Saturday, June 7, 2014

Costume and Embroidery of Mezőkövesd, Hungary

Hello all, 

Today I will return to Hungary, to talk about one of the most famous costume and embroidery traditions in that country, that of Mezőkövesd. This town is the largest of the three settlements of the Matyó people of northeastern Hungary. These also include the villages of Tard and Szentistván, each of which has a distinct costume. You can see Mezőkövesd in the southern part of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county.

Mezőkövesd costume and embroidery has become as iconic of Hungary in general as that of Kalocsa, even though it is not typical. This is in part due to the flowering and development of a distinct type of embroidery in the 20th cent. The outline of the costume is long and relatively narrow by Hungarian standards.

There are a few variants of the women's costume. Here is the dress version of the costume for married women as seen today. This is an image of women carrying a giant rosary in a procession. The people of this region form an island of Roman Catholics surrounded by many Calvinists.

Notice the long, relatively narrow skirts, the single panel embroidered aprons, and the short sleeves. There are several solid colored ribbons around the hem, and one wide patterned ribbon which is placed higher up on the skirt. The skirt is narrowly pleated down to and including this ribbon, except for the front panel under the apron. The placement of this ribbon has changed, formerly being placed much lower, but today often being placed quite high, as we see in this image above. Take note of this detail as we proceed through the article.
There are, of course, a chemise and underskirt worn as a foundation. Here are some old photos of a woman putting on a ceremonial version of the costume. Note the flounce on the bottom of the petticoat, an unusual feature in central or eastern Europe.

 In this case, the pleats continue almost to the hem. The front is relatively flat, and made of plain material with a facing above the hem.
Then she puts on the apron, with embroidery, ribbon and fringe. Next she puts on linen sleeves, as her chemise seems to be of calico, and the old style shirt, ing, with the high puffy sleeves.

This ing is of plain linen because she is going to wear it under a very large shawl with heavy fringe. The fringe accentuates the high puffed sleeves.

Today the sleeves are usually not as high, but still retain the same basic shape.  When worn without the shawl, the shirt is brightly colored, with appliqued ribbon and a peplum.

Most commonly today the shirts and skirts are made of rose patterned challis in various colors, but in the past, they were often made of brocade, as in this example. She is wearing a jacket with long sleeves and very full peplum, and a warm headscarf with this ensemble, which is meant for cooler weather and is from the 1930's. The embroidery on the apron is also of an older style.

Skirts today are sometimes made to hang from the waist.

Here is a print by LEPAGE-MEDVEY of the Mezőkövesd costume. This artist made many prints of the costumes of Central Europe, and this one is typical in that it has errors in many details. One thing to notice is the headscarf. The shape was achieved by the traditional hairstyle, which has largely been abandoned today.

Here we see how to make this traditional hair style. There were wicker extensions to achieve the extreme length seen above.

One common headdress for married women has several large pompoms sewn to a kerchief. This is reminiscent of parts of Germany's Black Forest, but I know of no actual connection.This headdress is still used today, but without the traditional hairstyle, the effect is much rounder.

 In the photo with the four ladies above, you see the old style apron, full, with many little pleats and ribbons on the lower edge. This is still used for some ceremonial outfits, such as weddings. This ceremonial outfit also included a crown, similar to that found in other parts of Central Europe. This apron is often covered with several ribbons hanging from the waist. Originally the wedding dress was black, as was very common over much of Western and Central Europe. Here are three examples from the 1910's.


Similar outfits were, and still are, worn for processions on Church Holidays, but in white. Also, starting in the 1930's, under the influence of Town Fashion, and ultimately, Queen Victoria, the wedding outfit also became white. Later still, again under the influence of Town Fashion, a veil was added to the crown.

The embroidery is confined to the single-panel apron which dominates in the 20th cent. Unusually, the men wear essentially the same apron. It is very common for Hungarian men's costumes to include an apron, but they are usually different from the women's.

The basic outfit for the men consists of the shirt, vest, necktie, hat, apron and pants. The pants, known as gatya, are worn over most of Hungary, especially in the summer. They are plain white linen or cotton. The construction is very simple, and they are very full. I have one in my private collection, and its waistband is 5 1/2 yards around. In fact, in this region they are actually fuller than the skirts of the women. They are usually worn slightly longer than boot-top length, and are generally self fringed at the bottom of the pant legs. These are often mistaken for skirts. They are fun to dance in.

This is the Hungarian 'Matyo Man' costume.
There is extensive embroidery on the apron, which is similar to those worn by the women, and on the festive shirts, as you can see here above. The embroidery is on the collar, shoulders, front, and on the very long and full sleeves. Older examples have the embroidery out to the hem, and then colored decorative crotchet edging. Today there is usually a wide patterned ribbon sewn to the edge to supplement the embroidery. It is still very impressive. 

