"Then and Now" /A celebration in the Finnish /American Perspective/ "Ennen ja Nyt"/
FINNISH NATIONAL COSTUMES ARE A RICH SOURCE OF FINNISH HERITAGE
Laura and Veikko Malkamäki presented the program “Finland’s Many National Costumes” for the Finnish Heritage Museum’s November meeting.
Finnish National Costumes (kansallispukuja) are a source of Finnish heritage and pride. There are over 500 officially recognized costumes by The Finnish National Costume Council, although there are many more costumes under consideration. The Finnish National Costume Council was established by six organizations in 1979 in order to maintain Finnish folk costume tradition, and to guide the manufacture, development, research, and usage of national costumes. Finnish national costumes are classified as Karelian (eastern Finland) while the rest are classified as western Finland costumes. There are more womens costumes than men’s.
The costumes are representative of villages, towns or regions, although not every village or town has a costume. Since there is a wide variety of colors, woven patterns, lace work, head coverings etc., there is no typical Finnish national costume.
National costumes are based on the traditional festive costumes worn by peasants from the 1700-1800-time period. Local costumes were developed based on local weaving, embroidery, lace making, jewelry, and knitting traditions. These designs were also influenced by prevailing fashion. Most materials were obtained locally, but some materials such as silk and certain dyes were imported. These festive costumes were considered the best clothing, to be worn on special occasions such as baptisms, marriages, funerals, and midsummer festivals. Costumes were never used for common daily dress.
Extensive research has been under way for over 125 years. Theodore Schvindt is considered the “father” of Finnish national costume interest and research, writing about them in the 1880s-1890s. Research is ongoing and based upon comparisons of costumes existing from these time periods. Costume finds have been recently discovered and old museum pieces have been re-examined. Costumes or parts of costumes have been found in graves, or even turned up in old trunks in barns. Drawings, paintings, sketches, weaving diagrams and notes, household inventories and other sources have been used to authenticate Finnish National costumes.
A recently developed men’s and women’s costume called the Suomi puku is a modern design intended to be worn by any Finnish national or anyone of Finnish heritage. In this costume only, colors were selected symbolically. Green represents Finland’s forests, red for the blood shed for Finland’s freedom, blue and white for the lakes and skies, and black is for the sorrow which is in all of our lives.
Also, notable is the development of Middle Ages costumes. These are based primarily on clothing and jewelry found in graves. These are not Finnish national costumes (kansallispukuja) as they are from a much earlier era. Pictured above on the mannequin is the Tuukkala Middle Ages costume. Elsa Heporauta, who is the founder of Ladies of Kalevala, developed this costume for herself and use in a museum, based on materials found in graves in Tuukkala and Mikkeli area. This was one of the costumes first used by the Kalevala Ladies. Elsa wore this costume on a visit to President Roosevelt and his wife in 1939 in Washington D.C.
Since Finnish national costumes are traditional formal wear, care and consideration should be made when wearing or displaying the costume. As each costume is unique and is a source of beauty and heritage, only the elements of the actual costume should be worn or displayed. Black low-heeled shoes with turned up toes or buckle-shoes are worn with most men and women’s costumes. Beige shoes are only worn with Karelian costumes. Only jewelry that is part of the costume should be worn. Earrings and bracelets are not a part of any Finnish national costume. Unmarried women or girls wear a hair ribbon specific to the costume; married women wear the appropriate headpiece. The type and design of each element in men and women’s costume varies according to the costume. Missing elements such as jewelry or aprons should not be replaced with those not belonging to the costume. It is better to have an incomplete Finnish national costume than an incorrect Finnish National Costume.
Today, Finnish national costumes are still appropriate for celebrations, special holidays, folk dancing and folk music performances as well as the traditional uses cited above. Finnish national costumes (kansallispukuja) are all made completely by hand and of the best materials, so they last from generation to generation insuring that this rich tradition will continue into the future.
The museum will have original costumes on display for November and December in the main gallery.
Text © by Laura Malkamäki, Photo © by Lasse O. Hiltunen 2008