders made of similar fabric. According to Rismondo, in Dignano the brasarola was worn on top of the camisul?in. The term bracciaiola refers to a sleeve or cuff but can also refer to a rectangular handkerchief.
The detachable sleeves that would slip on top of the blouse were made of two pieces of fabric sewn together. They were made of the same flowered fabric as the brasarola or of a black or blue cloth with the cuffs turned up and matching the brasarola. They were tight-fitting three quarter sleeves. The upper part of the sleeve near the shoulder was puffy. A ribbon, called ‘travesàn, joined the sleeves along the back with an ornamental knot.
On top of the skirt was a ‘travesa’ apron (Veneto traversa), which on festive occasions was made of black silk or a dark purple or green satin. In the winter, in place of the brasarola and sleeves a gh?lero (a jacket of made of a brown woolen cloth and trimmed with black fur) was worn. Hairdos were carefully groomed. There were women who specialized in hairdos and they would do house calls. The hair was divided into four sections and each had a double part. In the back two braids were gathered by a black silk ribbon and done up in a bun at the nape.
Many hairpins of various shapes were placed in the bun. The more simple versions had an ornamental ball, or bird or ear cleaner pins with an oval end. The silver pins, usually about twelve, were arranged in a fan-like fashion and combined with other pins of various designs. The more wealthy ladies would have as much as twenty-four pins which are considered a full set. If the number of ornamental pins was limited this would be considered a half set. The ‘planet’ was considered the biggest pin with a large head and with various branches extending from it. The ‘pianetole’ had a little globe on top while the ‘spadèini” had a handle grip end. The ‘trèmuli’ were pins with a spiral tip that had a flower attached to it which would bob about as one walked. In Dignano the women would wear a rigid black woolen hat as sign of mourning and as a protective covering from the sun. The hat was low, with a wide brim and around it was black ribbon tied on the left hand side with a bow. There are no known examples of this hat in circulation. There were other head coverings: the ‘tovaiòl and the ‘sendàl (later known as ‘capa’). Tovaiòl and sandal (zendale) were made of a light embroidered linen and were fastened in the back by a pin. We do not know what distinguished them from one another nor what shape they were nor the manner in which the hair should be styled. In between the two wars the elderly women would wear a draped woolen or silk fabric whether it be plain or damask and of any colour depending on their religious affiliation. A piece of white embroidered cloth was worn around the neck and shoulders and draped in the back in a triangle. In the front it was criss-crossed and fastened under the belt of the skirt. From the handkerchiefs on display in Vienna it is unsure whether they were used to cover the head or the shoulders. A small white embroidered handkerchief was for blowing one’s nose and kept just underneath the skirt belt on the left hand side. Ladies’ stockings were made of black cotton or wool and they wore open toed patent leather shoes without laces.
Aside from hairpins other ornamental pieces included gold earrings which were semi circular in shape and had three dangling pieces that resembled small pears. They had an arched pin which would go through the ear hole and be fastened by silk string in order to ensure that the earring would not damage the ear. There was another type that dangled about one quarter from the semi-circle. Around the neck the ladies wore about forty or so silver pearls that were threaded by a silk string or about twenty or so small golden spheres that could have had a simple or more worked design. Also used was a gold chain, venetian style, with either a cross pendant, or a heart, or a star or other charm. In regards to rings, aside from the wedding ring the most common were those in the shape of a snake or two folded hands united in faith or rings with gemstones or pearls.
In the other towns in Istria with a strong Italian population there does not appear to be a distinct woman’s dress in the latter half of the 1800’s. The statues in the museum in Rome give some hint to the fabrics used in that time. In most cases the dress was fit at the waist while the skirt was long to the calves or ankles. In the area of Muggia it had a sleeveless bodice while in the areas of Capodistria, Isola and Rovigno the bodice had sleeves. The fabric could be one solid colour, flowered or checkered. Only the women from Buie would wear a flowered jacket with yellow hemming that hugged at the waist. Everyone wore a simple apron that was either a solid colour or flowered. It gathered at the waist or had vertical pleats (Muggia and Isola). Only in Muggia and Buie did the ladies wear a black kerchief with white and blue flower and tied under the chin. Some wore white or yellow shawls which overlapped in front and were fastened under the apron (Capodistria and Isola). Some wore white or checkered neck scarves (Buie and Rovigno). Young girls from Rovigno would also wear large shawls with fringes. Shoes were open-toed and flat and made of a dark leather. The women of Buie would wear ankle boots made out of a light-coloured leather with laces while the women of Rovigno would wear slipper-like shoes made with wooden pointed soles and a leather upper. The women of Capodistria and Isola would wear golden earrings that might have had enamel or pearls. There are two pairs on display in the Municipal Museum of Trieste that are from Rovigno and Pirano. One is shaped like a boat (navicella) and the other resembles a lock of hair (recini a cioca). Worth noting is the dress worn by women of Pirano for special occasions which was used in the first half of the 1800’s. It was made of damask fabric or of brocade. The skirt was gathered at the waist and had a high-necked bodice which hugged the body at the bosom with ribbed seams. A cape of black silk long to the hip was worn (send?, sandal, sendado). Finally, a particular work outfit was used in the summertime in the salt evaporation ponds of Pirano. It was made up of a shirt and skirt, with an apron and shawl around the shoulders as well as a large straw hat and slippers which prevented any damage to the banks or bottoms of the saltworks. Both the hat and slippers were used even after the Second World War in the salt evaporation ponds of Sicciole. .