Costume has always been an important segment in the life of Montenegrins. Of which material the costume was made and in which style it was made told a lot about a person. The roots of our cultural inheritance go way back in the past. Montenegro for centuries has been the target of numerous conquerors and all those various influences merged here, which were more or less accepted by people in Montenegro, and which in the same way were adapted to the Montenegrin understandings and way of living. As a result of that came numerous artistic goods and characteristic traits for our people and our culture. Beside those culturally historical facts geographic conditions had an extremely strong influence on the choice of the fabrics of which the costume will be made.
Montenegro is a country of exquisite nature, but also of very diverse nature, from the accessible coast to the extremely isolated north. Certain villages even today in Montenegro are not easy to come to and the contact with the “civilization” is very rare, and in the past of Montenegro that was very often the case with majority of villages. Because of those reasons people had to cut their own dresses at home and they had to make it from the material which was accessible to them. The materials which were used most often were: wool, goat’s hair, hemp, flax, Spanish broom, and in smaller amounts they produced and used silk.
Some researchers who dealt with Montenegrin folk costume divide it in citizen and traditional one. That division is usually based in the difference in dressing of orthodox women and women who lived usually on the coast – women of catholic confession. Traditional costume of women in these areas usually was made of: shirt, woolen dress, skirt, apron, belt, kerchief and socks, and as alternative clothing items they used kamizola (certain kind of a vest), koret (short coat usually brown), zubun (sleeveless garment), curdija (type of jacket-short sleeved or sleeveless), and caftan. As for the footwear most often they had opanak (peasant shoes), pasamage, and sometimes even shoes.
When we are talking about the citizen costumes we have to bear in mind all the historical and fashion events in the XVIII century. At that time the wavering wider clothes with folds was designed, which covered the shoulders, and had a square low cut neckline which was hemmed with frills made of lace or of some darker linen. The sleeves were flat and they usually had decorative cuffs. The dress with frills only later was replaced in a dress with folds. Those folds started from the middle of the décolletage around the neck ad they freely fell on the back. In the front well tight corset was connected on every side with a triangular insertion on the belt, and was richly decorated. The upper clothes in some way opened in the area of the skirt and was more or less decorated. It had a flat decorative collar, also flat sleeve which reached up to the elbow and ended with “nagoda” with more frills from which you could see lace cuffs.
If we start by the order of dressing in first place would come knee socks. Knee socks are a kind of socks which strongly tighten the calves. For making of these socks a great skill is needed, and what needs to be pointed out is that no matter the experience and years for putting on of the knee socks it takes a lot of time. Knee socks need to be tightened strongly in order for man’s easier and safer movement, which was extremely important for Montenegrins who moved around the stony Montenegro. Except the knee socks there were the so called bjecve which had a slit on the side, and their rims were hemmed with red or dark blue coarse cloth.
Pants were dresses immediately after the knee socks and they should overlap one part of the knee socks. Very often pants and knee socks were tied with a cord so that they wouldn’t separate, and for that people made special hooks on the knee socks. Pants in ordinary Montenegrins were white and they were made of coarse linen and water proof cloth (coja). Pants near the waist were wide, while below the knees they were shrunk. Montenegrins had a belt in which there was a wreath through which a rope went through in order for the pants to be tied around the waist.
Male shirt had a collar and a slit on the chest which was closed with buttons. The shirt was drawn in the pants and most often it was a white shirt) rarely could you find a Montenegrin in a colorful shirt). The shirt was an obligatory part of the Montenegrin male costume and at the festivities it was always tied. Except the shirt male folk costume, its upper part, was made of “gunj” (long peasant jacket). Gunj had short tassels which on the chest were moved apart. Montenegrins wore this short coat whose ends crossed one over the other and it was buttoned with copper buttons. Gunj was replaced with “dolama”(dolman), which has the sleeves below the armpits and up to the fist they are almost opened, so that they can be thrown back. In that way the hand stays solely in the shirt. That was of great importance and very characteristic for Montenegro, because in that way the suites, the folk garment could be made for all seasons. When it was summer they didn’t use th sleeves of dolmans, but they would throw the sleeves behind the back, and when it was winter, Montenegrins would put on the sleeves of dolmans. A dolman can usually be found in Montenegro in green color, and it is made of coarse linen or waterproof cloth (coja). The ends of the dolman (sleeves and the corners and tassels) are decorated with dark red color.
Below gunj they wore “dzemadan”, which was made of red coarse linen and was usually embroidered with on sides with some cotton or silk braids of black or golden color. That is a vest with tassels which came one over the others, and it was buttoned with four buttons (made of metal) and with black knots made of silk rope. Dzemadan was worn over the chest, and it went all over to the throat. The rims of dzemadan on tassels are also decorated with knots or with golden embroidery.
Dzemadan was sometimes replaced with “jecerma”, which did not have tassels or overlapping, and the slit on the chest was flat. On both sides of “jecerma” there were two rows of buttons (black silk ones) which are just a decoration. Below the buttons there are several hooks and knots which are used for buttoning of jecerma to the middle from below. These hooks and knots were usually the only thing used for buttoning of jecerma, because Montenegrins left their chest uncovered. Over gunj went “jelek”(sleeveless embroidered jacket).
Jelek was made of the coarse material and was decorated with rope or with golden embroidery. That is an upper clothing item, a lot like a coat without the sleeves. In front it is very open, and what is characteristic for it is that it was never buttoned.
Jelek was sometimes replaced with “toke” (silver plates), which have the same shape as jelek, but on the front side they have metal, most often silver plates. “Toke” are tied in difference to jelek and they are very close to body, and as they are made of metal they remind on armor, which was their usage in former Montenegro.