Mulgi rahvarõivad / The folk costumes of Mulgimaa
The impressively substantial 614-page book The Folk Costumes of Mulgimaa is certainly and indisputably a study which has succeeded in delving deep into the subject matter of folk costumes whilst covering a diverse cultural region. The information presented in the book can be seen as a remarkable study aid also in the ongoing revival of the practice of wearing folk costumes. Although the aim of the book is to introduce and describe folk costumes, the added value of the brief yet detailed overview of the history and formation of Mulgimaa is apparent. The history of the people of Mulgimaa cannot be told simply as a story of a dialect area, it should rather be the story of the development of a region rooted in that particular dialect area. As a result of certain historical and natural coincidences, Mulgimaa can be regarded as the birthplace of capitalism in Estonia. In addition to the specific linguistic characteristics, which now are gradually disappearing from common use, the people of Mulgimaa have so far been often mentioned in connection with the establishment of an entirely new type of dwelling, ensuing from their prosperity, the manor homes.
Although Mulgimaa consists of five parishes, the book has been divided into four large chapters. While Helme, Tarvastu, and Paistu have each been allocated a separate chapter, Halliste and Karksi have been treated in a single chapter. The folk costumes of Mulgimaa are a combination of comfort and practicality. While observing the photographs and concentrating on footwear, it is striking to note that even almost a century and a half ago people were not generally photographed when wearing bast shoes or soft-sole leather shoes, if they had a nice pair of shoes or calf-length boots to put on instead. The same period is characterised by archaic long coats that were worn by both men and women.
What is remarkable is the fact that the authors have endeavoured to find as many historical photographs, surviving items of clothing and fragments of clothing from various (museum) collections as possible and also tried to connect them with real people’s memories and stories.
The detailed information along with the descriptions that are revealed in the book will presumably be essential for the craftsmen who wish to recreate and/or restore more authentic and historically accurate folk costumes.
While many cultures believe that women are usually the ones who wear and uphold the tradition of wearing folk costumes, I would like to point out that based on my own previous experience, the presence of men’s clothing, too, is respected, hopefully permanently so, in Mulgimaa.
In addition to the book’s in-depth overview, its historical approach, and its detailed descriptions, this volume can still be used as a handbook to those involved in the rapidly reviving tradition of wearing folk costume.