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Girls’ Clothes of Russka Roma
Russka Roma, also known as Russian Gypsies, are the biggest Romani group of Russia. They were nomadic for a long time. Russka Roma’s tratitional occupations were horse trading (for men) and fortune telling and begging (for women), but in Russia they are more famous for their fiery dances and songs. Gypsy bands and camps are called tabor in Russia.
Clothes of Russian Gypsy girls and women have been changing with time. These photos show variants of the middle of ХХ century — the last period of tabor dress as after the decree of 1956 nomadic life itself became a thing of the past.
What was so attractive in Gypsy girls’ appearance? First of all wide bright skirts. But it needs to be mentioned that in many families they were made of one-color fabric without flouncing. Gypsies didn’t even pay much attention to the length — as in Soviet times Russians got used to knee-length dresses and young Gypsy girls could wear midi without their parents’ disapproval. It was enough for a skirt to be a little bit longer than Russian one.
Here we should say that before the War a frilled “Gypsy” skirt was a rather new borrowing. Our women copied those beautiful details from Gypsy group called Kalderari or Kalderash Roma who came from abroad in XIX. Before that Russka Roma’s girls dressed more like peasants. As they couldn’t sew or weave themselves, they wore clothes which Russian women gave them: if they managed to get a skirt — wore a skirt, very often dressed in sarafans dominating in villages… But we’ll talk about those old times later.
Let’s speak about a blouse first. That’s what looked exotic in Stalin times! The sleeves were very wide (Gypsy women learned to sew at last). There were no special rules about the fabric — but in general women preferred vivid patterns to single-color ones — mainly satin with flowers. Now we face difficulties searching for beautiful bright fabric in folk style — but fortunately in Soviet times it wasn’t a problem.
Probably you guessed that a wide-sleeved blouse wasn’t Russian Roma’s invention — they borrowed it from Kalderash Roma and made it a bit easier. Our women have never looked as exotic as Romanian ones. The principle was — the more decent — the better: arms had to be covered at least to an elbow and no low-necks!
In general nomadic Gypsies’ special feature was demonstrative poverty, not a cut of their dress. Shabby clothes wasn’t necessary but welcomed. Rules were stricter for bare feet. The main women’s craft (“te drabakirav” and “te mangav”) was fortune-telling and begging alms. If you manage to get a former nomadic Gypsy to talk she will tell you she had to walk barefoot until it snowed.
National activists usually embellish the past of their people. It came to such exaggeration that in Gypsy ethnographic expositions women are shown… in boots! Modern complexes make people misrepresent the facts. If a Gypsy would shoot a film or would be invited as a consultant you can be sure he would provide women with shoes and dress the whole tabor in stylish clothes. That’s not our way. In this project we make a true reconstruction. Characters of our photo-sessions are dressed like Gypsies used to do before “The Decree”.
Gypsy girls combined poverty with jewelry — that was especially charming. They walked from door to door asking for food but wore gold earrings, bracelets and rings. They have never had necklaces from coins, but pearl, coral or amber beads were popular. Girls wore braids or let their hair down their shoulders.
And of course shawls were in great demand — every Gypsy woman and every Gypsy girl tried to get herself the most bright and beautiful one — better with fringe. Wide shawls covered their heads, shoulders or hips.
So we offer you a reconstruction as a part of “Svenko” project. Russian Gypsies told fortune in villages and at markets. Police closed eyes to it even in big cities. Sometimes young villagers came to camps themselves. We tried to show you “pictures” of Stalin times — that’s how our fortune-tellers looked back then.