This piece is from my personal collection. The embroidery is not as elaborate as some older ones.

The colors and patterns were fully developed in the early 20'th century, especially by one artist, Bori Kis Janko. Some earlier shirts were done in Broderie Anglaise, which one still sometimes see on wedding shirts, look at the grooms in the images above. The first shirts done in the modern style had a more restricted range of colors, Red, blue, and some yellow. This embroidery was also done on some household linens.

The apron consists of one panel, is black, and today usually has fringe on the bottom, a row of patterned ribbon and embroidery in the same style as is on the man's festive shirt. Again, here is one from my personal collection.

Older aprons often have no ribbon. I have read that a child's apron has three roses, a man's has five, and a woman's has seven. This is sometimes true, but a perusal of the aprons pictured in this article will show that there is a great deal of variety in the embroidery, and that this rule does not hold. Older people sometimes have no embroidery at all. Here are a few more examples.

At first glance, this woman seems to be wearing a plain black apron, but in fact, the lower panel has typical Matyo embroidery in black on black.

Older men would often wear simpler or plain black aprons. 

The vest is of black wool, has lapels, and is ornamented with a varying amount of buttons and black soutache.  Here is a particularly elaborate example. 

On formal occasions, a narrow silk embroidered tie was tied around the neck, and a round topped felt hat with ribbons and feathers completed the ensemble. 

 Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative.

 A couple of videos of Mezőkövesd dancing,
a wedding procession,

A folk festival 

and an exhibition of embroidery.


Source Material:
Kútvölgyi Mihály, 'The
Matyó Roses', Budapest, 2006
Győrffy István, 'Matyó Népviselet', Budapest, 1956
Lengyel Györgyi, 'Népi Kézimunkák', Budapest, 1978
Lengyel Györgyi,  'Nagyanyáink öröksége', Budapest, 1986
Alice Gaborjan, 'Hungarian Peasant Costume', Budapest, 1988


  1. Many thanks, again. I'm intrigued by the rather garish colours for much of the embroidery. Do these pre-date the aniline dyes of the C19th? Thanks, Elaine

    1. No, the embroidery is relatively recent, developing in full in the early 20 th. Cent. The surviving embroidery from the 19th cent. is simpler, being in red and blue, sometimes with touches of yellow.

    2. Thanks, Roman. I think I'd prefer red and blue with occasional yellow!

    3. I have added some images in the older colors.
      take a look.

  2. grazie per un post veramente molto molto interessante
    splendidi vestiti

  3. Hello, Roman! I would like to award you the Liebster Award! Your blog is interesting and inspirational! For more information, please look here: (: Congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Gabriella,
      I am glad that you appreciate my work. I admit that I tend to pick costumes that have a great deal of embroidery, and that I can find a good amount of material for.
      Thank you again

  4. hi,, i like to visit this site,, have a nice day :)

  5. What a wonderful post! Matyó costumes are my favourite of all the Hungarian folk costumes and it's great to see such a detailed look at how they are constructed. Which book did the black and white photos of the woman getting dressed come from? Also, I was wondering if you had any information on how the pleats were pressed into the fabric, do you think it was just with steam or a more permanent method? When I was in Mezőkövesd I had a look at a woman's outfit at an antique shop and noticed that there was a thread running horizontally through the pleats at intervals, probably to keep them from spreading out too much at the back when the wearer sat down. Also, the puffy sleeves appeared to be stuffed with crumpled paper or newspaper! I don't know if this was just done to keep their shape while they were on the model or if women actually wore them like this but it was an interesting idea. Anyway, thanks again for the great post!

    1. Győrffy István, 'Matyó Népviselet', Budapest, 1956

  6. Wow.. what an amazing resource you have created! I am learning the craft of Matyo embroidery and have recently started making pompoms as I would like to make a Csavaritos Kendo (The pom-pom-ed head dresses) for all the ladies in my family. Unfortunately, aside from my childhood dolls, there seems to be scant information about this iconic headscarf. I was so thrilled to see the images of the wrapping of the head scarf...thank you for that! Do you have any more sources for information on this head piece. Many Thanks for all your work here! It's so appreciated.

