Happy Vyshyvanka Day!

The message is in the pattern. Pattern and color are not random elements nor are they put down for decorative play. They are a new way of re-writing untold tales. Their language is more akin to the call of birds or the growth and blossoming of flowers; meaningful if you speak the language.

Lubaina Himid

The early 21st century brought a renaissance of traditional Ukrainian embroidered garments into the public eye as a method of national identification, symbols of protest and even onto the catwalks of international fashion shows.

In 2006 two students at Chernivtsi National University in southwestern Ukraine coordinated together to start wearing traditional embroidered shirts or vyshyvanka to class. Eventually the idea spread to their classmates through word of mouth and flash-mob actions, becoming a nationwide and an international observation called World Vyshyvanka Day, sometimes also known in English as Day of Embroidery or Day the Embroidered Shirt.

One of the founders, Lesya Voronyuk stated that it was her intent to highlight the uniqueness of the garment which to her was a symbol of Ukraine, as well as to bring attention to Ukraine’s history and culture. Voronyuk specifically chose a Thursday–a working day instead of a weekend–for the public celebration of Vyshyvanka Day to encourage a return to the normalisation of embroidered wear for everyday use instead a garment worn only on holidays or special occasions to specifically translate the idea of Ukrainianness.

After the political events of 2013 which brought the world’s eyes to Ukraine, there was a rise in the usage and the inspiration of traditional Ukrainian designs by both Ukrainian fashion designers like Vita Kin, Roksolana Bogutska, Oksana Karavanska and Lubtsia Chernikova, as well as international designers and labels, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Elie Saab and Valentino, highlighting Ukrainian embroidery as a modern and high fashion signifier worthy of the masses and of coverage in popular magazines like Vogue, rather than simply as an ethnic costume worn only for cultural or patriotic purposes.

There is no definitive answer as to when vyshyvanka as a craft began, but archeologists have found embroidered clothing within the geographical region of modern Ukrainie dating to the 6th century and scholars can date embroidery back to the Bronze Age. It is also believed that pagan Slavic tribes brought embroidered shirts to the region of Ukraine and that the craft survived, assimilated and then began to generate new meaning after the Christianization of Kievan Rus in the first millennium.

Today Ukrainian embroidery, called the “code of the nation” by the Ukrainian Postal Service in the header image above, has a variety of cultural, political and fashion meanings and continues to tell its tale. I think stamps are wonderful teaching and programming tools and have the ability to share sociocultural information about fashion, textiles and costumes from across the world. I have included a few different stamps below from Ukraine, the Soviet Union, Moldova and Kazakhstan which highlight examples of Ukrainian embroidery.

Selected bibliography

Kononenko, Natalie. “Ukraine.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: East Europe, Russia, and the Caucasus, edited by Djurdja Bartlett and Pamela Smith, 271–280. Oxford: Berg, 2010. doi:  10.2752/BEWDF/EDch9053.

Melnyk, Myroslav. “Traditional Ukrainian Costume in the Context of National liberation and Soviet Occupation in 1920s”, Visnyk Cherkaskoho universytetу, Istorychni nauky: No. 1: 2019. doi:10.31651/2076-5908-2019-1-109-115.

Myzele, Alla. “Handcrafting Revolution: Ukrainian Avant-Garde Embroidery And The Meanings Of History”. Craft Research vol. 3 (2012), 11-32. doi:10.1386/crre.3.1.11_1.

Seliverstova, Oleksandra. “’Consuming’ National Identity in Western Ukraine.” Nationalities Papers 45, no. 1 (2017) doi:10.1080/00905992.2016.1220363.

Snikhovska, Kseniia. “The Embroidery Of Vyshyvanka”. Master’s Thesis, University College of Southeast Norway, 2017. hdl.handle.net/11250/2451085.

The Purple Prince

At the ARLIS conference today I attended a session entitled Confluent Practices: Non-Traditional Research Methodologies in Art Librarianship that featured The Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson and Burnham Library‘s Kevin Talmer Whiteneir Jr., a library and information science student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Whiteneir’s engaging presentation was on Scholarship as Embodied Practice in art historical praxis which drew me to his website and his bibliography, including an analysis of Prince’s use of costume to subvert gender norms.

Whiteneir, Kevin. (2016). The Purple Prince. Dress, 42(2), 75–88. https://doi.org/10.1080/03612112.2016.1215804

In this project, I explore the artistic approach of musician Prince Roger Nelson and how his visual style subverts American conventions of masculinity in the 1980s. Combining an explicit form of sexuality in his performances and a then-effeminate flamboyance in his costumes, Prince challenged notions of hegemonic masculinity—especially Black masculinity—perpetuated within American society and by his male contemporaries, particularly Michael Jackson. Prince’s sensual styling has left a subversive mark upon popular culture, one that expands expression of gender and eroticism for both musical performers and the consumers of his image and music beyond the accepted. Ultimately, I aim to make discuss the phenomenon of gender subversion as accomplished by Prince’s use of costume, especially that of lace, in conjunction with his sex appeal and stage antics.

Photo Nicolas Genin via flickr