Latvian National Costume exhibit at Washington's Union Station concludes

02.12.2014. 19:09

Saturday, November 10 was the final day of the exhibit of National Costumes held at Union Station in Washington, DC.

Following is information on the exhibit:

In celebration of the 85th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Latvia and the United States, the Embassy of Latvia, in cooperation with the National Folk Costume Center „Sena klets” of Latvia, organized an exhibition of Latvian national folk costumes in Washington, DC. The exhibit was held at Union Station’s West Hall (50 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, DC, 20002), and was open to the public 24 hours a day, from Monday, October 22 through Saturday, November 10, 2007, and featured a unique collection of 35 folk costumes representing all regions of Latvia.

The "Sena klets" National Folk Costume center of Riga, Latvia houses an extensive collection of Latvian national costumes. This wide-ranging exhibit was an excellent opportunity for Latvia to demonstrate its rich cultural heritage to residents and visitors of Washington, DC.

Former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Latvia's Ambassador to the United States Andrejs Pildegovics addressed over 200 guests at the opening of the exhibit on October 23. Ms. Maruta Grasmane, Director of "Sena klets" of Riga, also spoke about the meaning of the Latvian National Costume. The Washington, DC-area folklore group "Sudrabavots" performed four Latvian folk songs.

Click here to access video footage of the opening ceremony.

The exhibit was made possible by the support of the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia; Mr. John Medveckis, Latvia’s Honorary Consul in Pennsylvania; the Riga City Council; the Ventspils museum, Latvian steel company „Liepajas metalurgs,” Rietumu banka, Dutko Worldwide and honorary consuls of Latvia Mr. Karlis Steinmanis of Ohio, Mr. Ahmet Oren of New York, and Mr. Stephen Payne of Texas.

Comments on the exhibit:

" Sirsnīgi apsveicu latviešu tautas tērpus izstādes vērienīgos iniciatorus, meistarīgos daiļamatniekus, izstādes sponsorus un iekārtotājus. Paldies, ka esat uzbūruši vienreizēju iespēju katram Vašingtonas ceļotājam šoruden būt krāšņajā un kulturāli bagātajā Latvijā!"

-Sarma Muižniece Liepiņa, ALAs (Amerikas latviešu apvienības) Kultūras nozares vadītāja un ALAs Kultūras fonda priekšniece

"Sirsnīgu paldies no visiem latviešu ļaudīm Savienotajās Valstīs, kuri pūlas saglabāt mūsu vēstures mantas un mācīt pasaulei cik bagātīga ir mūsu tautas māksla."

- Lilita Berga, ALAs latviešu muzeja vadītāja

(above comments from representatives of the American Latvian Association, thanking everyone involved in the exhibit for the opportunity to share Latvia's rich culture with the vistors to Union Station)

"Thanks to the Latvian Embassy and others reponsible for bringing this incredible exhibit to the states. Wow!" (visitor from Helena, Montana)

"A wonderful display of national costumes - I love the colors, embroidered dresses and shawls. Thank you for sharing this exhibit with us." (visitor from Washington, DC)

"I have enjoyed the Latvian collection and the detail that was in place in each garment. Thank you!" (educator)

"I fondly remember Latvia cultural groups participating at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (in 1998). Thanks for the display of these beautiful costumes."

"One of the best displays I have seen, and I have traveled all over the world. Thank you for blending the past with the present."

"This display is well worth the visit. I am from California and this beats all. The handwork and craftmanship is beautiful and tells a lovely story. Thank you!"

"Lovely clothing selection. I've never seen anything quite like it."

"Thanks for this excellent show - I have many fond memoried of Riga, including the 'Singing Revolution.' I also found the guides to be very helpful." (Washington, DC)

"Never knew about Latvia until I came to Union Station. Very culturally enriching exhibit." (Howard University student)

"Nice to see tradition continuing, even across the waters." (Exton, PA)

"I find it an excellent idea to organize this exhibition. Thank you." (visitor from Hungary)

"An unexpected pleasure! Lovely exhibit, amazing workmanship."

"I really like your costumes. I have never heard of Latvia, but I learned something about it today."

Information on the exhibit has appeared in:

WTOP Radio "Funformation"

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Latvian)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in English)

Background Information on Latvian National Costumes
(compiled from information prepared by the Latvian Institute)

In this exhibit, Latvia presents a unique collection of women’s and men’s costumes representing all five ethnographic regions of Latvia – Vidzeme, Latgale, Augszeme, Zemgale and Kurzeme.

National costumes are an integral part of Latvia's cultural heritage and a valuable source for historical studies. Such costumes were worn by the indigenous inhabitants of Latvia – the Balts and Livs, who were traditionally country farmers, fishermen and craftsmen. Today, Latvians proudly wear their national dress on special occasions and holidays, as a way to affirm their national identity, as well as their distinctive regional identity.

The national costume has survived from ancient times through today, with only minor modifications reflecting the individual creativity of the wearer. Entire costumes, or parts of costumes, are often handed down from generation to generation.

Women's Costumes
The main parts of a woman's costume generally consist of a skirt and a long-sleeved linen shirt, sewn from a square fabric without the aid of a pattern. A patterned sash, or josta, is used to secure the skirt, as well as to girdle the waist, in order to allow freedom of movement. The length of the sash varies; often belts as long as 10 feet are wrapped around the waist several times. An essential part of the national costume is the woolen shawl, or villaine, a rectangular fabric draped around the shoulders. The type of head covering denotes the wearer's marital status –maidens wear a wreath or crown (vainags) and married women wear a head-cloth.

Men's Costumes
The men's costumes have been more influenced by urban trends than the women's costumes. While the shirt style has remained largely unchanged, in the 18th century the trousers and jacket, although homespun, began to reflect city fashions. Women usually sewed their own costumes, but men often enlisted the aid of a tailor. Jackets and trousers for daily wear are usually made of grey homespun material; white fabric is used for festive occasions. A long jacket is secured with a belt. The most popular men’s head-dress is a broad-brimmed hat made of felt and adorned with a ribbon. The summer hat is made of straw.

The main kind of footwear for both men and women are known as pastalas, made of a single piece of leather and tied with laces. In cold weather, several pairs of stockings were worn. On festive occasions men wore shoes or boots.

As in other cultures, the amount of jewelry on a costume indicated the wearer's wealth and status. Shirts and shawls were fastened with brooches usually made of silver. Costumes for festive occasions were adorned with embroidered, woven, or knitted designs to make them visually impressive, distinctive, and unique. Geometric designs are characteristic of Latvian folk art; traditional ornaments and decorative designs have been preserved in these costumes. Colors played an important role in costume adornments. White and grey were predominant, since costumes were made of natural fabrics, such as linen and wool. In ancient times, yarn was colored with natural dyes, chiefly from indigenous plants. The designs on mittens, shawls, and sashes were created from combinations of four colors - red, blue, green, and yellow. White was used for festive garments; red was also used.

Regional Differences
Each region of Latvia developed its own distinctive traditions regarding costumes. Since peasants were acquainted only with their immediate vicinity, they were essentially unaware of the traditions and practices of more distant villages.

National Costumes Today
The tradition of national costumes continues to thrive in Latvia. Today, national costumes are seen as a way of affirming one’s national identity, celebrating national holidays and other special occasions. One such occasion is the nationwide Song and Dance Festival, where national costumes are worn not only by the singers and dancers, but also by the audience. The wearing of national costumes creates a feeling of unity and pride and affirms a link to the past, while at the same time allowing the wearer to express his or her creativity and individualism.