  7. Por tradición los hombres desde siempre se habían vestido con faldas, solo hace 300 años que los obligaron a usar pantalón.
    El pantalón es el vestido menos adecuada para un hombre; el calzoncillo ajustado o ( bóxer), hace las veces de férula, (elemento que inmoviliza una parte del cuerpo; la costura central del pantalon maltrata), en los genitales, (propiciando mal funcionamiento, y discapacidades), la costura central del pantalón maltrata, magulla e incomoda todo el tiempo los genitales; la correa o cinturón hace las veces de torniquete, y obliga al corazón a bombear la sangre con mayor esfuerzo, (para vencer la resistencia, o contracción que hace el torniquete), y por mala irrigacion sanguínea afecta: el aparato digestivo, el sistema urinario, el aparato reproductor. Ademas con el uso del pantalón el hombre ha terminado orinando de pie lo cual es totalmente antinatural. Las Faldas y los vestidos con faldas para los hombres son suprema-mente SALUDABLES, CÓMODOS Y CONFORTABLES. El pantalón, el calzoncillo ajustado, la costura central del pantalón, y la correa o cinturón, están promoviendo las enfermedades modernas de los hombres: IMPOTENCIA, ESTERILIDAD, PROBLEMAS DE LA PRÓSTATA Y POSIBLEMENTE CÁNCER DEL TESTÍCULO.
    Ninguna parte del cuerpo del varon se maltrata mas que los genitales.
    Por salud y comodidad mejor usar FALDAS O VESTIDOS CON FALDA.
    Ezt találtam az interneten, és megállapította, hogy érdekes.
    Hagyományosan a férfiak mindig öltözött szoknyát, csak 300 évvel ezelőtt, hogy kénytelen viselni nadrágot.
    A nadrág a legkevésbé alkalmas ruhát az ember; beállított vagy fehérnemű (boxer), működik a sín (elem rögzített testrész, a középső varrás a nadrág bántalmazó) a nemi szervek (előnyben meghibásodás, és fogyatékkal élő), a középső varrás a nadrág bántalmazták, sérült és kényelmetlen minden alkalommal a nemi szervek; szíj vagy öv szolgál leszorítás, és arra kényszeríti a szív pumpálja a vért több erőfeszítést (leküzdeni az összehúzódás miatt a érszorítót), és a rossz vér öntözés befolyásolja: az emésztőrendszer, a húgyúti rendszer, a készülék játékos. Amellett, hogy a használata a nadrág kész vizelés Man Standing, ami teljesen természetellenes. Szoknyák és ruhák szoknyák férfiak legfelsőbb elme egészséges, kellemes és kényelmes. A nadrág, a szoros fehérnemű, a középső varrás a nadrágot, és a biztonsági öv vagy a biztonsági öv, előmozdítása modern betegségek férfiak: impotencia, meddőség, prosztata problémák és a lehetséges hererák.
    Nem része a férfi test visszaélnek több, mint a nemi szervek.
    A jobb egészség és kényelem viseljen szoknyát vagy ruha szoknyás

  8. Dear Roman, Thank you for such a rich and useful blog post! I particularly love the images of the woman getting dresses into her Matyó dress.
    I am a third year costume student from London and I am planning on making a traditional Hungarian Folk Dress for my upcoming project. I don't suppose you could be of any help in putting names to any of these photos? I need to base my costume around a particular person in history and research a bit about her life. Any help would be extremely appreciated.
    Finally, Do you know of any places in the UK where Matyó costumes can be seen? Thank you again and best wishes, Ali

    1. bibliography is at the end of the article.
      No name is given for the woman in the photos

  9. Dear Roman, I am trying to make some Hungarian style costumes for a dance show. Could you tell me where I could source some of the embroidered brocade to make a wide belt sash. Many thanks VIcky

    1. The ribbons are not embroidered. They are woven in a brocade or jacquard technique. They are commonly known as Czech ribbons as that is where they are usually made. Do a search on google with these terms and you will find them. Here is one source.

  10. What a fantastic blog. Very informative, especially for costume aficionados. I love the elaborate styles of folk costumes ,but they can't have been very user friendly for general wear, working etc. Especially i find aprons for both men and women very elaborate, quiet unlike western style aprons that are not as decorative and more utilitarian. I am sure those fancy aprons would not have been worn for any kind of manual work they are too pretty.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Hi Roman,

    I couldn't edit the information in my first post but wanted to share information as to the connection to German traditional costumes. My ancestors came from Sarospatak and Hercegkut Hungary. They were of Swabian descent though and were part of the migrations from Swabian Germany to Hungary. I am looking for their traditional clothing and costumes and my aunt is trying to find the photos she had of my great grandparents.

    Here's some information though about The Great Swabian Trek:

    There's more out there about the Swabian Germans moving to Hungary. My ancestors happen to go north and ended up marrying into the Hungarian families there.

    Hope this helps!


  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  14. Thank you for all the info about Hungarian costumes. My great Grandmother was born and raised in Bartfa, Hungary ( Slovakia). What does the embroidery and costumes look like ? Thank you!!!
    Debbie McCormack

  15. Nagyon szep a kivitel,meg adja a lhetoseget,hogy a kulfoldon elok is elvezzek a viseletet.