In purple and velvet - cloths in folk culture

In winter, one of the most practical clothing accessories is a shawl, which can be worn as a scarf around the neck, or worn on the shoulder, covering your back or covering your head. Shawls play a key role in Hungarian folk costumes. They were tied to the head, neck and shoulders in different, sometimes particularly complex variations from region to region. Their pattern, colour, and material also show a wide variety depending on whether they are intended for casual or festive wear.

Shawls written in culture

noi_portre_402733.jpgThis item of clothing appears many times in Hungarian folklore. “Blue silk shawl, green silk fringe,” says the folk song. “I lost my handkerchief, my mother scolded me for it,” we recall the familiar tune and matching play from our childhood. The shawl or scarf is a common character in folk songs.

In one of the most famous winter poems for children, Sándor Weöres also mentions: "The wind of winter comes with snow and frost / The big shawl is needed now / The colourful big shawl is fluttering / a cool breeze pulls and shakes it.” But in Endre Ady’s poem The White Shawl, it also appears as a symbolist sign.

A shawl is also mentioned in one of the legends of Jesus Christ, as the Veil of Veronica. During the stages of the cross, Veronica wiped Jesus’s sweaty, bloody forehead with her veil, thus retaining the imprint of his face. The shawl was later pronounced a relic. The word Veronica means ”vera icon” (true image).

The headscarf

fokoto_748517.jpgThe headscarf and the coif were worn by married women in Hungarian folk culture. The use of large shawls was also driven by practical considerations, as it could become a blanket against cold, rain, or insects. Beyond pragmatic use, it became an ornament for the wearer. The hairstyles of women, completed with the coifs and scarves, also indicated their age and marital status. Unmarried girls had to walk with uncovered head, with hanging braids, because only married women could wear coifs. The Hungarian term “her head is tied” also suggests that women had to wear coifs and scarves as of their wedding. Newly wed women were allowed to wear heavily decorated festive upper coifs and, as they got older, they left bright colours. Elderly women wore only unadorned coifs in which they were buried finally. The wearing of shawls by young married women was distinctive in terms of the types and materials of the shawls, as you can read below.

A headscarf was often attached to the bun or worn over the coif. The so-called “bride binding” is, for example, the bind of a triangular-folded scarf over the coif and the nape. The scarf tied in front of the head was called “under the chin”. In addition to the ordinary colourful, blue-dyed shawls, the festive attire was silk and fringed shawls and scarves. In winter, the thicker materials, woollen- and cloth shawls protected women’s heads from the cold.

dulandle_745115.jpgThe long shawl or fidel / cover was 2-3 metres long, half a metre wide, and could be worn in several ways. Dulandlé (tulle anglais, or tulle) is a large cloth made of tulle with embroidered corners and it was worn folded in half or in a triangular shape. In Kalotaszeg, it was the festive attire of the newly wed women. 


tekerodzos_fatyol_190028.jpgThe purple or wrap-around veil, the veil tied to the coif and wrapped around the neck, was also a fancy accessory of the young women. It was mainly used in Sárköz, famous for the most ornate costumes in the country. It also appears in the well-known children's song: "In purple, velvet, beaded wreath."

Regarding the folding, “pacsa” is interesting, which is a stiffened long shawl, folded over the top of the head, spread on the shoulders and the back. It was prevalent mainly in Transdanubia, showing similarities to the shawls of Croatian and Slovenian women. The complexity of “pacsa throwing” is shown by the fact that there were few women who knew how to do it; it required a lot of practice.

Shawls for hands, arms and shoulders

jegykendo_405515.jpgThe handkerchief or hankie was an accessory to the festive attire; girls and women held it in their hands on these occasions. It was characterized by lace, embroidered pattern or monogram purling the hankie. A girl gave an engagement handkerchief as a gift to a lad, which he wore until the wedding in a prominent place, such as his trousers’ hem. The arm shawl was worn by women on their bent forearms, and had a similar function as the handkerchief. Whether they laid a linen cloth or a flower-patterned cashmere on their arms varied from region to region.

The aim of the triangular-shaped or triangular-tailored shoulder-shawl was to accentuate the shoulders with ruffles, fringes, or to highlight the abdomen and hips. One corner hung from the back, the other two corners were thrown across the chest and then tied at the waist on the back. The stacking of shawls also occurred, mostly in the Sárköz costumes, where two or three layers were put on over the silk scarf. Sometimes, especially in Palóc villages, its use spread to church pressure, and its function was to cover well. Instead of carefully folded shawls, thick machine-knitted “Berliner” shawls became common in the 20th century as winter garments.

Men's scarf: the cravat

nyakravalo_739331.jpgScarfs were also found among men’s attires. The cravat was wrapped around men’s neck and then tied in front, with its ornate ends often hanging on both sides. It was often black, rarely white, with embroidered patterns and fringed edges. It appeared in Hungary in the 19th century among peasants. By the end of the century, the long, shawl-like cloth was replaced by a rectangular shawl folded diagonally in half and then into stripes.


Translated by Zita Aknai


Iván Balassa (főszerk.): Magyar néprajz IV. kötet. Budapest. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1997. Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár

Gyula Ortutay (főszerk.): Magyar Néprajzi Lexikon. Budapest. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1977. Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár


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