With summer soon reaching its peak, Instagram feeds are already filling up with colourful Bohemian embroidered loose-fitting tops and dresses with billowing sleeves that can keep us cool and fashionable in the heat. If there were an official outfit for the summer, the Ukrainian folk style costume known as vyshyvanka would be it. The trend has already become an international street style hit, thanks to the intricately embroidered motifs that have a global appeal and also give a sense of experiencing a different culture.
Vyshyvanka is part of Ukraine's wardrobe just like a pair of denims is in the US. Today, the garment that has been so deeply connected with Ukraine's culture has become a fashion phenomenon. The design can be seen in shirts, tops, dresses, jumpsuits, etc. and is trending in high street stores such as Zara and Mango.
It's a traditional design that has been worn for centuries and its patterns vary from one region of the country to another. Sometimes made of hand woven cloth, vyshyvankas were traditionally hand-embroidered in motifs such as geometric, vegetables, and animal, with symbolic meanings. Some popular designs in the southern regions include fruits, while patterns in the northern regions are more geometric. Red and black are usually embroidered in the capital Kiev, green and orange patterns are seen in western Ukraine, while blue embroidery is relatively new. The classic blouse is white with black and red embroidery, but today vyshyvanka has become more colourful.
Anastasiia Bobrysheva, co-founder of FromUA (a Ukrainian community initiative in the UAE), says, "Vyshyvanka started gaining recognition three years ago and is trending these days as well. Traditionally, it used to be a shirt, but our designers have worked to bring it to the mainstream in the form of dresses as well. The techniques and fabrics are continuously evolving. They used to be made on linen, but designers have moved on to silk and cotton as well." She highlights that vyshyvanka used to be given as a token to protect one from evil forces. Women would put their positive thoughts and energy in it, to protect the ones they loved and would give it to them as a good luck charm.
"When I introduce myself as a Ukrainian, the first thing people associate is the war going on in the country," says Bobrysheva. "As part of the Ukrainian community initiative in the UAE, a cultural and educational project, we aim to promote Ukrainian culture and tradition here in the UAE and hope to improve the image of our country in the Middle East. We want to tell people that we are a young nation with talented and creative people and have a great heritage. Vyshyvanka is a symbol of our patriotic pride. In the UAE, there are almost 15,000 Ukrainians in the service and hospitality sector. When we see other people wearing our traditional art form, we feel proud."
In Ukraine, it's worn far more regularly and is the staple uniform for women, men, and children, who sport traditional as well as the modern incarnations of the sartorial piece. The country even celebrates the third Thursday of every May as Vyshyvanka Day, and this year it was celebrated on May 18. In Dubai, one of the authentic vyshyvanka available is made by designer Olga Vasileva and is available as Samafaina Vyshyvanka at the Urbanist store in Box Park. Their comfortable and chic dresses have become the go-to for street-style for today's fashionistas.
Tatiyana Sapatsynska, a Dubai-based expat who has been here for 13 years shares, "Vyshyvanka is a symbol of my heritage and wearing it is a way to experience the versatility and depth of Ukrainian traditions. Despite the modern technologies, people still prefer purchasing a handmade vyshyvanka with colours representing the unique style of the motherland. I often wear it myself in Dubai, even to the malls. It's nice to see a friendly smile from a fellow Ukrainian, when we wear it - there is this moment of instant recognition, connection, and a sense of unity."