Wow! This is always the first reaction of people when they see our tall men and women dancing in beautiful national costumes. I have noticed their admiration, traveling around the world as member of local folklore group. This is not surprising, having in mind that our national costume is considered to be one of the most beautiful and most expensive in Europe.
Made from high quality materials, combined with silk and golden treads, in bright colors and very rich, it leaves strong impact on people. The price of one high quality costume in the past was equal to 3 pairs of oxen or an entire property. It was definitely the most valuable thing one could have at home. Many travelers, visiting our country in 18 and 19 century were surprised by contrast of usually very modest interior of the house, but very luxurious outfit of Montenegrin people.
The main reason for dressing so luxurious lays in Montenegrin pride. During five centuries Montenegro was fighting against powerful Ottoman Empire which has always tried to impose their way of life, their culture and tradition. People in Balkans were supposed to wear black costume without any characteristic details, but proud Montenegrin people refused this and with help of their rich costume they could show their disobedience, resistance and their belonging to Montenegro. It was sign that one would rather die than become a Turkish servant.
The origin of the costume is also interesting. It is very old and we assume that it originally came from Crete, but during five centuries it has significantly changed, so it is quite different now from its fist version. The one to introduce this costume was medieval ruler of Montenegro, Đurađ Crnojević. People were so impressed by the beauty of the costume that they started coping his way of dressing. This became unique example in history: a model for national costume was outfit of a ruler!
National costume was especially present on wedding ceremonies, visit to the church, during some state celebrations or…just as a way to show off in very day life. Till recently, it was considered an honor to be buried in this costume, so many remarkable pieces went together with their owners under the ground. Just like my great-grandmother’s costume. And just like for the most of her contemporaries, it was her last wish.
One of the most precious parts of female costume was belt, known as „ćemer“. It was frequently made of silver and decorated with precious stones. On the other hand, male costume would be hard to imagine without a pair of fancy pistols. Guns were also finely crafted in famous workshops or confiscated in battles against Turks. Sometimes decorated with precious stones, silver and mother of pearls, it was extremely expensive, but even more modest one was integral part of costume, symbolizing the way of life and love for freedom.
Montenegrin hat is red in color with black ribbon around it and a state symbol in its center. Our greatest ruler, writer and philosopher Peter II Petrović Njegoš explained it like this: „red color stands for all the blood that was shed for the freedom of the country and the black color is the sign of grief for all those who gave their lives for that noble goal“.
Even today, there is no important date in the country, nor ceremony or festival without having beautiful couple in a national costume as a decoration. Wide smile is obligatory element and goes perfectly with this colorful costume. The tradition of sewing is passed in dressmaker’s families from one generation to the other and it takes even three months to complete a pair consisting of male and female costume.
Montenegrins still, just like their ancestors, cherish the cult of physical beauty. Just go out on the street and have a look at the parade of tall, fancy dressed people and you will be informed about latest trends in fashion. And remember – not only outfit makes us special, but a brave heart that beats under that shining surface.