A vyshyvanka is the name of the traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt, the fame of which has already spread worldwide. Still, the best place to see vyshyvankas galore and probably buy one is its homeland. Today, every Ukrainian, from a toddler to an older person, typically has at least one piece of embroidery and wears it for certain festive occasions. The most popular days to dress up include Orthodox Christmas (January 6–9), Orthodox Easter (usually April), the Day of Independence (August 24), and Vyshyvanka Day (late May).
The annual Vyshyvanka Day falls on the third Thursday of May. Affectionate Ukrainians all across the country wear their best embroidery to work, school, university, etc. On this day, the cities organize vyshyvankas parades and various flash mobs. So you stand a chance to see the widest variety of embroidery at a time. One of the most significant celebrations takes place in the capital city of Kyiv, but you can spot dozens of vyshyvankas in all other big cities around Ukraine.
The history of Vyshyvanka Day
Vyshyvanka Day originated in Chernivtsi National University. A student was inspired by her groupmate, who constantly attended classes wearing a vyshyvanka. Once, the student suggested that all scholars come in their vyshyvankas on a selected day, and they did. Such a flash mob inspired other cities. Eventually, the idea grew into an annual nationwide holiday supported by the Ukrainian diaspora overseas.
What do vyshyvankas represent
The embroidery tradition has been passed on from generation to generation since unknown times. A mother would embroider for her kids, a wife for her husband, and a girl for her boyfriend. While working, they used to sing and pray, for it was believed that the shirt made with love and faith would protect its owner from all evil. Also, every region developed its unique style of embroidery with prevailing colors and ornaments, each with its sacred meaning. What's more, fortunes were measured by the number of vyshyvankas possessed. A young girl whose wardrobe numbered thirty embroidered shirts was considered poor; fifty to seventy items was the average; but a truly wealthy person would own a hundred. Over centuries, the vyshyvanka has firmly established itself as an essential element of local culture, a part of Ukrainian identity, and the nation's genetic code.
Bad times in vyshyvanka's history
Yet, at certain times in the complex history of Ukraine, wearing a vyshyvanka (and speaking native Ukrainian) was considered second-rate. Mostly only peasants appreciated the traditional clothes. The 19th-century Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko attempted to raise the image of vyshyvanka by wearing an embroidered shirt with a jacket. Another local author Olena Pchilka contributed by publishing an album of Ukrainian embroidery, which later spread throughout Europe and ignited the scientific interest in the subject. Still, vyshyvankas didn't come back into popularity even with the declaration of the independence of Ukraine in 1991. The genuine vyshyvankas' boom happened only after the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.
The modern popularity of vyshyvankas
Nowadays, people have begun to cherish their ancient embroidery tradition anew. In the summertime, the residents of Western Ukraine like wearing vyshyvankas for the Sunday church service. Graduating students choose embroidered shirts for the graduation ceremony. And the newlyweds tend to get married in embroidered (linen) outfits. The concept has become extremely popular even among fashionistas, who often put on embroidered jeans, blouses, coats, and shoes. Even Gucci, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, and other world-famous brands and designers use elements of Ukrainian embroidery.
Where to buy a vyshyvanka in Ukraine
No wonder every other tourist to Ukraine leaves with a lovely embroidered article of dress. So if you wish to purchase a vyshyvanka, the most favored outdoor markets of the traditional Ukrainian clothing and cloths are located in Lviv, Kosiv, and Kolomya. Clearly, handmade shirts are more expensive than machine-made ones. If you wish to try them on before buying, opt for the warmer time of year, which is summer. You can also buy an embroidered tablecloth if nothing suits you. Besides, certain antique shops offer genuine centuries-old embroidered shirts and dresses for true fans of authenticity and antiquity. Just note that these items are typically much more costly than modern ones, even despite some tiny holes or stains on them.
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